French youth stand up against raising the retirement age

PARIS (AP) – Young people in France – including some who have not yet entered the job market – are protesting Thursday against government pressure to raise the retirement age.

Students blocked access to some universities and high schools, and several hundred students led a protest in Paris as part of a nationwide strike and demonstrations against a pension bill under debate in parliament. The protest briefly turned violent as a group of youths went on a rampage, vandalizing a bus stop and setting a car on fire.

The energy arm of France’s leading union, the CGT, cut power on Thursday to the large sports complex in the northern suburb of Paris that includes the Stade de France and several construction sites of infrastructure for the 2024 Olympics.

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.

“I don’t want to work my whole life and end up exhausted,” said Djana Farhaig, a 15-year-old who blocked off her Paris high school with other students during a protest last month. “It is important for us to show that young people are engaged for their future.”

People in their teens and early 20s have taken part in protests against retirement reform since the movement began in January, but student groups and unions are demanding attention to young people’s concerns on Thursday.

“If we do nothing, nothing will change,” said Penelope Ledesma. The 16-year-old student said she blocked the entrance to her high school in Chelles, a town outside Paris, on Wednesday and traveled to the capital on Thursday to support those on strike against the government’s retirement reform.

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President Emmanuel Macron wants to raise the retirement age from 62 to 64 and make other changes he says are needed to keep the public pension system financially stable as the population ages. Opponents argue that wealthy taxpayers or companies should instead pitch in more to finance the system.

Quentin Queller, a 23-year-old student who attended the first round of protests, said, “64 is so far away, it’s depressing.”

He questioned the idea that hard work equals happiness, arguing that “we should work less and have more free time.” He and others echoed the concerns of older protesters that France is moving towards a system where people must live to work, rather than work to live.

At one protest, a teenage boy held a placard saying: “I don’t want my parents to die at work.”

Like dozens of colleges, the University of Nanterre in the western suburbs of Paris has been partially blocked off since Tuesday by students protesting pension reform, although by Thursday the numbers had begun to dwindle.

Alex Ribeiro, a 21-year-old humanities student at the university, said he hoped the youth strike would force the government to reconsider retirement reform and the future of young people in the labor market and their parents’ prospects for a decent life in retirement. will press for After decades of hard work.

Ribeiro worries for her mother, who is soon to retire after decades of working as a cleaner. “She has been working since the age of 12,” Ribeiro said, adding that “she will not have the physical and mental capacity to continue”. .

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Thomas Coutrot, an economist specializing in health and working conditions, described a widespread feeling that “work has become unbearable.”

“Young people feel that working conditions are deteriorating and that workers no longer understand why they work,” he said.

Young protesters include many supporters of the far-left France Unabode party and other left-wing groups, but also others. They see it as a fundamental right to be able to live on the state pension, and see the bill as a rollback of hard-earned social achievements.

Alyssa Lepetit, 18, is already working part-time at a bar alongside her studies to become a teacher, and can’t afford to go on strike. But she supports the protest.

“I want to be a teacher, but I can’t see myself working until I’m 64,” she said. “The goal is to be able to spend time with my family after a lifetime of hard work.”

Some take a more apocalyptic view, saying that their time on Earth is already under threat from climate change. “Working until 67 when it’s over 55 degrees (Celsius) doesn’t make sense,” joked Anissa Soudemont, 29, whose work in the media sector deals with ecology.

While young people are often present in French protest movements, sociologist Paolo Stupia of California State Polytechnic University at the Sorbonne and Humboldt said particularly large numbers are participating in the campaign against the retirement bill.

These include people who march for climate action, LGBTQ rights, or against racial and gender-based discrimination, Stupia said, and those who are making connections with the pension bill they also see as unfair.

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“For young people, their future seems completely closed and this reform is part of the model they want to question,” Stupia said.

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