French anarchists on the strike for pensions

The following statement from France’s anarchist CNT-AIT union analyses the nature of yesterday’s general strike, which has brought out millions of people and affected everything from schools and transport to legal services and hospitals.

The battle for pensions begins. But this is not a simple union battle for the defence of social gains, let alone a corporatist conflict between certain sectors of “privileged” workers — it is a crucial battle for a choice of society, for a choice of life.

Retirement is not only the worker’s right after a life of hard work, it is a time removed from work, its hierarchical constraints, its rhythms, the oppression of others, hardship. Unfortunately, access to this just reward, this inalienable right, seems impossible for workers in many countries of the world.

Today in France, pensions are financed by capitalist wealth (sales of industrial production) created by labour (employee contributions and so-called “employer” contributions, a usurped name only representing part of the strength of the labour force’s collective work). But recent technological developments — automation, robotisation, computerisation, etc — mean these riches are more and more produced by the “work” of the machines, minimising human activity. The latter becomes an inessential element to the reproduction of capital and therefore, the number of active workers necessary for the production is in free fall.

Arguments put forward by Pierre-Louis Bras, chairman of the Pension Advisory Council, for example (which looks back at the latest updated demographic and economic forecasts) blaming “the significant increase” in life expectancy by 2060- 2070, or the “steady decline “in the ratio between the number of “assets” (working people) and of retirees, do not hold. Indeed this dominant reasoning omits the fact that the demographic curve relating to younger generations shows a decline in birth rates and therefore compensates for the increase in retirees. 

What matters for the financing of solidarity (pensions, unemployment insurance, health …) is the ratio between the number of people of working age (contributors) and the number of those who are too old or too young to work (beneficiaries), to which we can add the young people waiting for their first job, unemployed workers, homemakers … moreover, labour productivity continues to increase (although there may have been a slowdown at the beginning of the new millennium). If growth continues at the average pace of the last century (2% per year) then in 40 years an asset will produce, at the same time, 2.2 times more than at present — largely enough to compensate for retirement pensions with contribution rates unchanged.

A final, important point: the deficit announced by the State by 2025 is not due to an explosion of expenditure, which has in fact been relatively stable, but to a decrease of income provoked by our laws, a lowering of social contribution resources and an accumulation of exemptions. What various successive governments continue to propose and even impose is a new reform that will help move the current pay-as-you-go (PAYG) system to a generalised system of funding managed by the Stock Exchange. That is, by purchasing securities corresponding to either a subdivision of the capital of a company (shares), a government bond (bonds) placed on the market, or the purchase of private debts (credit). Our pension would therefore be paid in anticipation of a hypothetical future of rising work [1] .

The homogenisation of pension funds towards a “points” system is one of the steps towards so-called “necessary” capitalisation — currently most people can retire with relatively similar purchasing power, but with a points pension, the State can reduce payouts to force the future pensioner to supplement his public pension with a private one — in short, what the State has always done, create a deficit to justify exploitative measures. 

Indeed in the capitalist system based on the accumulation of money, the growing needs of companies in constant competition with each other on a global level require increasingly heavy investment to produce more and more cheaply. This implies a diminution of the value of the commodity produced and therefore necessarily of its surplus value which, it should be remembered, is only provided by human labour. And, to recover the maximum amount of money, the employers, the shareholders and the State “tackle” the wage bill and employee social contributions, including those for the financing of pensions.

But the current system of retirement, presented as a “social acquis“, is also for us deeply unfair, unequal, unfair! Unfair because some, most often women, (who have died in the most painful jobs) touch paws … while others (at the most rewarding jobs), comfortable retreats. Inevitably because some, especially those who are in power (military, cops), can leave after 15 years of service, receive a pension and accumulate with a new job … while others have to wait 62 years and even longer to be entitled to a “decent” pension … because they lack
quarters of contribution. Unfair because anyone who reaches retirement age should be provided with sufficient means to ensure a decent life regardless of the number of quarters paid.

Why not fight in the name of equality and equity:

  • For retirement to be 55 for everyone regardless of the number of years of contribution, with immediate receipt of a pension?
  • For a single monthly pension of €2,000, regardless of previous salary and the number of years of contribution. And because it would be profoundly unfair that those who have received high wages, on the grounds of long studies and through social financing of the education system, receive higher pensions than those who financed their studies by going to work very hard.

Why not fight too in the name of freedom:

  • For the possibility, for those who wish, to continue to work beyond 55 years, a pension would be paid to them only in complement to reach €2,000 per month.

But, we know that, by its very essence, the alienating political and economic system that is capitalism and its tool of coercion: the State based on the exploitation of the living and the endless accumulation of money, does not allows and will not allow any sharing of the global wealth we all produce, and that as long as this is the case, political and economic structures will not evolve (an oyster shell can only give a pearl!).

Our fight will only succeed when we have the guarantee of justice and equity, which only Liberty can offer us! Not the one defined in our textbooks, no! True social freedom, that of others who extend mine to infinity, that by which we can choose our activities without constraints, by free association, that which will allow to manage our own affairs by district, village, commune, “region” … a borderless world that paves the way for self-help as a cement among its nested entities.

So what to do? Let us question our social memory, the experiences of those who, before us, led effective struggles. An observation: everything that was won was by the strike. More precisely, let us recall what happened in June 1936 [2]. The working class innovated by directly attacking the ownership of the means of production by the occupation of workplaces (preventing scabbing), by an grassroots organisation making self-imposed demands (thus preventing control by institutional “reformer” unions), all sealed with enthusiasm and joy by a mutual aid contract. So, sail in the wind! heading towards anarchy! First stop: the strike!

And “happy, arm in arm  ” (as the song says), what if we occupied our places of work? It is through direct action that we will succeed in safeguarding our social achievements! Who knows, if beyond our borders other workers do the same, we could usher in the direct management of our collective inheritance with mutual aid and finish with social classes, employers, the wages, the State.

In short, abolish work!


  1. At present, there are three “formulas” of pension funds: the “defined public” pension fund guaranteed by the State with the tax regulator, except in case of bankruptcy; the “defined private” pension fund with insurance as its regulator and its limits, its reserve rate; finally, the “defined private” contribution without guarantee, generally offering a high yield but more risky.
  2. The Matignon agreements were not a gift offered to the working class to reward it for having voted, but a hastily set up fire by the employers and the newly elected Socialist Blum government, supported by the CGT and leftist parties animated by the same concern: to try to bring back the torrent of the strike (they succeeded, but with difficulty).

This article is a machine edited translation of a piece at the CNT-AIT website — any problems, let us know!