France’s government has passed a controversial pension reform that will raise the legal retirement age from 62 to 64 by 2030 . The reform aims to address the projected deficit of the pension system, which is expected to reach 17 billion euros by 2025. President Emmanuel Macron argues that the reform is necessary to ensure the sustainability and fairness of the pension system, which currently has 42 different schemes for different professions.
However, the reform has faced fierce opposition from labor unions, who claim that it will force workers to work longer for lower pensions and erode their rights and benefits. The unions have organized several rounds of strikes and protests since December 2022, involving millions of workers from various sectors, such as transport, education, health, energy and culture. The strikes have caused significant disruptions and economic losses, as well as public discontent with Macron’s government.
The unexpected benefit for the unions: more members
Despite their efforts, the unions have failed to derail Macron’s pension reform, which was approved by the parliament in March 2023 after the government used a constitutional clause to bypass a vote in the lower house. However, the unions have not emerged empty-handed from the months-long battle. In fact, they have seen a significant increase in new members, especially among young and private sector workers.
According to a survey by Harris Interactive, more than 200,000 people joined a union between December 2022 and February 2023, representing a 6% increase compared to the previous year. The survey also found that 40% of the new members were under 35 years old, and 60% were from the private sector. The main reasons for joining a union were to support the strike movement, to defend their rights and interests, and to participate in collective action.
Among the unions that gained new members, the most radical ones were the most popular. The CGT (General Confederation of Labor), which led the strike movement and rejected any compromise with the government, reported a 10% increase in membership since December 2022. The CGT’s secretary general Philippe Martinez said that the strike movement had \”awakened\” many workers who realized the importance of unionism.
The challenges and opportunities for the unions
The rise in union membership is a welcome boost for France’s labor movement, which has been facing a decline in influence and representation for decades. According to Eurostat data, only 11% of French workers were unionized in 2019, down from 22% in 1990. France also has one of the lowest rates of union density among OECD countries.
However, the increase in membership does not necessarily translate into more power or legitimacy for the unions. The unions still face challenges such as internal divisions, low voter turnout in workplace elections, and public skepticism about their role and relevance. Moreover, the unions have to deal with the consequences of Macron’s pension reform, which will affect their members’ working conditions and retirement prospects.
The unions also have to seize the opportunities created by the strike movement, such as mobilizing and retaining their new members, strengthening their ties with civil society organizations, and influencing the public debate on social and economic issues. The unions have a chance to revitalize their image and role as defenders of workers’ rights and interests in a changing world.
The strike movement against Macron’s pension reform may have ended without achieving its main goal, but it has left a lasting mark on France’s labor landscape. The unions have gained new members who joined them in solidarity and protest. The challenge now is to keep them engaged and active in the future.