09 March 2023

France’s young people protest against higher retirement age

09 March 2023

Young people in France — including some who have not got jobs yet — are protesting against the government’s push to raise the retirement age.

They plan to block access to some universities and secondary schools, while a youth-led protest is planned in Paris on Thursday, as part of nationwide strikes and demonstrations against the pension Bill under debate in parliament.

For a generation already worried about inflation, uncertain job prospects and climate change, the retirement Bill is stirring up broader questions about the value of work.

“I don’t want to work all my life and be exhausted at the end,” said Djana Farhaig, a 15-year-old who blocked her Paris secondary school with other pupils during a protest action last month.

“It is important for us to show that the youth is engaged for its future.”

Sixty-four is so far away, it is depressing

People in their teens and early 20s have taken part in protests against the retirement reform since the movement kicked off in January, but pupil groups and unions are seeking to call attention to young people’s concerns on Thursday.

President Emmanuel Macron wants to raise the retirement age from 62 to 64 and make other changes he says are needed to keep the public pension system financially stable as the population ages.

Opponents argue that wealthy taxpayers or companies should pitch in more to finance the system instead.

Quentin Queller, a 23-year-old student who attended an earlier round of protests, said: “Sixty-four is so far away, it is depressing.”

He questioned the idea that hard work equals happiness, arguing “we should work less and have more free time”.

He and others echoed concerns by older protesters that instead of working to live, France is moving toward a system where people would have to live for work.

At one protest, a teenage boy held a placard saying: “I don’t want my parents to die at work.”

I want to become a teacher but I can’t see myself working until 64. The goal after a lifetime of hard work is to be able to spend time with my family

Thomas Coutrot, an economist specialising in health and conditions of work, described a widespread sentiment that “work has become unbearable”.

“Young people perceive that the conditions of work are deteriorating and that workers don’t understand anymore why they work,” he said.

The young protesters include many supporters of the far-left France Unbowed party and other left-wing groups, but also others.

They see it as a fundamental right to be able to live on a state pension and perceive the Bill as a rollback of hard-won social achievements.

Elisa Lepetit, 18, is already working part-time in a bar alongside her studies to become a teacher and cannot afford to go on strike.

But she supports the protests.

“I want to become a teacher but I can’t see myself working until 64,” she said.

Working until 67 when it will be over 55 degrees (Celsius) makes no sense

“The goal after a lifetime of hard work is to be able to spend time with my family.”

Some take a more apocalyptic view, saying their time on Earth is already threatened by climate change.

“Working until 67 when it will be over 55 degrees (Celsius) makes no sense,” joked Anissa Saudemont, 29, whose job in the media sector is related to ecology.

While young people are often present at French protest movements, Paolo Stuppia, a sociologist at the Sorbonne and at California State Polytechnic University in Humboldt, said an especially large number are taking part in the campaign against the retirement Bill.

They include people who also march for climate action, LGBTQ rights, or against racial and gender-based discrimination, Mr Stuppia said, and who are making a link with a pension Bill they also see as unfair.

“For young people, their future seems to be completely closed and this reform is part of a model they want to question,” he said.

The best videos delivered daily

Watch the stories that matter, right from your inbox