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French show of passion for pension scheme

We are not averse to political protest here in the South Pacific.

In fact, if the issue at hand is considered important or contentious enough, New Zealanders will gather in reasonably large numbers and have a crack at the authorities. All in the name of freedom of speech … and the right to protest.

Some of our more important protests have helped bring about permanent social change.

The 1975 Maori land march from Te Hapua to Wellington, a distance of 1100km, was led by Dame Whina Cooper, at the age of 79. It gathered numbers and momentum the further it travelled down the North Island and particularly when it got closer to the Beehive. Bastion Point promontory in Wellington also drew attention to Treaty of Waitangi grievances with the occupation form of protest.

The Springbok tour protest in 1981 rattled us, and protests after that were generally more vocal and less physically confrontational.

Until last year that is, when the mandate protests turned ugly on the grounds of Parliament.

If the overall objective of a protest is to bring about change, or perhaps to stop it, I wonder if the French style of voicing their opposition might be more effective than most.

More than 960,000 people marched in Paris, Nice, Marseille, Toulouse, Nantes and other cities during the weekend, according to official government figures. Protesters congregated and staged what was a sometimes rowdy fourth round of nationwide demonstrations across France against President Emmanuel Macron’s plans to reform the country’s pension system.

That’s right, the pension scheme. Sound familiar?

The French are famous for doing things their own way. They march to the capital to the beat of their own drum. They have a 35-hour working week.

The mere suggestion that the working week should move to 38 hours and then 40 hours prompted similar nationwide protests, and the idea was quickly scrapped. Politicians will push an envelope only so far, so as not to risk holding the seat of power.

The pension protests have been going on for the best part of a month. Interestingly, the demonstrations reportedly drew plenty of young people. In my experience, a young New Zealander might be part of KiwiSaver but is unlikely to know much, if anything at all, about the pension. That’s far too far away to think about.

The French protests included an unexpected strike by air traffic controllers, and flights to and from Paris were cancelled. Can you imagine air traffic controllers doing that here? A strike about conditions in the pressure cooker control tower, maybe.

Raising the pension age has been mooted here, but has never been part of a larger election discussion. No party wants to die on that particular sword.

The topic of lifting the retirement age is a curly political issue in China, where women currently retire between the ages of 50-55 and men retire at 60.

China has an ageing population and nowhere near enough young people to fund them in their retirement. The problem looks insurmountable, but China can’t ignore the serious consequences of having an outdated pension scheme for much longer.

Our scheme is in better shape, but it will need review one day, too.

Roger Parker
Roger Parker
Roger Parker is the Times-Age news director. In the Venn-diagram of his two great loves, news and sport, sports news is the sweet spot.

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