Protests

'The battle is not over': French workers protest over cost of living, reforms

The leader of the CGT union, Philippe Martinez at a rally in 2020.
The leader of the CGT union, Philippe Martinez at a rally in 2020. REUTERS / Eric Gaillard

Unions across France have called for a massive demonstration on Tuesday to express their anger over the stagnation of salaries, the cost of living and a change to the unemployment benefits system. They say the weight of the Covid crisis must not be carried by workers.

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Eight trade unions (CGT, FO, Solidaires, FSU, Fidl, MNL, l'Unef and l'UNL youth branch) have joined forces in a sign of solidarity for workers who have lost much of their spending power due to inflation and a protracted economic crisis, exacerbated by the Covid epidemic.

After 18 months of health measures and restrictions which have stifled much of the past year's protests, this time the unions are expecting a large turnout, with at least 200 rallies organised across the country, with marches from 2pm onwards in Paris.

In some public service sectors such as schools and transport, there have also been calls to stop work.

'Unfair' reform

The unions are critical of the latest hike in energy prices which have left many households struggling, the controversial new reform for unemployment benefits, and the future question of pensions.

"We urgently need answers now...when people go out into the streets, it carries weight," CGT union secretary general Philippe Martinez told LCI television on Monday.

"It's not a question of waiting for the next president to answer us. When I visit workers in companies, they are talking about salaries, not immigration," he says.

Martinez has also warned that his union and others will oppose the new changes which has just come into effect, making unemployment benefits more difficult to obtain.

"This reform is unfair. The government makes it sound like one chooses to be unemployed," he says, adding "the battle is not over, whether it be in the streets or in the courts".

Leaders out of touch

When it comes to buying power, Martinez is also critical of the gap between the point of view of the government and its citizens.

"There have been some serious studies, by charities such as Abbé Pierre, and Secours Populaire that show poverty is increasing. There's a complete disconnect between what people think, especially those who are retired, and what ministers and the president thinks," he says.

Force Ouvrière union leader Yves Veyrier agrees that despite some advances made recently, such as an increase in wages of 6-9 percent in the hotel and restaurant sector, but more pressure must be applied to both the government and the private sector to increase low salaries across the board.

"It's not fair that employees are made to pay for the crisis," he told France Info on Tuesday.

The minimum wage (Smic) went up by 35 euros per month as of the 1st of October, but this is an automatic rise due to inflation. It's not enough to compensate the rise in the cost of living.

Workers intending to join the rallies include "second line" workers, exposed during the Covid crisis, such as cashiers, who feel they've been overlooked, and many have yet to receive their so-called "Covid bonus", for putting their health at risk to keep minimum services open.

The state says it has coughed up financial aid to help those dealing with a rise in energy costs, as well as making tips for waiters non taxable. Teachers also saw a pay rise in January. But for many this is simply not enough to make ends meet.

"The summit on education allowed for salaries to be raised for young teachers, but for teachers at the end of their careers, like myself, there hasn't been a raise since 2010. I've lost 20 percent of my spending power," says Murielle, director in a school in the Seine-et-Marne department, outside of Paris, who says she'll participate in the marches organised on Tuesday.

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