June 9, 2023


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As protesters in France fight pension reform, shopkeepers agree and agree

As protesters in France fight pension reform, shopkeepers agree and agree

Maxime Clauzer stood inside the barricaded entrance of his butcher shop in central Paris and surveyed the swelling crowd of protesters outside his front door. It closed early Tuesday Central latest demonstrations In France, against President Emmanuel Macron’s plan to raise the legal retirement age to 64 from 62, his business was damaged.

But Mr. Closer said he would have given anything to be there in the crowd. Even at the age of 30, having worked nearly half his life as a butcher, he could not bear the thought of being asked to work longer to fund what the government says might soon be an unacceptable pension system.

“I can’t afford to be there even five hours,” said Mr. Closier, who helps run La Boucherie des Gobelins and pays what he described as high payroll taxes used to fund France’s social safety net. “But I am with them in spirit, because what we are seeing is the disintegration of the social contract in France. We cannot let that happen.”

Tens of thousands of people marched in front of Mr. Clausier’s shop on the avenue de Jobelins on Tuesday, following a four-kilometer winding avenue that began on the Place d’Italie and ran along the main arteries of Paris’ Left Bank, all the way to Napoleon. Tomb in Invalides.

In cities from Lille in northern France to Marseille in the south, for the second time in two weeks, crowds took to the streets in a display of anger unleashed by Macron’s pension reform plans.

Mr. Macron, who has made changes to the pension system the cornerstone of his work re-election campaign Last year, he argues that he has a strong mandate and that of France Complex but generous The state-backed retirement plan will run out of money if nothing is done. The only way to fix it, says Macron, is to get the French to work longer.

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Opponents, including the United Front of Trade Unions, say Macron is attacking his cherished right to retirement and unfairly burdening blue-collar workers with his refusal to raise taxes on the wealthy. Neither side showed signs of backing down.

Near the front of the protesters, Elaine Natty set up her food stall on wheels in the growing crowd, as hungry protesters paid €5, about $5.40, for morocco sausage sandwiches. The family business—her husband, Mohamed, and her father, Said, tended two other stands across the street—is part of a satellite economy of food and pamphlet sellers who follow nearly every major protest movement that erupts across France.

“We make good money,” said Ms. Natty, 29, whose father started a small barbecue cart more than 40 years ago, as she gets up at 5 a.m., works the log fires and drives around the country in a truck in search of work.

Work allowed the family to get by, but it also affected family life. “We want to be able to benefit from life with our children and grandchildren,” said Ms. Natty. So I support this movement. We pay taxes to fund the system, and forcing us to work longer to take advantage of what we put in isn’t right.”

For boisterous Parisians demonstrating along Avenue des Gobelins, the pension reform was the latest sign that Mr Macron was out of touch with the people. They shouted into megaphones, chanted anti-government slogans and criticized what many saw as a growing gap in inequality between ordinary workers and the wealthy in France and around the world.

Several businessmen who were watching the crowds from inside their stores agreed.

A few doors down from Mr. Clausier’s butcher shop, Arnaud Turnbeuf, 59, sat quietly in the designer’s Scandinavian furniture boutique where he sells custom shelving units. Only a few customers had stopped by since morning, but he wasn’t worried. People who can afford expensive items will come back another day.

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Still, his eyes darted to the ever-growing crowd, where demonstrators held signs reading “retire before you die” and hummed the French disco song “Born to Be Alive,” a nod to Prime Minister Elizabeth Bourne. , who is leading Mr Macron’s reform drive.

Mr. Turnebov admitted that the current retirement age in France was one of the lowest in Europe. “If Scandinavia, Germany, Spain and everyone raised it, that must mean something had to be done,” he said. He added, “However, we are spending huge amounts of money on the French defense budget” in light of Russia’s war against Ukraine. “Surely there must be another way to find pension money.”

As the crowd grew louder, Mr. Turnpuff grew more distressed. “What is happening here is not just a protest against the retirement age,” he said. “Everywhere we see more and more evidence of inequality, tilted in favor of the powerful. Two hundred years after the French Revolution, it is as if society had not become more equal.”

Mr Turnbov also said Macron’s policies were a continuation of neoliberal economic prescriptions that have already contributed to inequality for decades. If the French yellow vest movement was sparked by Mr Macron’s attempt to raise gas taxes for those least able to afford it, he said, the president’s latest gambit to raise the retirement age ignites “immaterial anger,” he said.

This talk did not resonate with everyone. Far away, where the street backed away to reveal the awe in the distance of the Pantheon, Emanuel Schumann stood behind the counter of his empty video game store and watched the crowds file.

The near-total closure of the Paris transport system, a strike in sympathy with the retirement age protest, kept his customers at bay. “I’ve only had four clients since this morning,” he said.

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Mr. Shoman, 41, could not understand why the thousands of people passing by his shop were protesting. Despite France’s shortcomings, he said, it generally protects people of all stripes with a social safety net that most other parts of the world envy.

He said the pension system is a prime example, describing it as one of the most protective in Europe. “The strikers find it difficult to face reality,” he said. “They should look at our neighbors and realize that France is actually very generous.”

But for others, the pension reform has come to symbolize a deeper problem plaguing the country. Standing outside the BNP Paribas bank whose windows were boarded up was a man dressed as Mr. Monopoly, wearing a black hat and white silk scarf, and biting a cigar.

The man, Hubert Labrousse, retired and member of Atac, a French anti-globalization movement, was making a point. He extended his arm toward a poster of Bernard Arnault, CEO of LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton, the world’s largest luxury goods company, which recently overtook Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos to become the world’s richest man.

“He belongs to a gang of profiteers,” said Mr. Labrousse. With a fortune estimated at more than $200 billion by Forbes, Mr. Arnault has been a prime target for many post-war protesters. LVMH Last week it announced record revenues of nearly 80 billion euros and net profits of more than 14 billion euros, sparking a debate in the French media about the massive division of wealth.

“Macron says we should not tax excess profits or increase taxes above 1 per cent,” said Evelyn Dorelly-Fair, 72, a retired economist who works with Mr. Labrousse. “Meanwhile, the number of people living below the poverty line in France has increased, and the poorest have already become poor,” she said.

Where is the social justice? she asked.

Tom Novian Contribute to the preparation of reports.