As Parisians March to Fight Pension Changes, Shopkeepers Nod and Agree

Maxime Clausier stood inside the fenced entrance of his butcher shop in central Paris and watched the crowd of protesters gathering outside the door. He was closed early Tuesday in the middle of latest rallyHe’s in France against President Emmanuel Macron’s plan to raise the legal retirement age to 64 from 62, and his business is taking a hit.

But Mr Clausier said he would give anything to be right in the crowd. Even at 30, having worked as a butcher for almost half his life, he still can’t accept the idea of ​​having to work longer to fund what the government says could soon become a pension system. cannot be maintained.

Mr Clausier, who helps run La Boucherie des Gobelins and pays what he says are high payroll taxes used to fund France’s social safety net, said: “I couldn’t be out there for even five years. hour. “But I support them mentally, because what we are seeing is the dismantling of the French social contract. We cannot let that happen.”

Tens of thousands of people marched past Mr Clausier’s shop on Avenue Gobelins on Tuesday, following a zigzag 4km route that begins at Place d’Italie and runs along the main arteries of the Left Bank of Paris, as far as Napoleon’s tomb in Invalides.

In cities stretching from Lille in northern France to Marseille in the south, crowds took to the streets for the second time in two weeks to express anger at Mr Macron’s pension reform plan.

Mr. Macron, who made changes to the pension system his foundation re-election campaign last year, argued that he had a strong mission and that Fa complex but generous state-backed pension plans will run out of money if nothing is done. The only way to fix it is to make the French work longer, Mr. Macron said.

Opponents, including the united front of labor unions, say Mr Macron is attacking the cherished retirement right and unfairly burdening blue-collar workers because he refuses to raise taxes on the rich. Neither side showed any signs of backing down.

Near the front of the marchers, Eileen Nati placed her wheeled food stand in the midst of a growing crowd, where starving protesters paid 5 euros, about 5.4 dollars, for a cake. Hot sausage sandwich. The family business – her husband, Mohammed and father, Said, in charge of two other stalls across the street – is part of a satellite economy of pamphlet and food sellers who closely follow almost every major protest movement broke out throughout France.

Nati, 29, whose father started a small barbecue truck more than 40 years ago, gets up at 5 a.m., toils by a wood fire and travels the country in a truck looking for business work.

Work helps the family to live, but it also affects family life. “We want to be able to benefit from living with our children and grandchildren,” says Nati. “So I support this movement. It is not right that we pay taxes to fund the system and force us to work longer to benefit from what we have spent.”

For the passionate Parisians marching along Gobelins Avenue, the pension overhaul is the latest sign that Mr Macron has lost touch with people. They shouted into loudspeakers, chanted anti-government slogans and lashed out at what many see as the growing unequal divide between the average working class and the super-rich in France and around the world. .

Many businessmen who were observing the crowd from inside their stores agreed.

A few doors down from Mr Clausier’s butcher shop, Arnaud Tourneboeuf, 59, sits quietly in his designer Scandinavian furniture store, where he sells custom-made racks. Only a handful of customers stopped by since morning, but he wasn’t worried. Those who can afford the expensive items will come back another day.

Even so, his eyes turned to the increasingly dense crowd, where protesters held up signs that read “Retire Before You Die” and passionately sang the disco song satirically. of France’s “Born to Be Alive,” a satire of Prime Minister Élisabeth Bourne, who is spearheading Mr. Macron’s reforms.

Mr. Tourneboeuf admitted that France’s current retirement age is one of the lowest in Europe. “If Scandinavian countries, Germany, Spain and others raise this issue, it means something needs to be done,” he said. “Even so,” he added, “we are spending huge sums on the French defense budget” due to Russia’s war against Ukraine. “There’s definitely got to be another way to pay for a pension.”

As the crowd grew noisier, Mr. Tourneboeuf became sullen. “What is happening here is not merely a retirement age protest,” he said. “Everywhere, we are seeing more and more evidence of inequality in favor of the powerful. Two hundred years after the French Revolution, it seems that society has not yet become more egalitarian.”

Mr Tourneboeuf also said Mr Macron’s policies were a continuation of neoliberal economic regulations that have contributed to inequality for decades. If France’s Yellow Vest movement was sparked by Mr Macron’s attempt to raise gasoline taxes on the least able to pay, the president’s latest move to raise the retirement age is sparking “an immaterial anger,” he said.

Such talk did not resonate with everyone. Further down, where the street sloped down to reveal the stunning profile in the distance of the Pantheon, Emmanuel Schoemann stood behind the counter of his empty video game store and watched the crowd pass by.

The shutdown of almost the entire Paris transport system, a strike to express sympathy for the retirement age protest, has kept his customers away. “I have only had four clients as of this morning,” he said.

Mr. Schoemann, 41, did not understand why thousands of people passing by his store protested. Despite France’s flaws, he said, it often protects people from all walks of life with a social safety net that most other parts of the world envy.

The pension system is a prime example, he said, calling it one of the best protections in Europe. “Strikers have a hard time facing reality,” he said. “They should look to our neighbors and realize that France is actually quite generous.”

But for others, the pension overhaul has become a symbol of a deeper problem affecting the country. Standing outside the BNP Paribas bank with its windows sealed is a man dressed as Mr. Monopoly, wearing a black top hat, white silk scarf and chewing a cigar.

The man, Hubert Labrousse, a retiree and member of Attac, a French anti-globalization movement, made the point. He reached for a poster featuring Bernard Arnault, chief executive officer of LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton, the world’s largest luxury goods company, who recently surpassed Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos to become the richest man in the world. best of the world.

Mr. Labrousse said: “He belongs to the group of profiteers. With a fortune estimated at more than $200 billion by Forbes, Mr. Arnault is the main target of many protesters after the LVMH last week reported record sales of nearly 80 billion euros and net profit of more than 14 billion euros, sparking debate in the French media about the oversized divide between rich and poor.

“Macron said we should not tax excess profits or raise taxes above 1%,” said Evelyne Dourille-Feer, 72, a retired economist who worked with Mr. Labrousse. “Meanwhile, the number of people living below the poverty line in France has increased and the poorest are becoming truly poor,” she said.

“Where is social justice?” she asked.

Tom Nouvian contribution report.


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