FRANCE - CGT, France's biggest and most militant trade union, has hit back at claims that public support for its fight against pension reform is waning as strikes threaten to cripple the country again today.
France is bracing itself for further disruption following last Thursday’s industrial action which saw an estimated 2 million people take to the streets in protest of the controversial proposals. The proposals have been subsequently presented to the Assemble Nationale, the parliamentary lower house, by Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin.
But the trade unions - the CGT, Cgt-fo, UNSA, FSU - have no intention of backing down and have promised a summer of strikes.
Pierre Yves Chanu, trade union officer for the CGT which covers 30,000 unions and has approximately 200,000 members, said: “We are not losing support. The public do not want this reform. We want to show this government that we are still fighting, we are still here.”
This week, Raffarin took the unprecedented step of sending a letter to every French household outlining his rationale behind the reform. In the letter he said: “In effect, after 2006, the number of workers will start to decrease while the number of pensioners will increase in numbers.”
He added that the reform was “fair” because it allowed for a levelling of pensions across the country between private and public sector employees.
In essence, the reforms mean that by 2008 public sector workers must work for 40 years to get full pension; by 2012 all workers must work for 41 years to get the same and by 2020 this will be extended to 42 years. But some commentators have already pointed out that Raffarin’s calculations are dubious, not least the assumption that France’s unemployment rate will be halved to around 4.6% by 2010.
But evidence is mounting that the strikes are losing favour with the public, with some polls reporting a drop from 65% in favour at the start of the strikes to around 50% now.
Furthermore, any where between 18,000 and 150,000 people attended a nationwide counter demonstration which took place on Sunday.
Dominique Piermay, executive vice president of Paris-based investment consultancy Fixage, believes that the strikes are taking their toll on public opinion, partly due to widespread disruption but also because of a growing belief in the need for wholesale pension reform.
“They (the unions) are losing power. The last strike was not as important as it was supposed to be,” she said.
“More and more people are convinced that there will have to be changes. ... Even in political circles, from the left wing, it is supported. So they are losing power on this side. And on the other side, it is difficult to sustain an ongoing strike like this without the public. I think any more strikes will depend on the success of this one.”
Chanu confirmed that union leaders are to meet on Friday to decide on the next wave of action.
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