The Washington Post tells me there’s turmoil in France:
Unions vowed that their striking workers would keep disrupting rail and road transportation. Teenagers marched through the streets and pledged to go on boycotting their schools. The government, trying to appear unfazed, urged Parliament to ignore the chaos and speed up the vote on a bitterly contested pension reform.
France remained stuck Thursday in what has become a major test of President Nicolas Sarkozy’s conservative presidency – the turmoil caused by a nationwide strike and protest movement that has maintained its momentum well into a second month.
Sarkozy’s aides predicted the unrest would soon peter out, particularly as a 10-day school break begins this weekend. Given the government’s majority in both houses of Parliament, they added, final passage of the reform law is assured early next week, in any case. Nevertheless, the major labor unions scheduled two more nationwide strikes and demonstrations, for Oct. 28 and Nov. 6, voicing the hope that by pressing on with the campaign they could force Sarkozy to pull back the bill and start over.
The immediate dispute was over Sarkozy’s decision to raise the retirement age, from 60 to 62[*], in an effort to balance a social security budget that pushes deeper into the red every year. There was no other choice, Sarkozy and his ministers explained, if the retirement system is to retain adequate resources to serve the country’s aging population.
The change would still leave France with one of the world’s most generous pension programs and a retirement age well below those of its European neighbors. But union leaders, backed by the opposition Socialist Party and a growing army of student protesters, object that under Sarkozy’s reform, low-income workers would sacrifice more than their share. They suggest a capital gains tax would be a better place to look for the additional funds.
*Note that the Post is being somewhat misleading, as full pension benefits had kicked in at age 65, not 60.