Edouard Philippe said on Saturday January 11 “willing to withdraw”, subject to conditions, the pivotal age of 64 from the pension reform project in a letter to the social partners, a gesture welcomed by the reformist unions while the opponents have beaten the pavement in most of the major cities of France.
“I am prepared to withdraw from the bill the short-term measure that I had proposed, consisting in gradually converging from 2022 towards an equilibrium age of 64 years in 2027”, indicates the Prime Minister in this letter sent the day after bilateral talks with the unions in Matignon, while maintaining the principle of an age of equilibrium in the reform.
This withdrawal is subject to conditions: the Prime Minister proposes that a “financing conference” be convened with the social partners to “propose measures to achieve financial balance in 2027”. In the absence of agreement from this conference by “the end of April 2020”, the government will take by ordinance the measures necessary to achieve this balance in 2027, the letter said.
The CFDT, the first union in France and favorable to the universal points system, had made a “red line” of this pivotal age encouraging the French to leave at 64 in 2027 on pain of being inflicted a penalty. As soon as the government announced it, the central “welcomed the withdrawal of the pivotal age from the bill, a withdrawal which marks the will to compromise” of the executive. It shows in a press release its willingness to “continue discussions within the proposed framework” and indicates that it will be part of “the funding conference of which it has proposed the principle”.
“The withdrawal of the pivotal age is a good thing which allows a calm discussion of the balance”, added the secretary general of Unsa, Laurent Escure. “This will allow progress on the rest of the reform, to obtain compensation, guarantees, progress,” he told AFP.
The government’s outstretched hand to reformist unions could crack the front of opponents of reform. For the leader of the CGT Philippe Martinez, interviewed Saturday at the head of the Parisian demonstration before the publication of the Prime Minister’s letter, “the pivotal age is a lure” which “does not change our opposition to the reform”. More measured, his counterpart from FO, Yves Veyrier, observed that “if we are told a decline in all or part of the pivotal age, it will be the product of mobilization”.
The CGT and Solidaires called on Saturday in two separate press releases to continue the mobilization on January 14, 15 and 16, after the announcement of the withdrawal of the pivotal age from the bill by the government. The CGT believes that “the government has just confirmed to the trade unions the maintenance of its bill as it is”, in the Prime Minister’s letter, and declares itself “more than ever determined to obtain the withdrawal of the text”. For the union, spearhead of the strike movement started on December 5, “the debate on the pivotal age (withdrawn by the government on Saturday) is only smoke in order to obtain the adhesion of some unions “. The central “calls on employees, unemployed, retirees and young people to participate massively in strikes and demonstrations scheduled for next week”. For Solidaire, the withdrawal of the 64-year-old “is first and foremost a maneuver”, since “there remains a reference and the age of equilibrium is maintained in the bill”.
“The government pretends to give the hand to the social partners until April”, with the financing conference which must develop alternative proposals, “but it keeps it in the final analysis” and “it plans to act by ordinances”. Solidaires like the CGT recall the precedent of the negotiation on unemployment insurance, where the government had taken over for lack of agreement between the social partners. “The days of January 14, 15 and 16 proposed by the intersyndicale” will be an opportunity “to further strengthen the renewable strike and the demonstrations,” concludes Solidaires.
Events in France
On the 38th day of mobilization against the reform project, several tens of thousands of demonstrators – 150,000 according to the CGT – marched on Saturday afternoon in the capital between Nation and Republic. In front of the good-natured union procession, several hundred demonstrators, some of them masked or hooded, smashed windows, ransacked a bank, set fire to street furniture and threw projectiles in the direction of the police, who responded with gunfire tear gas. Police reported seven arrests at 5.30 p.m. In the evening, the Interior Ministry announced that the demonstrations had brought together 149,000 people across France, including 21,000 in Paris.
Other demonstrations were taking place all over France. In Lyon, 3,200 people according to the police, 15,000 according to the CGT marched with a few sporadic clashes at the start of the procession. They were 10,000 according to the unions in Grenoble. In Toulouse in the morning, the police had counted 3,000 demonstrators (20,000 for the CGT). At least 2,000 people marched in Rennes, with placards proclaiming “I will not do the trash to eat at retirement” or “caregiver, I want tomorrow that sing”.
A thousand “yellow vests” and 2,000 to 3,000 demonstrators demonstrated in Marseille after a sharp episode of tension between the former and a member of the CGT security service. In Nantes, black blocks attacked the prefecture with projectiles. They were repulsed by the police who used tear gas canisters and water cannons, an AFP photographer noted.
The Prime Minister had reiterated Friday “the determination of the government” to present this project for a universal pension system on January 24 in the Council of Ministers and to submit it for consideration in public session in the National Assembly from February 17 to that it can be adopted before the summer.
The willingness to compromise displayed by the government on the pivotal age will not necessarily result in the end of disruptions in transport because the CGT, FO and Solidaires are still demanding the outright withdrawal of the project.
SNCF traffic remains disrupted this weekend with 80% of TGV, one in two TER and 40% of Transilien, while RATP evokes a “clear improvement” compared to the last weekends.
The inter-union, which called for continuing the movement with a “day of strike and interprofessional convergence” Tuesday, and “initiatives in all forms” Wednesday and Thursday, must meet Saturday after the demonstration.
The CGT called for maintaining the blocking of fuel shipments from refineries until January 16 inclusive, and filed a notice of a “blocking renewable” strike from the 13th in two Banque de France centers which handle more than a quarter of country banknotes.
The historic strike continued on Saturday at the Paris Opera, with the cancellation of the performance of The Barber of Seville, and on Radio France, which is on its 40th day of strike.