01 February 2023

The French show us how it's done

In January, France's president Macron and his ruling party proposed a "pension reform" which includes raising the retirement age from 62 to 64.  80% of the French public opposes the plan, and unions have led a campaign of mass resistance against it.  January 19 saw the first mass mobilization, as between one and two million people participated in strikes and demonstrations all across the country.  Yesterday an even larger protest was held.

Both one-day events proved highly effective.  Most railway travel was shut down, and national electricity production was sharply reduced.  The Macron government insists that raising the retirement age is "non-negotiable", but further protests are planned for February 7 and 11, and some conservative legislators are said to be getting nervous.

This campaign highlights a point with relevance beyond France.  Much of the American left seems preoccupied with elections and legislation, and those are indeed important.  But grassroots actions can also have a huge impact.  When politicians realize that most of society vehemently rejects their actions, they can be induced to back down, if only for fear of not being re-elected.

Of course, grassroots actions of other kinds do take place in the US.  Much energy has been focused on protecting abortion rights and gun rights at the state level, but even in cases where state legislatures have nevertheless passed laws infringing on those rights, that doesn't mean the fight in those states is over.  Systems are springing up to provide abortion pills and travel assistance to women in forced-birth states, and 60% of the counties in the US refuse to enforce state-level gun restrictions, while individuals share information on work-arounds such as making guns on 3D printers.  When state legislatures will not budge and there's no immediate prospect of voting them out, such measures of defiance by the people themselves are the best option, and should be the focus of activism.

According to the unions, yesterday's rallies and strikes across France drew a total of 2.8 million participants, in a country of 68 million.  A proportionate turnout in the US would be over 13 million.  Imagine what could be accomplished, if Americans were to strike and march in such numbers.

[Image at top:  anti-pension-reform rally in Paris, January 31]


Blogger Mary Kirkland said...

Wow, they showed up for that.

01 February, 2023 15:32  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

When people are motivated enough, they will.

02 February, 2023 07:03  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think our "ethic" of work each day until you drop impacts our ability to protest. I'm cold, tired, hungry, and have too many deadlines to go out and protest today. Maybe next year.

02 February, 2023 08:28  
Anonymous CASeidl said...

The French are enthusiastic protesters, no matter what the reform. It's part of the culture but you're right Infidel that these actions do have an impact. Macron was planning to overhaul the retirement system in 2019, but massive strikes (as well as the pandemic) put everything on hold.

Raising the retirement age to 64 seems pretty cush to Americans. Macron's plan would also allow blue-collar workers (or anyone who started working right after high school for example) to retire earlier. One of the issues is that people who lose their job in their mid-50s often can't find employment. Age discrimination is worse in France than in the U.S. The government offers a very respectable unemployment package that lasts for 3 years, after that, if you still can't find work, you must rely on welfare (which is considerably stingier) until you reach retirement age.

Since the French have better safety nets in general, some people question whether raising the retirement age will result in net savings.

If you're interested in seeing some French political cartoons on the subject, I'll have them in my post this week.

02 February, 2023 09:05  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Anon: That's certainly a problem. The American practice of overworking workers keeps a lot of people too tired to protest. Still, think of the early union organizers of the nineteenth century. They were even more overworked and abused, yet they mobilized and eventually forced through what improvements we've seen since then.

CASeidl: Yes, the French are known for their willingness to protest -- which is probably how they got those "better safety nets" and better working conditions in the first place. I hope it will continue to be the case. If Macron backed down in 2019 due to strikes, we can hope that he'll do the same now. It's obvious that the public is overwhelmingly rejecting the plan.

Even in the US, it's at least possible to start Social Security at 62 (as I did), even though it's not full retirement age. And in general, even if conditions are decent, the way to keep them decent is to push back hard whenever politicians try to take something away.

I'll be interested in those cartoons -- I'm sure it's a fruitful topic for commentary.

03 February, 2023 04:06  
Anonymous spirilis said...

It's the phones. In one of your images you commented "I just doesn't work that way". You have to be there physically. I often ask how this phone sex thing works. I know that if it was real I would not have six wonderful adults in my life or knowledge of her mesmerizing smell and taste. The only way to lose is to not show up. We need to learn much more from the French.

03 February, 2023 08:44  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Interesting point. Are the French less smartphone-addicted than Americans? I really have no idea.

"Phone sex" is an absurd concept. Our society is awash in fake substitutes for real experiences.

03 February, 2023 10:09  
Anonymous spirilis said...

I don't know if their addicted like Americans but I image their youth are the same. These large in person protests are organized over the internet and that they are dispersed over the entire spectrum to evade intervention. They appear to me to be a more inclusive and tolerant than us as well. Real experiences can be dangerous.

04 February, 2023 08:20  
Blogger Annie Asks You said...

As a longtime marcher, I certainly support citizen activism. And we've had any number of largely peaceful protests in the US in recent years--following Trump's election, following the leaking of the Dobbs decision, following the murder of George Floyd, etc. I worry, however, that the threats of violence that are so much in the news--and the numbers of mass shootings--have had a chilling effect on too many Americans' willingness to be public in expressing their views.

04 February, 2023 15:40  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Spirilis: The internet is certainly very useful. But smartphones and social media seem to have become an addictive substitute for reality.

Annie: There were large protests in those cases, but it seems to me that often the energy was wasted because there was no concrete goal they could reasonably hope to achieve. Impel Trump to resign? Get the Supreme Court to reverse Dobbs? Those things weren't going to happen. In the case of the George Floyd protests there was at least the goal of shaming the authorities into holding Chauvin accountable. In France, when we see huge protests like this, there is usually a specific goal in mind which could actually be accomplished -- in this case, forcing the government to abandon the pension "reform".

Fear of violence may well be a problem, although that's mitigated when the turnout is really large.

05 February, 2023 01:07  

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