How the French Youth Is Redefining Their Relationship to Work

Lena Job interviews French young people protesting pension reforms to find out how their ideas might shape the future of work.

In light of the ongoing strikes in France against Macron's pension reform, which would see the retirement age increase from 62 to 64, it seems that the French people are not just fighting for their pension, but that they also want to have a deeper conversation about their relationship to work.

Young people, who have been particularly active in the strikes, have shared their vision of how their view of work has evolved, why they are fighting this reform, and what they would like to see for their future.

If not for us, we do it for our parents

What is striking is that most young people involved in the strikes are primarily doing so in solidarity with the generation of their parents.

Violette Martin, 27, said: "I do it in solidarity with everyone. I do it for me but also for everyone who can't. I don't only think of my retirement, but that of my parents too."

Indeed, French workers in many sectors have come together to fight the retirement reform. This solidarity, however, would be impossible in the UK, as the 1982 act forbids workers in one sector to strike in support of another industrial action in another sector.

Young French people, however, have gone beyond this intergenerational solidarity to open up a bigger conversation on the notion of work.

Margot Liberale, 26, said: "I think that we inevitably have a different relationship with work than previous generations because neighbouring countries show us ways of working that are different from our own and that work. We are much more interested in what is happening around us and information is also more easily accessible to our generation with the Internet and social media. We also see how the current working conditions in France are affecting our families and previous generations."

"Climate change, pensions, same fight"

This slogan was often heard in the protests and seems particularly accurate in defining young people's engagement against this retirement reform. They see the fight for better working conditions and the fight against climate change as two sides of the same coin. In a viral video, this slogan is followed by "no pensioners on a burned planet", and many millennials and Gen Z can particularly adhere to this notion.

Margot continues: "I think this slogan is great. If we want to fight for our retirement system, it's also important to remember that in order to have a retirement, we need to have a livable planet to spend it on."

Is a new model possible?

For Marie Marcon, 28, this is also the end of an era: "Our parents were the last generation with full employment. We are the first generation that got promised everything and got barely anything in return. The system is failing us, so we need to reinvent it."

So, is a new model possible? This is the argument made by the opposition on the left. Their proposed alternative would see the retirement age lowered to 60 and financed by taxes on high profits. They have estimated that taxing only 3% of the profits made by the biggest companies and highest salaries would finance the pension system.

They also argue for a "right to idleness". In a passionate speech to parliament, Sandrine Rousseau, Green MP, said: "We only have one body, one life, one planet, so I say yes to less working hours, yes to sharing wealth, yes to taking care of ourselves, and yes to slowing down. We have reached the limits of our planet; we can't go on like this. […] So, yes to the right to idleness and yes to retirement age at 60 years old."

Meanwhile in the UK, promising results have emerged after companies have trialed a four-day week. This experiment was a success, and many firms have extended the trial permanently.

Surveys of staff taken before and after found that 39% said they were less stressed, 40% were sleeping better, and 54% said it was easier to balance work and home responsibilities.

It will therefore be interesting to see the conclusion that will be drawn not only by the French but also internationally on our societal vision of work and how it will have to evolve with the challenges that we will have to face in the coming decades.

Lena is a French national who moved to the UK in 2016 for her studies. She has a degree in Journalism and Politics and now works as a freelance journalist, focusing on UK and international politics. She also posts on her Twitter @Lena_Job1.
Image from Karollyne Videira Hubert on Unsplash
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