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A comment to a Guardian editorial about the French rail strike

The editorial itself is forgettable, but this comment by “Cavirac” astounded me:

Polls run in the left, centre and right newspapers show overwhelming support for Macron by the French public with regards to the changes he will make to SNCF.

People in the private sector (builders, electricians, plimbers etc.) now see their retirement age at 67. You need to have worked for 41 years to get a full state pension, tha’st six years more than in the UK.

The SNCF, EDF and La Poste workers can retire at 50 if their work is “physical” on a full pension and 55 if they are administrative staff.

Not only do they get to retire but they get loads of perks which are not taxed. EDF workers get a 80% discount on their electricity bills and after working for five years this discount is for life. SNCF get free European rail travel for themselves and direct family. La Post get a super Mutual insurance which allows them access to the best hospitals in France for free. The facteur (postman/woman) suffer very bad shoulder and elbow strain from leaning out of their vans delivering the post apparently and many need replacement elbow and shoulder joints.

EDF, La Poste and SNCF also own holiday villages all over France including some of the more prestigious holiday resorts where they benefit from all inclusive holidays as stupidly low prices, typically 150 Euros per week per person.

All this comes at a cost and is paid for by the tax payer and the users. It represents a big chunk of the current deficit for each of these institutions.

This is why the general public in France support Macron in this. Why should they have to work every hour god sends till they are 67 to get a shit pension when a guy who sweeps the station platform, because it is outside manual work, be able to retire at 50 on full pay and still keep his perks including cheap holidays etc?

Can any readers familiar with France tell me whether that is a fair presentation of the facts?

17 comments to A comment to a Guardian editorial about the French rail strike

  • Katy Hibbert

    The British have been subsidising this internal French racket by paying into the EU, which is a Franco-German racket. To add insult to injury, these restrictive practices mean that young French people can’t get jobs, so we in the UK have been mopping up their unemployment problem.

    Let’s get out of the vile EU, and as for what happens after that, “sauve qui peut”, as the French say. Too bad, as the English, politely, say.

  • Regional

    Britain was always a cash cow for the European ‘National’ Socialists.

  • Regional

    Just wait till the Peasant farmers of France and Germany stop receiving their generous subsidies financed in part by Britain and the sheeple paying a lot more for their food and the elite will find out how revolting the peasants can be.

  • Paul Marks

    It is true – the astonishing thing is that the Guardian allowed the comment.

  • Mr Ed

    As usual with our media, reporting of the base facts and figures is anathema, I have looked for some figures but the best I could find was on a Yahoo answers blog in French from a decade ago which seemed to indicate that the retirement ages were 50 and 55 and the issue was being looked at back then. I recall that during the Miners’ Strike in 1984, the media never mentioned what miners’ wages were, nor was there any discussion of manning levels or restrictive practices (the safety card was still relatively new then).

    What the SNCF perks do remind me of is the Soviet system of special holiday resorts and shops for the Party faithful.

  • Stonyground

    I don’t think that this part is right.

    “You need to have worked for 41 years to get a full state pension, that’s six years more than in the UK.”

    I live in the UK and I will have worked for 49 years by the time that I get my state pension.

  • Mr Ed

    Stonyground,

    In the UK you need to have a certain number a complete ‘years’ of National Insurance contributions (or deemed contributions, e.g. when signing on for unemployment benefits) to qualify for a State pension, there is also an age cut-off for those born after 6/4/51 (men) or 6/4/53 (women), where you may get a State pension with less, but it won’t be worth much.

    And guess what, if you have gender reassignment surgery, that can affect your pension, but the government will help, not sure how this works, but nice of them to think of everything and everyone.

    Transgender people
    Your State Pension might be affected if you’re a transgender person and you:

    were born between 24 December 1919 and 3 April 1945
    were claiming State Pension before 4 April 2005
    can provide evidence that your gender reassignment surgery took place before 4 April 2005

    Whilst the National Debt climbs remorselessly towards £1,750,000,000,000.

  • I believe the ridiculously early retirement ages got fixed a few years ago (so they are now just early but not quite so outrageous). The rest of the perks are pretty much true. It is also certainly true that the French who are not/do not have relatives in these cushy jobs are unhappy at the “workers” who do.

    What surprises me, amazes me more like, is that Macron is showing rather more backbone and intestinal fortitude in facing these strikers down. Just about every government from Chirac in the 2000s on has promised to reduce this bloat and they’ve all climbed down after various strikes – although as I say IIRC some of the most outrageous perks and entitlesments did get reduced. Macron so far shows no sign of buckling

  • Stonyground

    Thanks Mr. Ed, I get it now, I’ve got my 35 years in already but I have to be 66 years old as well.

  • JohnM from France

    Yes, all the ‘perks’ of the SNCF “Workers” are correct. A recent poll in my local newspaper gave 78% support to remove them from SNCF personnel.

  • EDF, La Poste and SNCF also own holiday villages all over France including some of the more prestigious holiday resorts where they benefit from all inclusive holidays as stupidly low prices, typically 150 Euros per week per person.

    Heh, we get that (large former state company). The available places get snapped up pretty quickly, though. All part of this scheme, originating in the Vichy regime that nobody likes to talk about.

    But yes, most people I speak to don’t have much sympathy with the strikers and are broadly supportive of Macron’s reforms.

  • M2P

    My former in-laws are retired “fonctionnaires”.
    The main points there look about right to me. My ex-in-laws retired at 50, having had careers which appear to have had generous allowance for playing table tennis during the day. Certainly the point about subsidised “maisons de vacances” is correct. My ex-wife had more-or-less free skiing holidays as a kid, as did most of her neighbours. The subsidised travel and power is quite shocking, but there again I’m always a bit startled by similar perks in British Airways.

    I’ve always been aware of some quite intense bitterness in the family from those working in the private sector. One of them used to copy me in on emails between his insurance mates viciously mocking fat lazy public sector demonstrators (José Bové especially).
    Some of my neighbours in my holiday apartment building in France seem to be former custom officers and other civil servants who always seem quite vague about what they used to do. I used to think they were being reserved, but it’s possible they just never really knew. There is a subset who used to run their own businesses or still do, and there’s a very visible difference there – for a start, even the ones in their 80s still seem to be actively involved in their businesses.

    We can (and should) mock, but I also think their private sector is often more lean and hungry than ours – you can see this every time you go into a cafe or restaurant; good service is a result of a clear focus on where the money comes from. This might be helped by this marked distinction between public and private – if you want to just do nothing, you can, but if you want to achieve something, you can do that instead. So you don’t really get these companies who are supposed to be private sector but behave and look like grubby Eastern Bloc utilities, like Boots and WHSmith. Lawyers and other professionals in France have little of the wannabe-Oxbridge Don whiff that they sometimes do here – they’re smart and commercial. The French also gave us hypermarkets and the brilliant Decathlon – the closest we have is JD Sports. It’s nowhere close.

    So Macron is pushing on an open door here, with a groundswell of underground support that never gets mentioned in the press there but is very much there, and very much has the alternative vision of what it could be like instead.

  • staghounds

    Visiting USA writer here, I echo M2P. France feels more capitalistic and entrepreneurial than England to me.

  • Chester Draws

    Some of my neighbours in my holiday apartment building in France seem to be former custom officers and other civil servants who always seem quite vague about what they used to do.

    All French seem to be vague about what they do. My understanding is that if they are precise then you will be able to work out how much they earn. Which is, apparently, poor form.

    When the French meet you, they ask where you are from (meaning original province, not where you live), where a Briton might ask what you do.

  • James

    I live in France and can confirm, from my observations, what Cavirac said. However, I differ from M2P on the subject of service in eg French supermarkets and many cafes/ restaurants where it is often ATROCIOUS. Attitudes are frequently poor, too. Macron has quite a job on his hands but he has widespread support.

  • Jackthesmilingblack

    When are the peasants revolting?
    In the summer, but who isn’t.

    Any chance of a few heavyweight topics to discuss instead of the usual soft-brain Liberal mush? With respect.

  • Nicholas (Unlicenced Joker) Gray

    What will people do when capitalism gives us pills that double lifespans? Scientists know a lot about telomerase, and I suspect that we’ll soon have rejuvenation in a bottle. Will people be allowed to retire?

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