Young French people are standing up against a higher retirement age

PARIS — Young French people, including those who have not yet entered the labor market, are protesting on Thursday against the government’s desire to raise the retirement age.

Students blocked access to some universities and high schools, and hundreds of students protested in Paris as part of nationwide strikes and demonstrations against the pension law being debated in parliament. The demonstration briefly turned violent when a group of youths broke away, vandalized bus stops and set fire to a car.

The energy arm of the prominent French union CGT on Thursday cut power to a major sports complex in the northern suburbs of Paris, including the Stade de France and many construction sites for the 2024 Olympics infrastructure.

For a generation already worried about inflation, uncertain job prospects and climate change, the pension law raises broader questions about the value of work.

“I don’t want to work all my life and end up exhausted,” said Djana Farhaig, a 15-year-old girl who blockaded her Paris high school with other students during a protest last month. “It is important for us to show that young people are committed to the future.”

Since the beginning of the movement in January, teenagers and people in their early twenties have participated in protests against the pension reform, but student groups and unions are trying to draw attention to the concerns of young people on Thursday.

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“If we don’t do something, nothing will change,” said Penelope Ledesma. The 16-year-old student said she blocked the entrance to her high school in the town of Chelles near Paris on Wednesday, and traveled to the capital on Thursday to support strikers against the government’s pension reform.

President Emmanuel Macron wants to raise the retirement age from 62 to 64 and make other changes he says are needed to keep the state pension system financially stable as the population ages. Opponents argue that wealthy taxpayers or companies should take in more to fund the system.

Quentin Queller, a 23-year-old student who attended an earlier protest, said: “64 is so far it’s depressing.”

He challenged the idea that hard work equals happiness and argued that “we should work less and have more leisure”. He and others echoed the concerns of older protesters that instead of working for a living, France is moving toward a system in which people must live for work.

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

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Like dozens of colleges, the University of Nanterre in the western suburbs of Paris has been partially blocked by students opposing the pension reform since Tuesday, although the numbers began to decrease by Thursday.

Alex Ribeiro, a 21-year-old humanities student at the university, said he hoped the youth strike would put pressure on the government to rethink pension reform and consider young people’s future in the workforce and their parents’ prospects for a decent retirement. after decades of hard work.

Ribeiro worries about his mother, who is due to retire soon after working as a cleaner for decades. “He has been working since he was 12,” Ribeiro said, adding that he “will not have the physical and mental capacity to continue working” for another two years if the government raises the retirement age.

Thomas Coutrot, an economist specializing in health and working conditions, described the widespread view that “work has become unbearable”.

“Young people perceive that working conditions are deteriorating and that workers no longer understand why they work,” he said.

Among the young protesters are supporters of the far-left France Unbowed party and other left-wing groups, as well as others. Living off the state pension is considered a fundamental right, and the bill is seen as a reversal of hard-won social achievements.

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18-year-old Elisa Lepetit already works part-time in a bar alongside her teaching studies and cannot afford to go on strike. But he supports the protests.

“I want to be a teacher, but I don’t see myself working until I’m 64,” she said. “The goal after a lifetime of hard work is to spend time with my family.”

Some take a more apocalyptic view, saying that their time on Earth is already threatened by climate change. “It doesn’t make sense to work until you’re 67 when it’s over 55 degrees Celsius,” joked Anissa Saudemont, 29, whose work in the media sector is related to ecology.

While young people are often present in French protests, Paolo Stuppia, a sociologist at the Sorbonne University and Cal State University Humboldt, says they are particularly involved in the campaign against the pension law.

According to Stuppia, among them are those who march for climate action, LGBTQ rights, or against racial and gender discrimination, and who are connected to a pension law they also consider unjust.

“For young people, their future seems completely sealed, and this reform is part of a model that they want to challenge,” Stuppia said.