A protracted strike by rubbish collectors has added a new twist to France’s festering dispute over pension reform as the battle over President Emmanuel Macron’s deeply unpopular reform enters a make-or-break week with tonnes of uncollected garbage piling higher by the day.
“When the rubbish collectors go on strike, the trashers are indignant.” Jacques Prévert’s iconic play on words has long been a favorite slogan of the French left – and indeed of all advocates of workers’ right to lay down their tools in protest.
Two months into a bitter tussle over pension reform, and with garbage piling up in the streets of Paris and other cities, the French poet’s words resonate with a festering labour dispute that opponents of Macron’s reform have successfully reframed as a battle for social justice.
The fight over Macron’s flagship – and deeply unpopular – pension overhaul has now entered the final stretch, moving through tricky political territory in parliament even as unions and protesters continue to challenge it in the street.
At its heart is a plan to raise the country’s minimum retirement age from 62 to 64 and stiffen requirements for a full pension, which the government says is required to balance the books amid shifting demographics. Unions, however, say the proposed measures are profoundly unfair, primarily affecting low-skilled workers who start their careers early and have physically draining jobs, as well as women with discontinuous careers.