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Three strikes, you're out!

It is now clear to me why France is fond of taking strike action. Apparently, if the CGT (a union) bulletin is to be believed, the Code du Travail (work law) allows workers to cease their activities in order to defend their rights as workers, with it not being legal to penalise or fire the worker(s) concerned.
I am not sure if this legislation actually permits workers to down tools, or whether it is a selective interpretation, but it may go some way to explaining why frequent industrial action seems a way of life for the French.

The current rile? Pension reforms. Following on from large manifestations (not exactly protests) in the larger towns on the 7th of this month, it would seem as if those in power are planning to carry on with what would appear to be a very unpopular action. While some small concessions have been made, it would seem as if the main concept, especially raising the age of retirement, is going to continue unaltered. Thus a second round of strike action is called for the 23rd. And this one has come to our place of work. The unions are calling for everybody (bar none) to come out. The whole damn country. Everything.

Going from memory, there were a number of provisions on the bulletin, namely:

  • The raising of retirement age to 62/67 is a travesty.
    For a British person, this is no big deal. Our current retirement age is 60 for women (which is now (as of April this year) equalising to 65 by 2020) and 65 for men, and it is extremely likely that people of my age group will retire later, and those a generation behind me later still.
    I can see why the French are annoyed, for a large number of pen-pushers enjoy the right to give up working at 55. To my mind, 55 is too damn early, but it's the French way, so I digress.
  • They want pensions to be kept at about 70% of average salary of final 10 years, and in no case less than the SMIC (minimum wage).
    You're taking the p!ss, right? I'm working for practically minimum wage and I can look forward to about that when I get old and cantankerous? Really? That's good, but is it sustainable?

Let me paint you a different picture - I can currently retire age 65 (which, given my age, may well be 67 or more). When I retire, after some 29 years of paying into the system (called "cotisations" in French), I can enjoy approximately €500 a month pension (at today's rates). I kid you not, look up the Department of Work and Pensions (or whatever they are calling themselves this week!) and take a look at the basic state pension. I'll tell you what, I'll do it for you. It is a maximum of £97.65 a week for the basic pension. That is €116 a week, which works out to be approximately €485 a month (sidereal month). You can get additional pensions on top, and many people do, but that lame <500/month is what the state guarantees.
[more information here]


There is, of course, another angle to consider. Is the social system capable of sustaining current activity? You see, thanks to better medical facilities and food and hygiene, those old people, they aren't doing the decent thing and dropping dead. They keep on kicking, and they keep on receiving their pensions, playing golf, and creating havoc on the roads on a Citroën 2CV as old as they are... Meanwhile automation and outsourcing is making fewer job opportunities for a country that puts an incentive on having lots of babies. Is it possible to continue to provide a good quality of life for everybody? Are changes such as those being proposed inevitable?

I have been communicating with a French person who reckons not only is it possible for the system to work for everybody, but that it may well be possible to provide employment for everybody. The caveat, he said, is it will take a massive change in how society thinks and works.
He has, as yet, not replied to explain this point in more detail, but I really look forward to hearing because... well... look at the television news on the evening of the 23rd to see how many people actually did go on strike, and ask yourself if this is really how modern society should operate. I mean, thank God the French have the balls and the wherewithall to stand up for what they believe in, but why is it coming to this in the first place? Doesn't this need for action suggest that the system is already failing? Is there really a potential option available, if we're brave enough to seize it?
I'll keep you posted.


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Em., 21st September 2010, 11:44
Ah! I see. So, the secret aim is to counteract longevity by marking sure that old coidgers like me can't afford food, housing, or warmth. That way, we'll pop our clogs and, then, the State can do its inheritance tax thing and give our assets to its Banker mates. 
Well, sod that for a game of soldiers. I shall spend almost all of my current funds on women, fast motorcycles and cigars. Then, I'll just waste whatever cash I've got left.
Rick, 21st September 2010, 15:12
Which works in theory, but some not-quite-so-old codgers (like me) don't get paid enough for the women, wheels, and smokes. <sigh> 
You've hit the nail on the head there. We've just received a demand for land tax (306) which is in addition to house tax and earnings tax and a dozen other taxes. Would this be the same land for which we're going to have to sell up because we cannot afford neighbour can toss down the not-so-well "treated" (in scare quotes) slurry of several THOUSAND pigs? The land which is on its second year of recovery treatment after being RUINED by only two years of maize? Oh, yes, THAT land. They should be paying US for the privilege of not intensively farming it, and making an effort to keep our trees and hedgerows intact. 
But, yes. I have a horrible suspicion that my French friend's plan will involve a redistribution of wealth, as opposed to a fairly one-way stream of money flowing to those in charge. Can society continue to justify director's monthly pay measured in several tens of thousands, while the people that get the actual work done scrape by with barely a thousand? I have no idea how much the guy running our company makes, but if it is in common with many, then look at all the girls working there. Add up how much they all get, and that might be an indication to his salary. Is this still justifiable? I guess the response depends upon how high up the food chain you are (in other words, if you are pocketing some along the way yourself), but one thing that is increasingly certain is that politicians are now using their political arena to further and better their own existences, fair means or foul, which is a far cry from acting as a representative of the people. Perhaps the system needs to be torn down and replaced with something with more equality. Equality between low and high earners. Equality between male and female. Equality between ethnic groups. A final realisation, if we are capable of it, that we are all, ultimately, the same. People. Humans. Trying to get by and live a fulfilled life. Is it possible?

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