12.10.10

"Protesting is kind of a national sport in France" NOT in NY City!

NYTimes announces that French Strikes Disrupt Air and Rail Travel
Union officials claimed a nationwide turnout of more than 3.5 million people, an increase of 20 percent from the previous strike on Sept. 23, while the French interior ministry put the figure closer to 1.23 million, up from just under a million in the last strike. In Paris, the police counted 89,000 protesters, up from 75,000 previously.
While NYTimes is silent on the actual demands of the protesters, mentioning only the coming into law of a 2-year increase of the retirement age, a certain labor lawyer, Mr. Vergne, is quoted with saying,
It is hard to know; Protesting is kind of a national sport in France.
NYTimes keeps betting on this slogan to provoke the Pavlovian reflex in the American public. Let's hear the vox populi.



mickeyrad
Centerville Iowa


Enough! Enough of the rich people gambling & losing money & then expecting working people to pay for it.

French working people are standing up for all the working people of the world. The strike should stand until the oligarchs who run France surrender.

Working people deserve the fruits of their labor. 99% of all income should go to working people. Let the rich eat cake.


Babeouf
Ireland


Oh dear threats that the economy will collapse if the French workers do not accept to work until they drop. Apparently the heirs of the Bourgeoisie still haven't noticed that social passivity on a massive scale doesn't stop Capitalist economies from periodically collapsing. And yet this process has being going on for hundreds of years. One infamous German academic even suggested that such a propensity to failure was built in to the Capitalist process itself. Still I'm sure its only a matter of time before the economic recession in the USA is blamed on the American workers inability to live on a bowl of rice a day.


Diana
New York


I suspect that even here--even among the well-educated and well-read--we will see lots of union bashing.

Since Reagan busted the Air Traffic Control unions, we've heard continual, well-orchestrated, wildly successful messaging sent down from on-high by the corporatists through their various propaganda outlets--that workers, especially professionals like teachers and nurses--are greedy incompetents and the essential cause of our economic troubles.

Of course it's the messagers themselves--the money-obsessed blowhards who thrill at the thought of cheap labor and revel in entitlements (i.e., tax breaks and deregulation)--that have brought this country to its knees.

This is the moment we should be EXPANDING the labor movement and boycotting, marching and picketing, before--as Babeouf says--we will be living on a bowl of rice a day. The corporatists would simply love that ending.


Chris
Peoria, AZ


I admire the French!

They are not like ignorant Americans who sit by idly while Big Money and their tools in government want to cut middle class benefits before letting unfordable tax cuts for Big Money expire and reducing the budget of the huge bloated Military Industrial Complex.


N
NYC


I couldn't agree with mickyeyrad more. With pensions all but gone in the US, people who've worked all their lives find themselves on the brink of disaster. Why shouldn't workers be handsomely rewarded for their hard work over many years, even if they are paid well and have benefits through either the workplace or the state? Why should only the managers and executives be able to live easily and comfortably when they've completed their working years?


John F
London


The French unions have simply got to accept that the way of life they demand is not affordable. The country cannot afford to pay full pensions to employees who work thirty-five hours per week, retire at sixty and live until ninety. It is literally unsustainable.

If they are not able to accept this, then they will bring their economy down. That's all there is to it.

[Yeah, right! Keep that London of yours in the 19th century, John! Babeouf has seen the light, perhaps because he's Irish? Just kidding!]


A Credit and Bankruptcy Scholar
New York, New York


An occasional strike is the price of equality. If Americans had the courage and organization to do what the French are doing, then Americans would still have defined benefit pensions, job security, limited work hours, fully paid healthcare, and affordable education.

But too many Americans have become used to being slaves to those with more money than themselves. They've lost their self respect and dignity, and as a result, they're losing their jobs, their homes, and their life savings.


Bob Bell
Mount Pleasant, S.C.


A couple posts to this story are attempting to make this another example of how the rich in society are continually taking advantage of the downtrodden masses for their selfish benefit. That may be true, but the reality of what is going on in Western Europe is a far different reality: the masses are trying to prevent any degree of responsible behavior by their elected officials and beginning to live within their means.

Many European economies are in difficulty for a simple reason: the costs of social services are rising at a greater rate than the ability of that nation's population to grow revenues, either because the many services they receive are simply out of proportion with income or because economic or demographic factors are contributing to slower historic growth rates. It is happening in Greece, Italy, Spain, Portugal and several other EU nations where the population is aging and the birth rate is dropping.

No one likes to take less, but the citizens of these social democracies will have to. The only other option is for them to continue spending beyond their means, exacerbating their problem and engaging in more and more counter productive strikes and disruptions of services to the masses.

Oh, by the way, the same fate is awaiting our citizenry; we just haven't woken up to it but continue to ask our elected officials to borrow trillions from the Chinese every year to support our deficits and pass the due bill on to our children. We often blame the Western European nations for their reliance on benefits and "socialism." We don't have the common sense or economic IQ to realize we are exactly like them; but we feel superior hiding behind the myth that, somehow, American debt and selfishness is superior to that from Europe.

[Bob nailed it, he must unknowingly work for the capitalists, if he's not one of them.]


Jemmy
new york city


I hope the protests grow even larger and shift into a general strike. Why should the working class pay for the mistakes of the global capitalist class? It doesn't make any sense, especially if the majority of the population is against such reforms! It is called democracy and the government, which protects the interests of the bourgeoisie, cannot impose something that the majority of the people disagree with, especially when they had not part in creating the global capitalist meltdown in the first place!

Hopefully workers here will stop waxing poetic about "ONE NATION" and actually decide to mobilize in a meaningful way against such reforms.

Capitalism is unsustainable in every way possible. Do we really think that markets can forever grow and GDP will always be able to continually rise? Workers have become more productive while wages have become stagnant in this country, hence the consumer debt that sky rocketed in order to sustain the facade of a growing standard of living. Well now my generation is having to deal with the careless actions of my predecessors and we are growing angry and educated about this stuff!


The Frog
France


The issues are indeed bigger than the pensions. The pensions are simply the focus of angers for what is widely considered as a growing "social unfairness". Austerity is one thing, but it is difficult to convey the message of rising the age of pensions when the government and senators are playing with different rules. Senators, who are currently voting on the pension law, can obtain a 2000 USD lifetime pension starting after 5 years of activity... versus 40-42 years of activity for an average citizen. Meanwhile, new major tax cuts for the biggest national fortunes are being offered, hampering further the national income and becoming a symbol of the above-mentioned unfairness.

The points above are examples merely highlighting why the government austerity policy became at best unreadable, at worst incoherent to the public eye. The unwillingness to openly negotiate with the unions has triggered considerable tensions and the results are seen these days in the street and in the polls.



Romeo Charlie
LA, California


How ironic. The Republicans are probably smiling gleefully at the French government. Taking away money from the nanny state to give to the rich is precisely what the leadership is doing in France. This is the Republican masterful playbook. It is shameful the French leadership has mismanaged the French pension fund and are using the financial crises to fool people into thinking the pension fund is squeezed for money. Who is responsible for the projections?

The prime culprit is the European Central Bank. The folks here who create policy know a good thing: stay away from the decisions they make and keep the blame on the French citizen.



Cindy
Baltimore, Md.


I think that all Western governments, European and US, would do well to start the austerity at the top. Everyone understands that this economic crisis occurred because of excesses of the corporate rich, especially the banking industry, and that is where the austerity starts. As long as governments refuse to implement substantial taxes on the wealthy to pay down the deficit, average people should fight hard against this attack on social programs.


Diogenes the Dawg
N. Padre Island, Tx.


This French dilemma will soon be coming to a municipality near you. City and state budgets all over America are going broke paying for police, fire, teacher and civil service pensions. These pensions need to be eliminated and the affected work force transfered to the Social Security system like the other 99% of the populace. This would have the added social benefit of giving these folks more of a motive/incentive to care about what happens to the rest of us as well.


Mary
NYC


Viva la France! If I could join them, I would. Why aren't Americans taking to the streets? If not now, when?


The Frog
France


A few additional figures for those who might be inclined to believe the strikes and protests going on can be dismissed as ridiculous and French have nothing to complain about.

The 60 year age for pension is the *minimum* age and valid only if you have worked for 40 years fully. Which means... no break for kids, no unemployment, no long studies, no accident. For anything mentioned above, you'll have to retire later, up to 65 year old (soon 67). If you have worked less than 40 years, your pension will be severely reduced.

But a few questions are asked when it comes to rising the age of pensions, especially when:
- seniors (55y+) have enormous difficulties finding a job. Their employment rate is 38%
- juniors (15-25y) either struggle to obtain a job or make long studies. Their employment rate is 32%

It is a common joke to say that the death rate in some companies is higher than the retirement rate. Why ? Because senior people are often laid off before they have a chance to retire, and then finish their career unemployed. Statistically, few reach the age of retirement while still active.

The over-simplistic accounting argument “work longer to pay for the pension” stops being valid when so many seniors are unemployed and are therefore getting money from the country instead of producing value. The problem is more complex than simple math.


Lynn in DC
DC


Cradle-to-grave protection is no longer sustainable when there aren't enough workers to finance that lifestyle. Where do the unions think the money is going to come from to pay retirement benefits to Boomers? The answers are cut pension benefits, increase the retirement age OR perhaps receive no pension at all if the system becomes bankrupt. Do the unions propose viable alternatives? Strikes seem childish and useless in this day and age.


Jacob10583
Zurich


Bob Bell is 100% correct. There really isn't anything for me to add.

Yes, blame for the financial collapse lies primarily at the feet of banks, unscrupulous fund managers, and traders, but that doesn't change the fact the we in the West have been outliving our means. The bankers are simply a symptom of greater societal problems. We have increased our social services, our commercial standard of living, while our marginal productivity has decreased. Simply put, we are consuming value faster than we can produce it. It doesn't help that our economies rely on banking, services, and "tech" with little actual societal value (i.e. facebook).



sharon57
New York


It's refreshing to finally read about workers who are as mad as hell and they're not going to take it anymore! Here in the good ol' USA organized labor has been running scared ever since President Corporate Shill Reagan was able to break the air traffic controllers union with relative ease. Corporate Shill Reagan emboldened his corporate masters in letting them stick it to their workers with his "trickle down" philosophy in redistributing wealth to all of his rich cronies leaving the middle class with next to nothing. American workers have never recovered from the Reagan debacle.

Maybe the French can dust off the old guillotine and reserve it for corporate crooks. Off with their heads! Vive la France!


Marcus
NYC


First my sincere congratulations to the French working class people for their courage to fight for their interests and refusal to swallow the corporatist plutocratic propaganda that most Americans swill like drunkards.

From an economist's perspective, I find bob Bell's and Jacob10583's comments to be reminiscent of the typical false argument that is put forth by Republicans and monopolizes the US media’s focus during any discussion about responsible government spending. This propaganda suggests a false choice between cutting social benefits/ entitlements that benefit the middle class and poor or fiscal ruin.

In fact, however, it is not spending on social benefits that is bankrupting the US but our runaway health care costs, pork barrel spending at the bequest of corporate special interests, and our absurd spending on our militaristic empire necessary to be the world’s policemen.

The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are currently expected to cost near $2 Trillion - that’s 2000 Billions - and Bush and the military originally sold us on the war by saying it would cost only about $80 billion or less because the oil would pay for the war and the reconstruction of the region. This type of propaganda – and the diminished intellect of the American citizenry which is too uninformed to detect and reject it – even when it is obvious after the fact - is what is bankrupting the US - not spending on social security or other entitlements.

And also a word on entitlements, - social security is not a “gift” afforded to citizens as it is typically characterized by the American media - it is something we are entitled to like any other property we pay for because citizens have paid for this entitlement through the social security taxes we pay from our paychecks.



Nick
Boston


"Late Monday, the [French] Senate, the upper house of the legislature, voted to raise the age of retirement with a full pension to 67 from 65" (NYTimes, 10/12/10).

Why stop at age 67? What about rounding up to 70!?!

This is absurd: the upper-middle class + wealthy top 5% can checkout + luxuriate on the backs of the majority French workers (what remains of the middle class) who will have to work longer before retiring themselves!

Let's call this what it really is: serfdom.


Talleyrand
Basel, Switzerland


Bravo to the French. Yes, the capitalists and freemarketeers would really love it if workers would just shut up and do as they are told, the invisible hand, so the neo-liberals, is only for people making a ton of money. Forget it. Every single revolution in history has had to do with the haves having a lot on the backs of the have nots.

The last recession is a perfect example. The governments are all saying "we have to tighten our belts". But not everyone. My monthly costs went up by about 300 euros in the past 18 months. Why does my landlord NOT have to tighten HIS belt???


Hetty Green
NYC


Imagine what might happen if we had mass strikes in the US? (That's right -- everyone arrested, no change.....)

Vive la France...


Adil
NY, NY


I love the French people. period.

here is another example of lies and lies: the rich took 2.5 trillions from SS... and suddenly, the SS cannot pay its promises so poor must take the hit :)

of course, the media writes for the rich because they are funded by the rich.. fortunately, at least French people are not as stupid as rest of world.

here is next thing that rich can try: make sure the marriages are world class mistakes as it happens in India/Pakistan.. then the kids produced will be absolutely like machine and will obey all orders.. but hey,,,, would you really like world full of such machines?


rei vilo
France


As Former President General de Gaulle put it, "How could you govern a country with more different kinds of cheese than days in a year?"

Now, the strikes involve primarily civil servants "les fonctionnaires" who want to clash with their employer, i.e.. the State. They don't care about the non-State sector and free business companies.

The strikes also include a specific class of age, close to retirement, which was aged 15-25 on May 1968. This generation has eaten what their parents built after WWII, has saved nothing during their working lite-time and now wants the next generation to pay for them.

Last but not least, France has only one political party able to govern, Sarkozy's UMP. the Socialist Party has nothing to propose and remains silent. The far-left dreams with anarchy and Revolution, hence the enrollment of kids and teens.

France is that close to a violent surge from free-enterprise employees against civil servants, from younger generations against the 68 generation.

Who said that "France [was] the only working communist country"? What's the wrong word: "working" or "communist"?

I'm French and I live in France: shall I plan to emigrate?



Erka
Paris


Yet the NYT forget to mention that Eric Woerth, the minister in charge of the so called "reform" (a step backward to the 70', btw) is involved in numerous illegal funding activity of the presidential party UMP. Plus, in addition, a unbelievable conflict of interest. After being both the finance manager of Sarkozy's party and the state treasury minister for 2 years he just resigned from his party appointment. Now every week or so a new revelation about how he helped, thanks to his position as minister, hiding tax evasion fraud from billionaires (including the one his wife used to work for) that happen to be also big donors to Sarkozy's party that he was working for is being published.
The government call the activity of bringing up to light such dirty connections "a reminder of the 30's propaganda" and paradoxically tries to hide the scandal under far-right rhetoric against illegal aliens and Romanians. The entire population is definitely fed-up with this bunch of corrupted rightist politicians and their clique of heirs and billionaires, and really wants to send a clear message. The "reform" is just the cherry atop of it, since Woerth keeps referring to his "noble" sense of equity and his "honest" face (true!) to argue against valuable arguments raised by the Unions...



JD
Kansas City, MO


The comment from John F., London:
"The French unions have simply got to accept that the way of life they demand is not affordable. The country cannot afford to pay full pensions to employees who work thirty-five hours per week, retire at sixty and live until ninety. It is literally unsustainable."
What would people living before or around the French Revolution would have said about this? Well, we cannot afford to change, because it would mean that average citizen will have a little better life at the expense of luxuries enjoyed by the aristocracy. Then they will not work hard and economy would suffer. Hmm.


D.Strohl
France


May be it is useful to know that almost all European countries have retirement age limits at 65 or 67. This was also the case in France till 1982 or 83 when the Socialists under President Mitterrand lowered it from 65 years to 60, in order to fulfill a campaign promise made by Mitterrand himself. A presidential election is due in 2012; the Socialists and their allies hope to win this election thanks to their promise (delivered solemnly to the "peuple de France" by Ségolène Royal, former presidential candidate who lost against Pres. Sarkozy in the 2007 election) to turn back to 60 if they win. As the French saying goes : "Ceci explique cela" (this explains that). What they miss to do right now is to explain how they will finance the system - other than increasing taxes, their favorite and usually sole remedy. Of course, the new taxes will be aimed at "les riches" ! But as usual, the middle classes would foot the potential bills.
PS: May be it is also useful to know that under Mitterrand's 14 years tenure (1981-1995), there were four devaluations of the French currency ("franc" at the time), i.e. 1981, 82, 83 and 86. I still have a vivid recollection of these feats :). They were the starting point of the huge state deficit spiral which still goes on.


The Frog
France

A few more facts and figures from frogland...

the posts painting the protesters as "insiders", from corporations having huge benefits or civil servants are at best inaccurate. We are talking 1.2 to 3.5 million protesters in the streets during today's protests. That would be a quite significant number of insiders.

Today is the fourth of the protests that happened both during week days and during week-ends, bringing very different populations in the street, some who couldn't do it during a work day for obvious reasons.

Lastly, about French people living above their means... France is listed in 2010 as the third country hosting the biggest number of millionaires after the USA and Japan.

Now one might wonder: is the bottom-line problem connected to the lack of wealth, or about the repartition of wealth ? It's a question of perspective and picking the facts suiting one’s argument.


Mason
New York City


I lived in France for almost three years. I am very critical of the "French way" when it's misguided, arrogant, or both (it can be both). But I applaud the French in this nationwide action, because if they give in now it's just the beginning of unbridled capitalism and GOP-like prescriptions for "sustained growth and prosperity" -- privatized Social Security, limited or zilch mass transit, delayed repairs to infrastructure, the rationing of health care (you purchase a plan for your child but can't afford one for yourself). Those are prescriptions for a utilitarian country, a third-world country, and the French want no part of it. Aux barricades!


David Sassoon
Paris France


I am an ex-pat living here and part of this crazy system in France. Those who know me know all too well that I am very critical of many aspects of life here. However, I do not worry about my health insurance nor the quality of the schools and the municipal services. Paris has outstanding public transport which still works even during this strike. But neither the government nor the 'people' are uniquely right or wrong in this story. The pension scheme is simply being adjusted for a longer life span. But it is also true that social funds are tight, in part due to an immense abuse by 'the people' and a refusal of the very rich to chip in a bit more. I have witnessed more people 'play the system' for maximizing the money they get instead of using the social safety nets only when needed but France also loses some of the very rich who relocate to other countries to avoid the higher taxes.

I do not agree with the protests and personally think that advancing the retirement age by 2 or 3 years is not such a tragedy. But on the other hand, you must acknowledge the contrast to what is going on in the USA. France is a country in which over 60% of the people vote and politics is still a fact-filled and tedious discussion that cannot even fit into a Tea party 30 second sound bite.


A.G.
Oslo, Norway


It is false to presume that students, workers on strike have a reasoned rational for their actions. It is more likely that the massive strikes reflect a culture of discontent, whether directed at banks, corporate chiefs or government cronies.

At the end of the day, the strikes will only harm the French, students, workers, parents, kids, and those that are hoping to retire one day.
The economic reality today is that more people have to work, longer and harder if they want to retire early, with a comfortable or even a basic pension.



WagesofSloth
Florida


It seems that the democracies face at least two problems, which seem somewhat intertwined. The thrill of spending someone else's money, whether through bailouts and preferential tax treatment, entitlement spending, or deficit spending with no plan to be repaid during the lifetime of the borrower is at the heart of the issue.

Corporations that are rewarded with preferential tax treatment, both for stockholders and investors, need to understand that they can not have what they want, insofar as a system in which when the going is smooth, and profits are ripe, they can decide to lavish upon themselves riches, and call it just rewards. They would justifiably have that option, were it not for the fact that they promote regulation to their benefit, and occasionally societies detriment, whether through barriers to entry of competition, or differential tax treatment, etc., and also, when the going gets rough, they want to be bailed out either through favorable interest rate policy, government backed loans, or wholesale rescue from the public purse. If corporations wish to have a social safety net provided by the government, they need to pay for it, just like everyone else. If corporations want lower taxes, then they need to accept lower levels of services, just like everyone else. If corporations don't want foreign competition, (whether from domestic companies, or those people who speak differently) they need to deal with the higher cost imposed by workers/consumers wanting similar protection and barriers to entry from competition.

If workers want to retire at 60, receive cradle to the grave medical care, have guarantees as far as minimum levels of income through the dole, etc., they should be prepared to pay for those things, just like everyone else. That means if one plans to spend nearly on third life not working, the ability to consume almost all income is no longer feasible. One can not count on someone else to pay for a life of indolence, whether that is through taxing someone else, be it rich, middle class, businesses, or even taxing future generations through massive national debts and high rates of inflation to make prior borrowings less painful. There is no reason that someone can't spend the last 20 to 30 years of life not working, but they need accept an appreciably lower standing of living during the first 50 to 60 years, via some combination of increased output and decreased consumption.

Future generations are not "suckers," simply because they lacked the wit to be born first, and lost the ability to vote against being saddled with massive amounts of debts, and a degraded environment, both politically and physically. The idea that those who come after should have the pleasure of paying for the levels of government spending that current generations want, but aren't willing to purchase with their own output is morally reprehensible, and practically difficult. It is not inconceivable that citizens of a country, when faced with high levels of spending on debt service that the current workers did not create, along with expensive social programs from which current workers are not likely to see benefits, with high tax rates that go for spending designed to benefit people who currently live a life of indolence will revolt and say no more. While those workers would definitely be hurt by a default of their governments obligations, they would basically be placed in a position so unenviable that they have little to no stake in the system, certainly not enough to put forth the required effort to make certain that other people are comfortable. They have little incentive, not to use a 3rd grade metaphor, of taking their ball (productive labor) and going home until the rules of the game have been changed.

The second problem relates to the fact that the world is no longer Europe, America and their colonies (my deepest apologies to Japan and Korea). The global workforce is connected enough, at least by information, so that Chinese people want Buicks, South Africans like Ipods, and basically the majority of the human race wants more than subsistence farming, poor water quality, repressive government, and so forth. These individuals aren't mental defectives, and if they can make their living standards closer to those enjoyed by the West, eventually higher, they see no reason not to pursue this goal. Every job "outsourced" is "sourced" somewhere else. If 20 dollars/euros a day is a pittance in one country, it seems rather more generous elsewhere. Thanks to a global economy, it isn't inconceivable to see global living standards approach a much higher level in the aggregate, but a lower level in some of the more advanced economies.

That isn't a bad thing, but it does mean that global flows of labor should be higher, to match increased ease in global flows of capital. Take away capital's mobility advantage. Level the field, increase the standard of living for humanity, and only spend what one earns.


Bruna
San Francisco


First it is important to note that there are several "classes" of pensioners. There are the unions that operate in nationalized or quasi-nationalized companies like EDF, SNCF and Gaz de France. These unions have negotiated fantastic benefits for themselves (much like some the US public service unions). For example, SNCF ticket takers retire at 50. This was a function of the long ago coal-powered trains and has no bearing on today's condition but they still retire at 50. Would it be so disastrous for them to retire at 55?

But on the other side are those who work in the private sector whose pensions are not as generous and who retire at a later age.

Then there is a third class of young professionals who work only on temporary contracts - meaning they are temp workers and enjoy few of these benefits. The reason why there are so many temp workers is a factor of the economic burden on an employee that these workers are striking to protect for themselves even if it exclude others.

So the "strikes" you see are the "insiders" with generous benefits who want to protect them. Those you don't see striking will not enjoy these benefits.

So those of you who are seeing some glorious workers' paradise you'd better look again.



Chris
Phoenix


France probably cannot realistically afford to keep a retirement age of 60 any more. However, the financiers who destroyed our world economy have not paid one iota for their actions. The People are right to be angry. Too bad France can't bring back the guillotine for the slime who let greed drive them to make idiotic decisions. If they could bring it back I vote we extradite some of our Wall Street barons to France and 'let them eat cake'.

[Why is it that folks from NY City seem most receptive to what's going on in France? Also, isn't NYCity the place of NYTimes?]

25 comments:

pdxtran, Minneapolis said...

Raising the retirement age, whether in France or here, makes sense only if there are jobs for older workers. In the U.S., workers over the age of 50 are having a terrible time finding any kind of job.

That is why American proposals to raise the age for full retirement to 70 are so clueless, not to mention cruel. I know people in their 50s and early 60s who would love to work full time if only somebody would hire them.

Nobody in the mainstream media is willing to talk about the option of raising the cap on Social Security and Medicare payments for current workers.

I wish Americans were as willing to protest on their own behalf as the French are, and I don't mean the Astroturf meeting disruptions by the Tea Party types, either. When it comes to attacks on their well-being by corporate greed and government attempts to limit their Constitutional rights, most Americans are like dodo birds, staring dumbly at those who are destroying them.

mvonkorff, Seattle said...

When we Americans have brought our bloated health care costs and wasteful spending on defense systems, agricultural subsidies for corporate farmers under control, then perhaps we will be in a position to lecture the French on their retirement benefits. Our broken political system cannot even make minor adjustments to Social Security to make it sound for generations despite retirement age already increased to 67. I suspect the French will make the adjustments to their retirement benefits long before we fix our broken health care system and pull the plug on corporate welfare in the defense, agricultural and banking sectors.

Steve, Japan said...

Let's see. Did I get this right? The French "exist in a globalized economy where the Chinese don’t get the notion of retirement," Therefore, France should join in the race to the bottom. No workers have the right to expect more than the most miserable peons in China.

Perhaps the "globalized economy" is what should be re-examined. Competing in a race to the bottom will have us all working for a few dollars a day with no fringe benefits. I am sure the stockholders who have never had to work would like to see the rest of us at it til we drop, just to improve the bottom line.

angela469 nsw , australia said...

The French are my heroes. Good on them for fighting this outrageous grab of ordinary people's entitlements. We have all worked and paid taxes for decades on the understanding that the govt would set aside enough to pay for our pensions. If they haven't - then start ramping up the taxes for the wealthy now - they have been getting a free ride for far too long. Stop privileging bankers and investment gamblers over people who have actually contributed to society.

David Sharp Paris, France said...

A naysayer could have noted, for example, that the argument which states that because we're living longer we should work longer, is at odds with the curious fact that we are also becoming much more productive, so that a decreasing proportion of people in active employment are able to support a larger number of retirees. This is part of a process known as "human progress": many of us here in France are concerned to see it continuing, rather than going backwards in order to provide every large bonuses for bankers and Mr. Sarkozy's other rich friends. We'd rather see leisure and money put into the hands of retirees - who incidentally would thereby be able to support the economy by spending it.

If he had asked around a bit, he would also have learned that the French pension reform cannot be reduced to the single proposition of making people retire at 62 rather than 60. That change, which opponents of the reform love to single out because they think it makes the French sound pampered, is in fact only one of four simultaneous measures, the other three being a lengthening of the number of years needed to obtain a full pension, an increase in the age at which people can retire on a full basic pension independently of their contributions, and provisions to promote the growth of private US-style pension funds run by, you guessed it, the usual suspects.
All of this in fact adds up to one of the most regressive pension reforms being brought in in Europe; a lot of us have a strong suspicion that its real aim is to gradually dismantle the "redistributive" French system and replace it with the charming US or British model, whereby the same banks that brought on the sub-prime disasters elsewhere are allowed to fool around with yet more of people's hard-earned funds and "accidentally" lose them. Oops!

If our hypothetical nayser had also read just a few French press reports he might also have been able to give a different take on the famous deficit, which is being brandished as the ultimate argument for dismantling pensions and other social programs around the world. How much of that deficit was caused by the bank bailouts, and how much by all the massive tax cuts for the rich and other handouts for vested interests that Mr. Sarkozy and other politicians like him have implemented in recent years?

All of this would go a long way to explaining why so many of us in France are very, very angry, and particularly why young people are now getting in to the movement; they know how dim their job prospects are right now: when will many of them even be able to start working to pay those extended pension contributions that Mr. Sarkozy is imposing on us?

Get real, folks!
David Sharp, French trade unionist

Nicolas Paris, France said...

First of all, in order to receive a full pension, retirement age in France is currently 65, not 60. 60 is the earliest one can retire and receive anything at all... and then only after having worked continuously for 40 years, with no period of absence from the workforce whatsoever — a relative rarity in a country where "structural" unemployment is probably in the 7 - 8% range.

These terms may be considered generous by the standards of the US (where such largesse is reserved for only the wealthiest fringe of the population). But they are not particularly generous by the standards of the rest of the industrialized world.

The reform would move these ages to 62 and 67 respectively, and the period in the workforce would (will already, under a reform voted by the previous government) be expanded to 41.5 years.

Most French accept the need for reform. Simply not THIS reform. Why? Because it is a reform designed very precisely to avoid the wealthy fringe of the population that patronizes M. Sarkozy and Mme. Lagarde, and to fall on the shoulders of teaching assistants, street cleaners, and, yes, railroad workers — people who are often the least physically able to continue their jobs beyond a certain age (what that age is / should be is very much the topic of the current debate).

How does it target the (relative) poor? Well, for starters, few people with a university diploma are even effected, and no one with a graduate diploma is. Since higher education pushes entry to the workforce to later in life, the system has long required university graduates (generally presumed to earn higher incomes) to make a supplemental contribution towards "retraite complémentaire" in order to retire at 60 (partial pension) or 65 (full pension). The contribution is voluntary, and will not change. Those that choose not to make it must work later in life, easier (on average) for someone whose working life was spent in front of a computer monitor than for someone whose working life was spent on a scaffold.

Nicolas Paris, France said...

So, the "reform" is actually another wealth transfer to the wealthy from the less wealthy. Not all of us agree with that, and it is our right not to! You want me to drive your train? Then pay me the salary you promised when you hired me.

The insult is made worse since the entire financial benefit of the reform across the life of all workers now alive is less than the amount of money we just transferred to our financial sector to "stabilize our markets" (in other words, maintain banker's bonuses). Curiously, there seemed to be no limit to the amount of money we had available to give to our bankers, but our street cleaners have to give back their pittances to make the state whole. Sound like Class Warfare? It sounds that way to us, too.

The team formed by Sarkozy and Lagarde were not elected by street cleaners and bus drivers, and there is no reason that they should act in the interests of a population they do not represent. They represent bankers. But, unlike the US, where elections can change the course of government every 2 years, here it is every 5. The only way that we can make the bankers understand that they must share with us is to stop driving their trains. When they can't get to work, they remember that we are here, and press their political leaders to ease up.

So... reform, yes. For instance, retirement should be funded by a combination of labor and capital, not by labor alone. Why should someone whose life is spent playing the stock market receive many retirement benefits (even in the absence of a pension, per se), even though they have contributed nothing to the system?

Then length of contribution should probably be lengthened... for everybody, not just for the manual and service industry workers who started their careers at 18.

The relative aptitude of the old to work in different careers should be taken into account. Do you really want the pilot of a 747 (or a TGV) to be a 75 year old with a heart problem? And the pension contributions in those careers no doubt have to be raised to cover their higher retirement costs. Which means some things in our economy will have to cost more, like transportation, and education. But at least the burdens will be shared, as those are things we all consume.

jean-marc giboux chicago said...

Numbers can be misleading, and we don't want to fall into a stereotype about the french (I know it is difficult for some of you). One can retire today at 60 only if they have got full employment and contributed to the pension fund for 40.5 years. The reform will bring the contribution to 42 years and the minimum age of retirement at 62, but most workers will have to work til 67 to complete the required 42 years of contribution.
In Germany for example, the minimum retirement age is 63, but you have to contribute to the system for only 38 years. The issue is not as simple as you make it.
The unions all agree that the system needs to be reformed, that people need to contribute longer to retire with a full pension, but for those who started working young at 16 or 18 (and they happen to be among the poorest part of the population), they will have contributed the full 42 years and will have to work 2 or 4 more years without added benefits.
Ah the french !!! always complaining when they have it so good !!!!
A big part of the frustration is to witness a system that reward investors and not the people doing the hard work, to see factories which are making money, closing and moving to china so that shareholders can make even more profit. The french government has also its share of responsabilities, when it ask the workers and middle class for sacrifice, and , in the same time, protect the fortunes of the richest members of society.
In the US, the frustration is endorsed by the Tea party and its corporate sponsors, in France, people take to the streets to protect their rights. Don't dismiss it ,because in France just like in the US, the middle class is shrinking while the wealth of the country is concentrating in the pockets of a few.
Numbers don't lie and there has never been a wider gap between rich and poor in both countries. Wealth is created, but it doesn't trickle down the social ladder.
A lot of what I hear in the street of Paris are the same I would hear in NY or Chicago. Frustration with a system that seems to only listen to the voice of the Finance, at the expense of the workers.
The french express it in the street and their voices should be heard.

27 year ex pat Paris, France said...

It is still amazing to me, even after nearly 30 years of living in France (I have dual citizenship US-French) how blind the majority of the French population is to basic economic flows and balances. It's not that they can't do the math, they refuse to. Somehow too, one feels that France has not quite gotten over its "Revolution" and that a subject like this and hatred of France's current government simply fans the embers of the class struggle that has not yet died out. I appreciate France's social welfare system but I know that now is the time that it must come at a price and if that price is working two more years so be it. I say this knowing that I will most likely have to work until the age of 67 as I am a self-employed translator and would not currently be entitled to a full pension until 65. 62 sounds really good to me! And, even more unheard of here, I have several personal retirement plans going to supplement my social security pension which I know will not be very high precisely because I am self-employed and not a salaried employee. I guess I'm still not used to depending on the government for my welfare. Unlike most French citizens I have done the math and know that we have no choice. But the "base" as the unions call it, is more willing to believe their unions and the left rather than the government, which unfortunately has not done a very good job of communicating the dire necessity of this reform. So I slog on, trying to convince my friends that two years a cheap price to pay for France's rather generous social welfare system as my friends look at me indulgently thinking that my liberalism stems from the American half of my background.

JR New York said...

It's funny, the elite always seem to find money when it comes to bailing out their fellow elite and the bankers, but when it comes to helping out the middle class, we are told the money is simply not there.

In America, where we have no retirement age, where we have no real social safety net, where wealth polarity has exploded, we are still told that we do not have enough money and that more cuts are needed. It seemed reasonable to us to accept a slow and steady decline in our standard of living because of this crisis or that crisis. Thirty years later we are left blinking into the harsh light, wondering where all these sacrifices have gotten us. Our wages have stagnated, our industry decided they could use slaves overseas for a bowl of rice a day, and both parents now work because they have to, and they still barely make it. This is a war of attrition. This perpetual state of crisis is designed to demand cuts from the workers without engendering a fight, and it has worked wonders with the U.S. workers. The same formula will now be applied across Europe, as the market gods and the mainstream media outlets demand it.

Those who would strip your standard of living do not come to you with an axe, but with a scalpel, and those cuts happen again and again, until you are left without a limb. The French most cede no ground, they must hold the line.

www.cultureofpoverty.com

James Cambridge said...

This would be less of a problem if technocrats learned to write laws with built-in flexibly. For example, "the national retirement age will be the average lifespan less ten years, computed annually" or "a person will be considered of retirement age when he or she is in the oldest ten percent of the population." While the simplistic rules I wrote here have problems, a formula of a third of a page could easily be written (incorporating variables such as national income and population distribution) that would make sense. Citizens could visit a webpage, examine the formula and the source for its input data, and have a live picture of this figure. Simple, fair, and sustainable.

but, of course, we (by which I mean every country that you happen to live or reside in, with the possible exception of Singapore), continues to turn actors, lawyers, and witches into public office rather than people with an 'engineering, let's actually fix problems" mentality, so we get this sort of nonsense.

Philip Covington Paris, France said...

I suspect that the French workers and young people striking and taking to the streets are less concerned about the proposed change in retirement age as for what it seems to them to portend for the future in a broader sense. In France, as in America and around the world, people of modest means and/or uncertain futures believe that they alone are being asked to bear the burden of "social responsibility," while the rich and powerful are accurately perceived as becoming ever richer and more powerful. What is at stake in France and elsewhere is the ideal of a social contract based on shared sacrifices and solidarity between as well as among the classes.

Nicolas Paris said...

Actually the French people have done the math and understood that the reform currently debated just won't work. As unemployment in our country hits very hard after 50, it will end in keeping people a few more years on unemployment benefits rather than retirement pensions - with no impact at all (in the best scenario) on the State's deficit. The proposed reform is just cosmetic - a short-view narrow-minded attempt at preserving France's triple A grade and reassure SP's and Moody's... I think most French understand that as the legions of baby-boomers grow older and as our life expectancy gets longer every year, our pension system has to increase its resources. But they want it to be done in a fair way : have people retire later - OK if you have a job, and a good one that you can enjoy until you're 70, but not if you're a blue collar with great risk of dying at 60 or 65 because of the stress, fatigue and professional diseases you endured during decades in factories or construction sites... Pay more taxes - OK if the effort is shared by everyone and not only low incomes : in the current fiscal system, the super-rich in France are 100% protected against any tax raises, while all figures show that upper-class incomes are growing a lot faster than in the rest of the population. With her reform, "Marie-Antoinette" Lagarde tells the French to eat "brioche" (unemployment benefits) when bread (pension) is lacking, and remains deaf to numerous alternative propositions (from unions, opposition parties, NGOs, experts from public as well as private institutions...) in favor of a rational and transparent modernization of the public pension system, mixing a balanced tax increase with longer careers for those who want and can, physically, afford it.
It's funny to hear Lagarde denouncing "greed" and blindness of the financial system, while the government she belongs to takes its agenda from only one direction: the banking and insurance industry, with their disastrous quest for short-term profit, and mad lobbying in favor of what would be the insanely lucrative privatization of the French national pensions and healthcare systems. It's the old fight : private interest vs "intérêt général".

Anonymous BE Belgium said...

I wish the American media would stop writing that the French can retire at full benefits at 60, and that is to be raised to 62.

The truth is that their age 60 retirement corresponds to age 62 in America! In America, you can get partial Social Security benefits at age 62, but full if you wait until 65 (it will be 67 for people in the future).

In France, you can get partial pension benefits at 60, but only full benefits at 65. So, their system is not as different from the American one as the media would have you believe.

Another media falsehood that applies to all Western countries is this discussion of increased life expectancy. The increase in life expectancy has come about mostly from decreased infant and childhood mortality rates, not old people living longer. So, the average 60-year-old has about the same life expectancy now as he or she did 40 years ago.

In any case, in a time of massive unemployment, would it not be a good thing for some of these people still working in their 60s to retire and open up some spots for the unemployed?

What about those in manual labor? Should they go on working into their 60s?

What about those who know already that a congenital illness will mean that they will die young? Should the chances of even a couple years of retirement be taken away from them?

Also, wasn't progress and richer countries than our grandparents had supposed to create an improvement in quality of life? I would think that allowing ordinary people to enjoy a full and long retirement is one of those improvements in ordinary life that was supposed to come with prosperity. Per capita income is much higher in France, the United States, Belgium, Australia - indeed, every Western country - than it was 40 years ago. Why then, are things like retirement suddenly "not affordable" - what happened? Could it be that the top 1% took an ever-increasing share, and left behind a system that the rest of us are supposed to support without their contribution?

Michael Paris said...

Some important context: France's retirement age was decreased from 65 to 60 years of age by French President François Mitterand in 1982.

In 1983, the Dole/Moynihan Bipartisan Social Security Act (signed by Reagan) increased the US retirement age from 65 to 67 over time.

So just at the moment when prescient US politicians were working to fix retirement, the French decided to give themselves a present that they are now having to pay for.

Ironically, the French government is now working hard to fix the public finances whilst the US government is struggling to figure out how to pay for its own presents to the people - tax cuts, entitlement expansion (i.e. prescription drugs) etc.

But one key thing is the same in France and in the US: The "working class" feels put-upon and undervalued, the "upper class" is still raking in cash and the middle class feels like it's working like mad to pay for it all.

How is this playing out in the streets and malls:
- In France, it's roughly 2 vs. 1 (working class and some middle class vs. upper class) = redistribution of wealth = mitigation of social tension.

- In the US, it seems to be a slim majority of all classes bolstering the upper class = more wealth inequality = increased social tension.

I'm glad I live in France (though I'm paying dearly for it).

Anonymous said...

Bondy
New York

We know the fundamental problem of democracy: we elect leaders who promise us gifts not ones who demand responsibility. France is a conservative country- the wild leftists in the street demonstrations make the headlines but are the minority.

Along with their conservative mentality are their deep traditional beliefs. They do not like change and resist it, these pension reforms are part of that thought process: if 60 has been the age of retirement for decades why should it change. Train drivers here still retire at 50 because 65 years ago coal fired locomotives injured the drivers health and they did not live very long. Not the case today with electric trains, but the tradition stays.

After the death of so many men in the trenches of WWII the government put into place a policy of giving additional money to families based on the number of children they had- the more children the more money you received on a monthly basis. That policy is still in effect and used by immigrants from Africa who practice polygamy in the suburbs- they call their extra wives "sisters" or "cousins". This is overlooked to maintain order.

Even the concierge system in most apartment buildings was established after WWI when so many French widows and their children were left without husbands and fathers by the war that every building took them in and gave them free rooms and a monthly living expense. Their only job was to collect the mail and sweep the stairs once a week- after all their husbands and fathers died defending France. A noble thing to do at the time but for the last 25 years the concierge is more likely a Spanish woman and her husband who works in the construction industry.

I watched the street marches in Paris a couple of days ago and was surprised to see that at least half the people marching were under 20 years old and many much less than that. And they were not with their parents but with their school friends in large groups with stickers on their shirts demanding the right to retirement at age 60. This is the concern of 16 year old school kids today ? The age group who was not present in the group were the people over 60- they have their retirements and could not care less about this.

These accumulation of gifts from previous French administrations over the past 75 years have placed a burden on the system here and now the weight is too heavy.

Outright fraud in the social security system is everywhere from the lower classes who pass around their medical ID cards to their friends to the upper middle classes who can easily find a doctor to give them a two week leave from their jobs for any health reason (stress is the most common excuse)the numerous health spas on the ocean or at mineral baths receive the majority of their clients from doctors who send them there to cure various problems at government expense. The patients have massages, baths and good food for a week to cure whatever.

Methods of defrauding the unemployment compensation system here are well known and practiced. Young people could up to recently go to other countries to look for work at government expense- Brazil was one of their favorite destinations as well as Thailand. They would receive money deposited into their bank account and draw it off in Rio with their Visa cards. All they had to do was get some fake letter saying they had applied to some company there for work in the last 2 weeks. Easy to make on a computer. The average time spent on these work "searches" was about 6 months- mostly spent on the beaches and in the local nightclubs.

The list goes on and on. Now their father, as the French of all ages see their government, is running short on cash and Les enfants du la patrie are throwing a temper tantrum.

Anonymous said...

Marlene
Alexandria, VA

I am so tired of the American posters here (especially) the Texans who keep using the words socialism or socialistic in connection with France. France is a very elitist society, despite the fact that all are supposed to be treated equally. France has one of the highest standards of living in the world. They are also healthier than Americans, better educated, speak several languages. Everyone contributes to society for the betterment of all. There are small businessese and multi-national corporations in France.
The French system takes care of everyone, but it is very difficult to be a welfare cheat. In order to get a full pension in France, workers have to be employed full time for 42 years. So if you start in your career at a later age, you will retire later. Not everyone gets to retire at 60 with full benefits. France's health care system is a mixture of private and public financing, somewhat similar to the US, but with better results. The French can choose their own doctors, who do not work for the state. Americans can choose their doctors, too, but only the ones who accept their insurance. The French worker and their employers contribute to health care (just like here.) The government helps toward those who are unemployed. France's health care system works.
The French employees and employers contribute to the pension plan. Just like we do. Productivity and salaries are not that different from the US. But their working conditions are better, they are healthier and they get more vacation.
The French also do not need to worry about wasting billions of euros on unnecessary wars. A truly free nation is one that is healthy and productive and cares for all its people.

Anonymous said...

Nathan
Oakland, CA

This is about democracy and freedom, not about "rent-seekers" or the stereotype of "lazy French workers". I challenge anyone to find the kind of civic engagement in US that France people demonstrate on a regular basis. Generally, a full 50% of registered voters don't bother to contribute to society by voting in America, and far fewer feel compelled to initiate change in their communities. Democracy is a loud, messy, slow and sometimes violent form of government.

Anonymous said...

judah benjamin
portland,or.


have you seen coverage of this story on american news programs, or has there been a media blackout?
the tactics the french unions are employing are effective, they are actually standing up for working people, something that makes the capitalist overlords, all 2%of them, very nervous.
imagine if something similar were to happen here, how long before anonymous riot-gear goons physically assault the protesters and illegally arrest and detain people in an effort to kill the rebellion.
roger cohen couldn't be bothered to talk to the strikers or their leaders, but gave over much of his column to how pointless the strike was and to provide a forum for the elite french ministers to catapult the propaganda.
cheers to the french for knowing how to stand up for themselves, and a raspberry to all those who try to justify keeping the other 98% of americans in ignorance and saddled with a falling standard of living and less chance of success than ever before in american history.

Anonymous said...

Katy
NYC

It's time for all of us to 'grow up' and accept reality. We are living longer, we are in better health mentally and physically, then previous generations. We also have better access to health care systems.

Living longer, and living longer in better health, means we have the ability to work longer, and it means we HAVE to work longer. It is simply not possible for any system to support each of us for as long, or longer, than we worked and contributed.

What we have to figure out is that now that we can and should work longer, how do we go about growing employment opportunities for those coming out of school.

Anonymous said...

J. Molka
NYC

The French need to grow up. They're going to blockade their country's fuel supplies to protest a change in the retirement age? They already barely work as it is. A few years ago, there were riots when the government CONSIDERED passing a law that would give employers the right to fire their employees. It was a good law, for several reasons, but the French couldn't stomach the idea that they might actually have to DO their JOBS in order to keep them. Anyone who's ever spent time in France can tell you that many of the French could use a little attitude adjustment when it comes to work. Life isn't all about work, but it isn't all about wine and bonbons, either. If they have legitimate issues with the retirement proposal, I'm sure there are better, less immature ways of addressing them.

Anonymous said...

Soleil
Montreal, Quebec

Labor unions and mutual self-help organizations arose in the 19th century in Europe and North America, including the USA, in order to secure wages, workplace safety, and other benefits. France has a long tradition of active labor unions and those on the street have inherited the historical memory of labor's having to fight for every benefit. The French and European states followed in the 20th century with guarantees for ALL including those who did not work, of a decent or minimum-at-least income to survive in old age. Old age was estimated at age 65, that is not many were demographically living actually beyond age 60 so governments did not think they would pay out lots of money in social benefits. The present fight over age for pension definitely augurs future _cutbacks_ in social service. That is why French are mobilizing, and more so in Paris, which is the historical case as well. We in North America who labor, and who come from families who fought for labor unions, should support or sympathize because the social benefits, are under attack. It won't be long before we return to stories of starving aged, abandoned and alone in old age. Really, the US needs a social safety net; remember, it might be you or a loved one , one day in need of help....

Anonymous said...

MT
New York, NY

When France goes bankrupt, look back on this day and have nobody to blame but greedy, spoiled selves. Some of the posters here make absurd comparisons - either fight or they'll eliminate pensions, social security. No. You are in a competitive world where those entitlements are bankrupting your society and you are being asked to work a few years longer, no longer than most of the solvent Western world. So give a little to save them for yourselves and your children. Not much to ask. The billionaires are not threatened. If the country goes bankrupt, they'll still have their retirement paid for.

Anonymous said...

DreamsAmelia
Pittsburgh, PA

Poor Mr. Molka (NYC)...if only _your_ life could be a little more about wine an bonbons, perhaps you would enjoy a joie-de-vivre, live and let live attitude...and then you would not begrudge people who have the dignity to insist on a life-work balance, with the balance towards life and meaning, not work and empty profit...
"Anyone who's ever spent time in France can tell you that many" _Americans_ "could use a little attitude adjustment when it comes to work..." We are so tightly wound that we immediately start denigrating anyone who doesn't work 90 hour work weeks like we do...all the comments thus far make us look like a pack of rabid dogs...all work and no play may not only make Jack into a very dull boy, but an impossibly hostile one, too....

It is a pity the U.S. sold superior chocolate out to the industry that wanted to cushion it with emulsifiers to the point that Europe no longer classifies U.S. chocolate as having enough cocoa to be considered chocolate....similarly we have sold all of our principals--"Union Made" "Made with Pride, in the U.S.A"--out to ginormous multi-national corporations, who have literally got us out in the streets doing their work, agitating to give up our rights to retire in dignity, to give up our rights to health care, to give up our hopes for high-paid Union jobs on U.S. soil, and to not tax the richest 2% of people who own 25%, or more, of our nation's wealth...

Maybe, just maybe, if Mr. Molka took a bike tour of France and spent a few lazy days arguing Voltaire, Kant, and Aristotle with his well-educated French companions over a bottle or two of complex Bordeaux, with whiffs of saffron and winesap apples, eating fresh, raw Camembert with bon-bons made by an obscure but exquisite small scale chocolatier...
Perhaps then he would have a more generous and forgiving attitude towards the French lifestyle, and rather than yelling at them while supporting the Tea Party attitude at home, he would loaf, lounge, and join them....

Anonymous said...

Pingouin
Paris

I apologize in advance for the language mistakes I may do.

I'm from Paris and so I wish to tell what happen and why.

Since the 1930's,there have been in France a lot of demands about having a best life. During the post-war years (I'm talking about the WW2), the different states in Europe (except for the UK) decided to take care of all people, protecting them from savage capitalism, which is known for favoring those who already have money. It gave birth to what is known as the welfare-state. Thanks to it, people could take time being with their family and do what they wanted to. France has been one of the few country developing quickly a real social welfare system. Thanks to that, French people were recognized as one's of the more productive people in developed country's. In the 1980's, the government decided that the retirement would be at the age of 60.
In my opinion, that's was great social advance cause it allowed people to take the most of their old age, and being like tools during all their lives. That's why taxes in France are high.
Now the government is trying to destroy our welfare state, which was already one of the goal of the French revolutionary in 1789 : building a country were everyone would live free, in solidarity and with equality.
That's why there are million of people demonstrating and thousands of them on strike. A few people in the all world take most of the money in a selfish way, without really needing it. We just ask for a better sharing out between people, so that everyone can live happily and properly.
The secondary school student are also demonstrate, and it's not a manipulation from the opposition parties. From my point of view, it's because we are sick and tired about the non-listening government we have actually which promised it would never raise the retirement age. It's also a discredited government we have. The president and a few minister are accused of corruption during the presidential election in 2007.
There are also groups of stupid people, often coming from blighted suburbs who prey on by burning cars, destroying shops and bus shelter.
Those guys are selfish people, often without job neither objective in their lives.

Those demonstration are done in order to protect our future, the future of most of the French people.
It may be hard to understand to you, American people, but it's an other way of thinking, another way of living ; our main goal is not becoming rich, but to live happily in an egalitarian country. The globalisation is trying to destroying it, firing more and more people, making the salary lower and lower, but we will fight, cause every human being is the same value.

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