A noted political commentator, Bricmont said today: “France is rocked by constant demonstrations and strikes. And it is not business as usual, as some American cynics may think. The size of the demonstrations, the violence of the police repression and the fury of the people are quite unusual.
“What is all this due to? A sequence of events. First, the government introduced a new law, raising the mandatory age of retirement from 62 to 64, meaning that one cannot retire before that age even if one is willing to have some cut in pension benefits. It should be recalled that the retirement age was brought down to 60 under Mitterrand.
“There are lots of technical arguments about the ‘necessity’ of this reform, which I will not discuss. What is certain is that there are always other solutions than the one proposed by the government, especially if one were willing to reverse the giveaways to employers resulting from the neoliberal policies in France of the last decades.
“In any case, all polls show a massive opposition of the population and even more of the workers to the reform. After a few token gestures, following various strikes, the government stopped talking to the unions and took its law to the National Assembly. There the pro-government parties do not have a majority. But there are three different blocs in the opposition: the National Gathering (Rassemblement National) of Marine Le Pen, the NUPES (basically the left and the Greens) that used to be directed by Jean-Luc Mélenchon, and the ‘Republicans,’ a remote descendant of the Gaullist party, but whose name was chosen by ex-president Sarkozy, probably in imitation of its American equivalent. [See a communiqué of one of the more active labor unions.]
“Both the National Gathering and the NUPES are opposed to that reform (Marine Le Pen explicitly ran against it during the last presidential campaign). The Republicans are in fact for pushing the retirement age even further but don’t want to openly support the government.
“Because of that, President Macron’s prime minister, Elisabeth Borne, realized that her law would not pass if submitted to a direct vote. Therefore she invoked article 49.3 of the French constitution (going back to its institution by De Gaulle) that enables a law to be automatically adopted, without a vote, unless a vote of no confidence is passed, in which case the government has to resign, after which new legislative elections could be called.
“Of course, the National Gathering and the NUPES voted for the no confidence, but not enough Republicans voted for it and it failed by nine votes. So, as someone said: ‘Nine people who probably never worked in their life condemned millions of workers to work two more years.’ The Republicans know that if new elections took place, they would probably be wiped out by the National Gathering, hence their inconsistent attitude (not voting the law but not voting for no confidence either).
“The fact that the law was adopted by such a procedure and so narrowly has infuriated people even more — hence all the recent demonstrations, strikes, blockings etc.
“Where all this will lead to, only time will tell.”
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