France is Burning

And it’s an inside job…

The people of France are setting their country aflame as protesters riot in response to France’s proposal of a higher retirement age. Police are responding by firing teargas at the masses and making dozens of arrests, much to the public’s dismay. The French government said that over 1 million people came out to protest Thursday, March 23rd, while labor unions estimated around 3 million. The road to a French airport was blocked, many trains were forced to come to a halt, and worker strikes at oil refineries caused shortages at many gas stations. Although protests have been going on for about three months, the 23rd of March saw one of the biggest over pension reform yet, and it’s clear that anger is high among a large portion of the French public.

All of this outcry was due to French President Emmanuel Macron making a move to raise France’s retirement age from 62 to 64. According to NPR, the law was rammed through the lower house of government without a vote, done using a special constitutional measure. If implemented, this would mean that retirement benefits would significantly increase for workers who retire before age 64. The French are furious, making it a point that they won’t stop protesting until Macron repeals this reform. The President isn’t budging on the matter, affirming that this pension reform is necessary to save the country’s economic system from going broke, stating that he’s willing to “pay the price of popularity.” He’s serving in his last term in office, so without concerns about getting reelected plaguing him, he is doing what he thinks is in the best interest of the country’s success without worrying about appeasing the public. Macron, although stating that he respects the right to peaceful protest, says he’s ready for the reform to become law by the end of this year. He’s even offered to speak with labor unions about their concerns on other related issues, but is still firm in his stance on the retirement age.

Many citizens of France are saying that President Macron isn’t listening to the voice of the people, and they are looking for ways to prevent the reform from becoming law such as by petitioning the constitutional counsel, but this method and others like it would take months and aren’t guaranteed to succeed. Due to this massive opposition to the new retirement age and the President’s stance on the matter, no one is really certain of how this will end. Macron narrowly survived a vote of no confidence by a mere 9 votes, making it clear that his administration is hanging on by a thread. For some more dismal news, strikes have closed iconic tourist attractions such as the Eiffel Tower, vandalism and other crimes continue to skyrocket, and many police and protestors have been injured in the uprisings, so the country’s political and social morale is low.

Britain’s King Charles was set to visit Paris and Bordeaux on Sunday, the 26th, but his visit was reluctantly postponed by the UK and France, as French workers are refusing to welcome him, and the country’s conditions aren’t proving safe for the average citizen, much less royalty. Protesters even set Bordeaux’s city hall on fire in response to the King’s planned visit. Labor unions are seeming to lose control of the protests as they spiral to be more anarchistic and violent. Some are even saying this could turn into a movement reminiscent of that of the Yellow Vests (Giles Jaunes), whose protests for ‘economic justice’ in France began in November of 2018. These protests were characterized by brutality on the sides of both the protesters and the police force, and named for the fluorescent yellow vests that protesters would wear. Some small Yellow Vests meetings are happening throughout France once again in response to the retirement age debacle, and some were even seen wearing the vests at these most recent protests.

Charlotte Rebeyrat is a senior here at Green Level who has extended family living in France. She is French herself, and although she was born in the States and has lived here for most of her life, she lived in France when she was younger. When asked about what her family in France was saying about the situation, she said that they “aren’t in the big cities, so they haven’t been greatly affected by these protests.” Though, she says they “find it very annoying that this new generation of French people protest and ruin everything around them.” She says her grandparents live near La Rochelle, a relatively big city, and “haven’t been able to take trains or even enter the large city because the protests have caused chaos.” Charlotte’s and her family’s point of view is interesting because the media seems to only broadcast the French people against the raising of the retirement age. Large news platforms fail to shed light on the voices of French citizens who just want to get by and not have their lives impacted by these protests, and find their cause unnecessary.

Charlotte says that as someone who was raised in America, she believes raising the retirement age shouldn’t be as much of an issue as French protestors are claiming. “People in France love complaining about every little thing, and this is no different. I believe that even though it may be annoying for the French, they have life in France pretty good, and changing the retirement age isn’t that bad of a decision,” she says. It’s seeming as though what will be the result of this public outcry is up in the air, and Charlotte has a prediction of what will come of it: “Unfortunately, these protests will lead to the protesters getting exactly what they want because if they don’t, nothing in France will be functional anymore. Macron will be forced to keep the retirement age as it is and not change it.”

Only time will tell what will happen to France’s retirement age, and as protests continue to rage on, it’s becoming clear that we’ll find out soon enough.