Anxious about the future, young French fight for pension reform

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Young people in France – including some who have not yet entered the job market – protested on Thursday against government pressure to raise the retirement age. FRANCE 24 spoke to an expert on French employment matters to better understand this phenomenon.

One of the most controversial elements of the French government’s controversial pension reform is raising the legal retirement age from 62 to 64, something that usually seems to be far from young people’s minds. On Thursday, however, students blocked access to some universities and high schools, and youth-led protests were held in Paris and Lyon as part of nationwide strikes and demonstrations against the pension bill under debate in parliament. .

For a generation already worried about inflation, uncertain job prospects and climate change, the retirement bill is stirring up broader questions about the value of work. FRANCE 24 spoke to Marc Loriol, a sociologist and researcher at the French National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS) and author Les Vieux Prolonges des Usines J.P. (“Long life of Japi factories”) Which studies the relationship between French and the workplace.

France 24: What’s so special about the French and their relationship to the workplace? What is it that motivates the people here to fight for their rights?

Mark Loriol: The French are much more attached to their workplace than their counterparts in other European and North American countries because of our social and cultural heritage. A study by philosopher Dominique Maida showed that French employees are more critical of changes around the workplace. The French expect a lot from their workplace; Work is not just about money, but about personal fulfilment, sense of purpose… So people here suffer deeply when they do not get proper recognition and compensation from their workplace.

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Even though the proposed pension reform does not directly affect young people in the near future, they have been raising their voices in protests across the country over the past few weeks. Who are they and why is it so?

Mark Loriol: First, I would like to point out the strong disparities between different groups of young people in France. You have university graduates who start their first jobs later in life, and young factory workers who start much earlier.

And of course, this means they will be affected differently by the government’s proposed pension reform. Those who start relatively later in life will be relatively unsatisfied with an increase in the legal retirement age, as they have already needed to work longer than this (172 trimesters for the full pension scheme, or 43 years plus to do). But the factory’s young workers, already in dire straits, will undoubtedly be affected.

On the one hand, young factory workers, despite being one of the biggest victims of the reform, unfortunately belong to a class of workers who cannot afford to go on strike. Most of them are on fixed term contracts, some are temporary as well. Going on strike or even joining unions is too big a risk for them. They fear it will jeopardize their already fragile professional careers.

On the other hand, university students are far more likely to participate in demonstrations. They usually have a lot of cultural and financial capital which gives them this freedom. Even those with little economic means can find themselves participating in protests. Often parents from middle-class backgrounds working white-collar office jobs and taking home average wages, these students are firsthand witnesses to deteriorating working conditions and stagnant wages. So, they are apprehensive about the future, not knowing whether their studies will lead them to good jobs or not, whether they will be successful in life or not…Worse things.

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Then you have students from elite universities (grand echoes) usually come from wealthy parents working in prestigious professions. Aspiring to follow in the footsteps of their parents in high-paying jobs in fields like law, finance, engineering, etc., these students may feel apathetic towards the government’s pension reform proposal and thus more inclined to avoid it. There is a possibility. Joining the protests.

Also, you have to take into account the fact that most young people copy their parents in terms of political affiliation. Studies have shown that youth with parents leaning to the right of the political spectrum tend to be right-wing themselves; That goes to the left.

Fueled by issues of inequality, war, and human rights, youth protests spread throughout the Western Hemisphere in the 1960s and ’70s and drastically changed our cultural landscape. A similar background is currently developing in Europe with ongoing war, high inflation, climate change and a possible pension reform. Do you think the mass youth protests seen in France in May ’68 are likely to erupt?

Mark Loriol: Of course, it is very difficult to predict the future. For example, we thought that ‘yellow vest’ protests in 2018 Signaled the end of trade unions, but look at them now. Tuesday’s protests take a look at… tHey you’re back on your feet.

One thing I can say for sure is that discontent is brewing among the younger generation, especially the working class. That much is obvious. Children of blue-collar workers are growing up to realize that they are barely outpacing their parents in terms of job prospects and wages, despite the education they have received.

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Despite their diplomas, they are not achieving much and this translates into a deep sense of frustration and anger.

We can’t say whether it will be ready for the May 68 protests, but the government is taking a dangerous bet in the hope that it will all be over soon.

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