French strike over pension reform ends in violent street battles with police

There were protests and some violence today in Paris and other French cities as unions declared an unlimited strike. Thousands of people were protesting a change to the country’s pension system that is being pushed through by President Macron. The NY Times reports that what is motivating the change is a lingering deficit. But the protesters are only concerned that their pension payments which could be cut as a result of the new point system Macron is instituting.

France has one of the world’s most generous pension systems, and past efforts to change it have long proven perilous in French politics. But President Emmanuel Macron is pushing ahead, hoping to streamline a byzantine system of 42 different pension plans that collectively are headed toward a $19 billion deficit.

Mr. Macron proposed merging the various plans, public and private, into one state-managed system, in which workers would accumulate points throughout their careers and then cash them in. He has promoted the idea as a fairer system, but some are concerned that they would be left with lower payouts.

One protester, Philippe Lauberthe, 47, who works at the railway company SNCF, said the proposed changes were “a race to the bottom for our pensions.” He said that a point-based system was risky for workers, since it was not clear how much points would be worth at retirement.

“Finance is governing,” said Ludovic Varlet, 52, a hospital worker from Dourdan at the Paris protest. “It was the best system in the world, and they are about to destroy it.”

The result is the protest/strike seen today which caused much of the city’s transportation network to be shut down.

Police ordered business in Paris to close until the protests ended.

The Paris Police Prefecture has ordered all business owners — including premises serving alcoholic beverages and restaurants located on Boulevard de Denain, Boulevard de Magenta, Place de la Republique, Boulevard Voltaire and Place de la Nation — to shutter until the conclusion of the protests on Thursday.

Officials also reminded owners that the protection of their businesses from damage or theft falls to them.

Even the Eiffel Tower was closed today. As you can see in the AP clip, the protests which turned violent later in the day started as a march:

In this compilation video from CBS News, you can see some of the protesters set fires and the police were using teargas to clear the streets.

You don’t need to know any French to understand what is happening in this clip. The police are trying to arrest one individual but the mob of black-block protesters are trying to prevent it. Bricks are thrown at the cops and then the mob closes in.

You can see the same clash in this clip from another angle. It looks like the person the police were trying to arrest got away:

The best explanation I’ve seen of the pension issue is this one from France 24. It sounds a lot like our Social Security system, i.e. current workers fund the retirement of aging retirees. But the number of people paying into the system has dropped while the number receiving pensions has grown. Macron is promoting the new system which would change the age to receive a full pension from 62 to 64 and reward those who work a bit longer. That system is similar to what Social Security does in the US. You can retire as early as 62 but if you do you will only receive 75% of your full benefits. That amount climbs every month until age 66 when retirees would receive their full benefits.