Months of Protests in France Over Retirement Reform and Government Overreach

Millions of French workers are taking to the streets and striking in response to President Emmanuel Macron’s retirement reform.

What’s going on? For the past two months, French workers have been protesting their government’s attempt to raise the retirement age from 62 to 64. As essential workers strike, trash is piling up on the streets, the production and transportation of goods are being blocked, and hundreds of protesters have been detained. The French Parliament has tried to bring down the Macron government with a no-confidence vote but narrowly failed. President Emmanuel Macron sits at a 28 percent approval rating.

About more than just retirement: Macron used a constitutional provision (Article 49.3) to unilaterally push the legislation forward without a parliamentary vote after it became clear he couldn’t pass it. French protesters are not only angry about retirement reform but also about Macron’s undemocratic approach.

The arguments: While the revolt has been led by trade unions and most French citizens oppose the pension reform, the government argues that it is essential to avoid economic deficits. A fourth of France’s population is retired—and unless the system changes, there will be only six workers to support five pensioners within three decades. Most developed countries have already raised the retirement age to 65.

This isn’t new: Macron attempted pension reform using the same constitutional provision in 2020 but suspended the effort during the pandemic. The French have thwarted government attempts to reform the system since 1995, and larger-scale protests have been picking up steam for months. France’s government also has a long history of using the controversial Article 49.3 to bypass Parliament.