Protests in France have shut down not only Paris but a majority of the country. Unions and workers all across the country are on strike. Railroad workers, transit employees, teachers, students, hospital workers, and other citizens are organizing and shutting down many major streets and even cities across the country. The airport has partially closed in Paris in addition to the fact that only one of the eight train lines is in operation. The mass transit outage plus the inability to drive through many of the city’s roads inhibited nearly the entire city of Paris from being able to work. The reason for this massive protest? President Emmanuel Macron’s new proposal for the pension system in the country (The New York Times).
Currently, the retirement age in France could be as young as fifty-two if you have one of the more generous plans. Regardless of your plan, France has always been known as one of the leading nations in the world for the most generous retirement funds and programs (ABC News). However, President Macron says that the system is running a deficit of nineteen billion dollars and requires streamlining that combines all the different options into one universal government-run system. The French people are uneasy about this plan because they say it would reduce the payout received at retirement, as well as, give the government the freedom to raise the retirement age. Philippe Lauberthe, a railway worker, says that this new proposal would start “a race to the bottom of our pensions” (The New York Times). This fear of Lauberthe’s is felt among nearly all the protestors on the streets. They all fear that this could be the beginning of the end for the highly regarded pension system.
The protests over pension reform initially began December 5th; however, the protestors have vowed they will not leave the streets until President Macron and his government stops attempting to reform the pension system. These strikes are predicted to be the largest seen in the nation since 1995 where approximately two million people took to the streets over this very same issue (Bell). The protests in France, particularly Paris, began to turn violent towards the end of the day. Many police units were forced to use tear gas and other crowd control agents. Additionally, the French police have had to implement tactics used during the yellow vest protest that gripped the city and country through the winter of 2018 to 2019. However, in comparison to the current strikes, there were only around 300,000 protestors in the yellow vest movement compared to the estimated two million who participated in Thursday’s strike. The 1995 protests, the yellow vest movement, and now the 2019 protests all have a common trend of being spurred on by the implementation of controversial government policies (Cigainero).
Civil unrest and protests have been fairly common across the globe recently. Major protests have recently sparked up in Hong Kong, Lebanon, and Iran. In particular, the protests in Iran began on similar principles to the unrest we are seeing in France. The citizens are revolting because the government stopped subsidizing the price of gasoline. In the past, Iran has subsidized the price of gasoline to make it more affordable to citizens; however, on November 15th the government decided to stop subsidizing the prices. The citizens revolted because of this change in policy, similar to the protestors in France revolting about the proposed changes in the pension plans. Now the protests in Iran have turned violent. The government is trying to minimize the strength of the protests by the use of government and military force. This has resulted in the security forces killing anywhere between 180 to 450 protestors. Oftentimes the security forces will simply open fire on unarmed protestors in order to invoke fear to other protectors. Additionally, some 2,000 to 7,000 protestors have been arrested by the security forces. As far as damages across the country, there have been 731 banks, 70 gas stations, and hundreds of civilian and police cars all burned. The fear is that the French government will respond similarly to the Iranian government and cause even more unrest in France (Fassihi).
Given that the protests in Iran turned violent, many fear that the same fate could be true for France, especially with the intensity of the protests and President Macron’s determination to alter the pension programs currently in place. If President Macron decides to use excessive force and suppress the protestors, there is a large chance that the citizens will respond similarly to the way that they responded in Iran which is with violence and resistance. That type of hostile situation has already started to become apparent in France as the protests continue to escalate. Will France be able to constrain the protests peacefully or will the French government create a situation to that seen in Iran?
ABC News, director. Workers Strike in Paris over Changes to France’s Retirement Plan. Youtube, 5 Dec. 2019, www.youtube.com/watch?v=r78fBvAmVNI.
Cigainero, Jake. “Who Are France’s Yellow Vest Protesters, And What Do They Want?” NPR, NPR, 3 Dec. 2018,www.npr.org/2018/12/03/672862353/who-are-frances-yellow -vest-protesters-and-what-do-they-want.
Fassihi, Farnaz, and Rick Gladstone. “With Brutal Crackdown, Iran Convulsed by Worst Unrest in 40 Years.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 1 Dec. 2019, www.nytimes.com/2019/12/01/world/middleeast/iran-protests-deaths.html.
The New York Times. “Live Updates: As France Strikes, Commuters Suffer and Protests Begin.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 5 Dec. 2019, www.nytimes.com/2019/12/05/world/europe/france-strike-pensions.html.
Vandoorne, Saskya, and Melissa Bell. “France Looks to 1995 as It Braces for Pension Reform Strikes and Protests.” CNN, Cable News Network, 5 Dec. 2019, www.cnn.com/2019/12/04/europe/france-pension-reform-strike-intl/index.html.