Weekly protests in France are now about more than pensions. For French citizens it is about democratic ideals and a government that represents its people.

A protest march in France over proposed pension reforms.

Protesters in Rennes, France march over pension reforms and more, April 2023. All photos by Clover Choi.

 This article, by high school student Clover Choi, was produced out of News Decoder’s school partnership program. Clover is a student at School Year Abroad, a News Decoder partner institution. Learn more about how News Decoder can work with your school.

Anti-Anti-Anti-Cap-i-ta-lisme, Anti-Anti-Anti-Cap-i-ta-lisme!

That’s one of the many chants you’ll hear in the streets of France during the many demonstrations and protests.

France is currently in a split between its government and its people.

In January 2023, President Emmanuel Macron pushed out his plan to raise the retirement age from 62 to 64, setting off a political frenzy in all of France. The majority of the French population has objected to this pension reform through continuous strikes and protests to make their voices of disapproval heard.

France’s retirement system relies primarily on a pay-as-you-go structure where workers and employers are assessed mandatory payroll taxes that are used to fund pensions. Once you’re in retirement, you are guaranteed this state-backed payment.

Protests go beyond pensions.

Macron and his government argue that rising life expectancies have left the system in an increasingly precarious state.

They argue that there are more and more older people and comparatively fewer workers to fund the government pension. To keep the system financially viable without funneling more taxpayer money into it, Macron strives to gradually raise the legal age at which workers can start collecting a pension by three months every year until it reaches 64 in 2030.

Some French citizens, aggrieved by the government’s invocations and disregard of its people, have now taken their demonstrations to a violent state by creating destruction in cities all around the country. The chaos between both parties, the people and the government, has created a divide in democracy in France.

But is the retirement rebuttal solely about old age?

Many French citizens have taken the opportunity to strike not only for the pension reform, but to show their dissatisfaction with Macron and his government in general.

Brigite, a 65 year-old-retired woman, protests for retirement rights and is against what she sees as Macron’s totalitarianism.

Brigite, 65, participates in the demonstrations in Rennes over pension reform, April 2023.

Many wonder if France is losing its democratic ideals.

Brigite is a 65-year-old pensioner who participates in the demonstrations in Rennes, France. She is proudly a part of the political party, La France Insoumise, a left-wing populist party in France.

Brigite protests for retirement rights and is against what she sees as Macron’s totalitarianism. She describes France as an autocracy rather than a democracy. While she associates the French president with a dictatorship, she believes that the rest of the government is also problematic.

If Brigite had the opportunity to talk to Macron directly she would tell him, “Dégage!” or “Get out!”

She worries that the democracy of France is less and less of a democracy each day. “Macron acts like a king, we are not his royal servants,” she said.

While France’s government has lost its relationship with many of its citizens, dissatisfaction seems to cross age categories. Even though Brigite is already retired, for example, she identifies with the younger generation when it comes to pension reform proposals.

Macron and his government party have moved bill forward a bill to reform the pension systems in what many see as disingenuous. They point to Article 49.3 of the French Constitution, which allows the government to pass a bill without a National Assembly vote.

For many French citizens, this marked the breaking point of supporting Macron. The hashtags #MacronDégage and #MacronDemission trended on Twitter, demanding the dismissal of the president.

Fighting for more than pension reform

Emeline is a 34-year-old public school teacher who also participates in weekly protests in Rennes over pension reforms. She wants the retirement age lowered.

But Emeline also takes a stand against other of Macron’s actions that she sees as unequal. She fights for better working conditions in education and for better pay and working conditions in general.

She believes that Macron and his government have catastrophically destroyed public service in France, especially in healthcare and accessibility for the handicapped.

“The disabled schools are impacted, lots of children are now unaccompanied,” she said. “Hospitals too, there are less and less caretakers.”

Emeline believes that France’s government system as a monarchy in disguise.

Emeline, a 34-year-old public school teacher, participates in Rennes, France in weekly protests over pension reforms.

Emeline, a 34-year-old public school teacher, joined a protest in Rennes in April 2023.

Making Macron listen

While Macron’s political party is classified as center, many who protest say he only adheres to right-winged reforms.

“The government is now becoming all right-winged,” Emeline said. She is angry about high taxes, Macron’s bias towards the wealthy and the rise of fascism in France.

If Emeline were to have a conversation with Macron she doesn’t think he would listen. “But I would say think about the children and the new generation,” she said. “Be sensible in social issues and good health.”

Emeline views demonstrating in the street as symbolic. But she also finds that work strikes and blockage is effective in being seen. She has attended protests since the beginning of the movement, and volunteers with Union syndicale Solidaires, a trade union.

Union syndicale Solidaires strives to inform French communities about public rights. At one demonstration, the union was selling pins and meals in order to provide financial help to people who lose pay because they are out protesting.

Dissatisfied French citizens plan to continue demonstrating. These weekly protests include the blockage of auto routes, a disruption of public transportation and work strikes in public sectors.

Listen to one protester

To understand why young people are protesting over pension reforms in France, author Clover Choi interviewed a student from Lycée Jean Macé in Rennes who participates in the protests. 

Three questions to consider:

  1. Why are many French citizens unhappy with their government?
  2. What beyond pension reforms are people in France protesting about?
  3. How many years do you think people should have to work before they can retire?


Clover Choi is from the U.S. state of California and is spending her third year of high school studying at School Year Abroad France. Her home high school is Culver Academies. Her favorite subjects are English and French, and this year she is fascinated by her French Political Science class. Her favorite hobbies are dancing, taking photos, blogging and filming YouTube videos. In the future, she would like to become an entrepreneur.

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