26 October 2010

Wrapping up

It appears this morning that the oil refinery workers and the labor unions are winding down their strikes. Workers at several refineries have voted to go back to work. They say they are exhausted and at the end of their rope, economically.

Contrary to what some think, striking workers have not been not getting "free days off" for all this time. Their salaries are suspended for the days they are not working, unless they can prove that their employer was at fault and therefore responsible for the strike. I doubt that's the case in the recent "social movement."

It will take a few days for the fuel supply network to be put back in place, but it will happen now, barring unforeseen events. The retirement age will be increased — the law has been voted by the French Assemblée Nationale and Sénat. President Sarkozy will sign it into law.

Some people will say that this was the inevitable outcome, and that the strikers were wasting their time and almost frivously causing other people great inconvenience by disrupting train service, the fuel supply, and so on. After all, they are being asked only to work two years longer, until age 62 instead of 60, to be able to retire on a reduced pension. At 67 instead of 65, they'll be able to collect the full pension.

Personally, I have a hard time telling people to work longer, even if life expectancies have increased significantly in countries like France, Germany, Japan, and other industrialized democracies over the past few decades. After all, I "retired" at age 54. I was very lucky.

In the U.S., you can also collect a reduced Social Security pension at age 62. To get the full payout, you have to wait until you are 65, if you are of my generation, or 66 or even 67 if you are younger.

Many employees of big corporations in the U.S., however, can retire earlier. If you have a 401K plan and you have contributed to it diligently over the years, you can take retirement at age 59½ and start drawing dowb that pension fund. (Assuming there's enough left in it after the recent financial crisis...)

The question in France now is what the effect of this period of turmoil will be on public sentiment toward the labor unions and toward the current national government. President Sarkozy's approval rating in polls is now down below 30% (even though, contrary to what you might think, only 8% of the French workforce is unionized). A week or so ago, polls indicated that 70% or more of the French people sympathized with the strikers and wanted the pension reform bill to be re-negotiated.

The next presidential election will be held in May 2012. That's not very far in the future. Will Sarkozy try to soften his image now and win over those who disapprove of his policies and tactics? Who will the next prime minister be? Will it be more of the same, or will there be some kind of overture toward people who might be tempted to support Sarkozy's Socialist opponent in 2012?


  1. From an outsider's point of view, this column very much sums up my opinion well. Time to revolt. http://www.theage.com.au/opinion/politics/french-protests-a-rejection-of-sarkozys-politics-of-blame-20101024-16z3w.html

  2. I think it would be cool if France had finally a woman for president next elections.

  3. Ken,

    Thanks for the daily updates on the fuel situation in particular. We have just returned our rental car to CDG airport in preparation for our return to Australia tomorrow. Your daily updates and commentary helped us make sense of the the information we were getting on the French news sites. We are heading back to an Aussie summer just as the temps here start their downward plummet. We will be thinking of you and Walt and following your blogs. Until next time we wisit, Au revoir.

    Steve and kerry

  4. According to the Social Security website, the full retirement age for those born between 1943 and 1954 is 66 years. http://www.socialsecurity.gov/retire2/agereduction.htm

    So you got an even earlier retirement than you thought.


  5. Oh. Thanks, Susan. Good thing I didn't plan on waiting for the full S.S. benefit. I'd be disappointed if I had.


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