At last, there is some movement in the strike talks. The government has proposed eliminating the âge pivot for retirements until 2027 instead of 2022 as originally proposed, but this is contingent upon acceptance by the social partners of a plan to bring the retirement system into financial balance in some other way by that date. This plan is to be worked out between now and the end of April.
The CFDT seems at first sight to have embraced this proposal as total victory: the reformist union “greeted” the “withdrawal” of the âge pivot provision from the reform bill as a win “obtained” by its actions, even though Édouard Philippe’s announcement would seem to fall quite a bit short of “withdrawal.” And even if Laurent Berger is prepared to embrace the plan, his rank-and-file and internal rivals may not follow. The CGT is sure to reject the proposal outright.
But the patience of the public may be wearing thin, and awareness of this is no doubt part of the reason why the government finally budged and Berger was so hasty to declare victory. The calculation appears to be that the time is ripe for a compromise, this is the best that can be achieved, and both sides had better make the best of it while they can.
How this news will be greeted by the rank-and-file, particularly in the transport sector, is anyone’s guess. The strikers are no doubt feeling the pressure in their pocketbooks, but thus far their determination seems not to have flagged. Still, there are limits to what this kind of strike action can achieve, since it is directed against the government rather than against a firm or sector of the economy. The strikers may decide that a tactical withdrawal is best and shift their attention to inflicting a painful defeat on Macron in the upcoming municipal elections–and beyond. They had banked on his panicking, and thus far he hasn’t panicked. Going forward, the options are to increase the pressure, which would probably mean a more widespread embrace of illegal tactics such as cutting the electrical supply, or to move the fight into a new arena.
In a sense, Philippe has called Martinez’s bluff: the latter had called for scrapping the reform entirely and rebalancing the retirement books in some other way; Philippe has challenged the unions to come up with a plan for doing that without a pivot age provision. Since there is probably no way of squaring this circle in the long run, Martinez will be left with no fallback.
Photo Credit: O12, Chess, via Unsplash.