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France: education union activists overwhelmingly opposed to government pension reform

Education International is supporting the education unions currently gearing up for full participation in a general strike planned for Thursday 5 December and likely to last some time. The unions are opposing the pension reform proposed by the French government, with the number of strikers potentially set to reach over 70% of education employees nationally.

UNSA-Education: salary adjustments to ensure nobody is penalised 
 
Christian Chevalier, representative for European and international affairs at the Union nationale des syndicats autonomes-Éducation (UNSA-Education) and member of the ETUCE executive board, believes the teaching strike will be well supported.  
 
He highlighted the fact that all of the unions are calling for strike action and have reached the same conclusion regarding this new pension reform, which will “heavily penalise education workers and, in particular, teachers” who could see 30% wiped off the value of their pension.  
 
To him, the only way to avoid a reduction in pension values is to: 
  • Significantly increase the salaries of those actively teaching (teachers’ salaries in France are among the lowest in Europe, especially for primary teachers), so that pension calculations will be based on better salaries; and 
  • Implement this reform in phases. 
 
The government and the President of the Republic have not, to date, provided any real answers to the questions that UNSA-Education is asking. Dialogue between employers and workers is very difficult with the unions for all sectors concerned, especially the public sector. 
 
SNES: teaching issues 
 
According to Frédérique Rolet, Secretary General and spokesperson for the Syndicat national des enseignements de second degré (SNES-FSU), “the government is taking great pains to explain that it’s a question of method and is propagating various scenarios; but the public are not deceived and understand that this proposed reform and points system will lead to a general decline in the value of pensions and, consequently, they will have to work longer to avoid hardship and deprivation ” ﷟HYPERLINK "https://www.snes.edu/5-decembre-une-mobilisation-qui-s-annonce-massive.html". 
 
Rolet warns that, “under the pretext of justice and equity”, the proposals will lead to a “race to the bottom” and that, far from rectifying the inequalities already created by the previous reform of 2003, the reform will ultimately aggravate them. In Rolet’s opinion the government is trying to divide protestors by failing to specify that the pension-point value will fluctuate based on economic conditions, suggesting a range of compensation scenarios to compensate for the losses in a hypothetical future, especially for teachers who are badly affected. 
 
She hopes that 5 December will be a milestone in building a broad social movement marked by a desire to defend social unity and improve collective guaranties in the face of a reform that would force everyone to make individual choices and accept a small pension or late retirement. Because, “rather than leaving social welfare to the whims of the market, its’ actually greater social equality that employees and retirees have been demanding for months.”  
 
SNUipp-FSU: historic strike in schools  
 
The Syndicat national unitaire des instituteurs, professeurs des écoles et PEGC (SNUipp-FSU) has announced that 70% of school teachers will take part in the strike against the government’s proposed pension reform and that over a third of all schools will close. It considers that “these figures, unprecedented in recent years, represent the overwhelming rejection of the government’s plan, which would result in a substantial reduction in the value of the pensions of education workers”.  
 
School teachers have “fully understood” the mechanism of this reform, contrary to the assertions of their minister. They would be among the biggest losers with their pensions set to fall by between €300 and €900 a month. They would be adversely affected if the pension was no longer calculated taking into account the last six months of working life, especially given that they enjoy almost no benefits and have low salaries. And women, who make up the majority of the profession, would be penalised even more heavily due to the fact that their careers tend to be less linear. 
 
The SNES-FSU also expects that the day of strikes and protests on Thursday 5 December will be a first day of action that will lead to others. In its view, the only answer is to abandon this reform and maintain a clear pay-as-you-go solidarity-based pension scheme, which would be the only way to ensure a decent pension for all. 
 
To do this, the SNUipp-FSU is proposing an intense and sustained series of strikes, as unified as possible, in line with the other sectors that have mobilised. The threat of such action would be at the heart of general assembly debates. 
 
CGT: creating real social justice 
 
The Confédération générale du Travail (CGT) [Confederation of Trade Unions], with which the Fédération CGT de l’Education, de la Recherche et de la Culture (FERC-CGT) is affiliated, has also called for a “massive and extendable strike to demand the scrapping of the pension reform and the introduction of real social justice”, starting on 5 December. 
 
It has declared that “we in France are on the brink of a major social shift. In fact, just days before the general strike on 5 December, the anger of the workers is ready to erupt and the movement is gaining momentum every day in this clash with a power that will find itself face to face with the defiance of 70% of the population.” 
 
It agrees that “public anger is boiling over” and that the strike movement should be aiming to achieve the scrapping of the pension reform, the rejection of any increase in the retirement age and the number of years that have to be worked, and a return to retirement at 60 for all. 
 
The CGT believes another approach is possible when it comes to improving pension levels for all workers and returning to a statutory retirement age of 60. It opposes the “Macron Reform”, which would reduce pensions by between 10 and 30%, and instead argues for significant pension increases for all.  
 
The confederation of trade unions is suggesting an alternative, fairer distribution of wealth as “it’s about time we established equal pay in the workplace between men and women and increased salaries while providing stable, skilled employment until retirement, unlike the current situation, in which more than half of workers are jobless from the age of 55. 
 
FO: opposition to the very principle of the single points system 
 
Yves Veyrier, Secretary General of Force Ouvrière (FO), to which the Fédération Nationale de l'Enseignement, de la Culture et de la Formation Professionnelle (FNEC.FP-FO) and the Syndicat National de l'Enseignement Technique Action Autonome (SNETAA-FO) belong, has highlighted the fact that his union has not only reminded the Prime Minister of the reasons for their opposition to the single points system but has also offered detailed suggestions to preserve and improve the current system. While FO recommended going back to the negotiating table at the start, the union believes that the new consultation phase “has not advanced the debate one iota”. “What’s worse..”, Veyrier observes, “...while they were initially telling us that the so-called “universal points system” was not designed to make savings or change the age of retirement, that’s all they’re talking about now”.  
 
Therefore, FO has decided to join the calls for strike action from 5 December and to debate a possible extension. This call is addressed to all public and private sector employees.  
 
Veyrier asserts that “we will not fall into the trap of becoming divided, of fighting among ourselves, pitting the special schemes against the general scheme, while the single points-based pension scheme would affect all employees. And nor will we fall into the trap of allowing anyone to manipulate us politically”. 
 
Lastly, he brings up one of the abiding rulings of the Committee on Freedom of Association, a tripartite body (employees, employers, governments) of the International Labour Organisation: the right to strike is vital to workers and their organisations so they can promote and defend their economic and social interests. 
 
CFDT: seven demands for pension reform  
 
The railway workers contingent of the Confédération française démocratique du Travail (CFDT), of which the Fédération des syndicats généraux de l'Education nationale et de la recherche (SGEN-CFDT) and the Fédération Formation et Enseignement Privés (FEP-CFDT) are part, has made seven demands for pension reform.