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‘We can’t work until 65’: Why French workers are ready to battle pension reform

The protest in Paris was one of around 200 around the country on Thursday but only drew around 40,000 marchers.

It could be seen and heard from far away, as drums were banged and chants were sung, marchers made their way towards the historic Place de la Bastille.

The chants of “SMIC à €2,000” (minimum wage at €2,000) and “Rétraite à 60 ans” (retirement at 60 years old) were repeated over and over.

Originally Thursday’s inter-union protest – representing workers from several sectors – intended to demand higher wages amid the cost of living crisis, but the mobilisation quickly shifted to focus equally on denouncing plans by President Emmanuel Macron’s government to push through pension reform. 

Protests occurred as the French government vowed on Thursday to push through the reform by the end of the winter. 

Macron made raising the retirement age from its current level of 62 one of the key planks of his re-election campaign, arguing that the current system was unsustainable and too expensive.

But opposition parties have vowed to fight the government all the way.

“It’s the start of a social battle,” leading left-wing MP Alexis Corbiere from the France Unbowed (LFI) party told AFP as he took part in a protest march of tens of thousands in Paris. “My hope is that this is the starting point.”

While there were some notable absences from the march in Paris, namely the largest union in France, CFDT, those present were keen on making their voices heard, particularly in regard to their plans to continue protesting should Macron push on with his plan to raise the retirement age.

“There is nothing wrong with the system as it is,” said Fréderic Aubisse, a sewage operator in Paris and former head of the waste treatment union with CGT. For Aubisse, the problem of salaries and retirement are connected – he sees current salaries as too low and unattractive.

“We just need more people paying into the system,” the former union head said.

For waste treatment workers, the subject of retirement is particularly sensitive.

“We [waste treatment workers] already have a low life expectancy,” he added, explaining that pushing retirement back even further is not sustainable for people in his line of work. In Aubisse’s view, many would die before getting to enjoy any benefits of retirement.

According to Libération newspaper, waste treatment workers in France do have an excess mortality of 97 percent. 

Aubisse said he has been fighting for at least thirty years to keep social protections from being eroded, and that he and members of his union would continue protesting.

“If it makes it through parliament, it will be too late. We must start taking action now.” 

Another demonstrator, Dominique, who has been employed as cash register worker for Carrefour supermarkets for 35 years, said for her it would be “like 2019 again.” 

Dominique was referring to the 2019-2020 pension reform strike – the longest industrial action in French modern history. The Carrefour worker said she would be prepared to go to such lengths once more.

“Many of us here today have painful, repetitive jobs. We cannot continue to the age of 65,” said Dominique.

With deficits spiralling and public debt at historic highs, Macron views pushing back the pension age as one of the only ways the state can raise revenues without increasing taxes.

He has made it clear he would not hesitate to call fresh elections if opposition parties voted down the government over the reform.

Maintaining the focus on salaries

Some protesters in Paris on Thursday remained firm in the original motive of the protest to focus on demanding higher wages. The inter-union group, largely represented by the union CGT, called for for salaries to be indexed at a rate of at least 10 percent for civil servants.

The government previously increased the rate by 3.5 percent, but unions said that this “falls short of the urgent need to raise all salaries” and “preserve living conditions of all.”

Whilst the strike on Thursday caused some disruption on public transport and rail services, around one in 10 teachers joined the action forcing many schools to close their doors.

Teachers – a well-represented group at Thursday’s protest in Paris – were adamant wages must increase further.

“[The government’s 3.5% increase] is not enough. It does not suffice,” said Clotilde, an elementary school teacher in the Paris region.

Wearing a sign on her back with the words “20 years in teaching, but still a salary of a student,” Clotilde said it is “extremely difficult to live in the Paris region as a teacher.”

Clotilde’s sign. Picture Credit: Genevieve Mansfield

For her, the government’s proposals did not adequately cover the costs of inflation, a sentiment which was echoed by fellow teacher Aina Tokarski.

Tokarski, a middle school teacher in Villejuif, also wore her sign on her person. 

Tokarski holding up her sign

Tokarski explained that the start of the 2022 school year shook her – a young teacher, she saw several colleagues leave the profession, and she too considered making some changes, such as moving to a more affordable region in France.

“When I get to the grocery store, I look at the prices and just think to myself: this is not possible,” she said.

For her, the government has not raised salaries enough to combat the cost of living crisis.

In addition to rising costs, Tokarski worries about the conditions in the public school system generally. “The start of the school year really concerned me. We have teachers with upwards of 30 students per class. That is unattainable. It has been getting worse since the pandemic,” she said. 

While it was not a focus of the protest, other public employees highlighted staff shortages as deeply concerning, and innately related to salaries.

Véronique, a speech and language pathologist who works for the public hospital system, said she was there to “defend our salaries.”

Wearing a white doctor’s coat, Véronique explained that low salaries have pushed several doctors in her sector to leave their jobs, adding that this shortage has led to wait-lists growing far too long:

“It is not right for a four-year-old child who cannot speak to have to wait at least a year or two years to see a specialist. We have to triage our patients now,” she said.

When asked if she had plans to protest again, Véronique gave an emphatic “Bien sûr” (of course).

Xavier Signac, a 48-year-old member of the UNSA union from southwest France, as he walked along with a flag in Paris told AFP: “It’s up to us to show our determination, to show that street protests still have some power.”



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Alec Baldwin: ‘Rust’ case arrives in court with trial against armorer Hannah Gutierrez-Reed | Culture

Two years and four months after the death of Halyna Hutchins, someone is finally sitting in the dock. On Wednesday, the first trial began after the cinematographer was accidentally shot while filming the movie Rust on October 21, 2021. That day, a real bullet was shot from a revolver held by Alec Baldwin, killing Hutchins and injuring Joel Souza, the director of the independent western. Hannah Gutierrez-Reed, the person in charge of the production’s armory who loaded the gun, will be the first to respond to the accusations made by New Mexico prosecutors in a trial that will extend until March 6.

On Wednesday, the trial in Santa Fe began with the process of selecting the 12 jurors who will decide whether Gutierrez-Reed was accountable for Hutchins’ death. The weapons supervisor was 24 years old when the accident occurred. She has been charged with one count of involuntary manslaughter and another of tampering with evidence. Gutierrez Reed has pleaded not guilty. If she is found guilty, the armorer could face up to 18 months in prison and a $5,000 fine. The trial against Alec Baldwin was set for August, but has been rescheduled following a judge reassignment.

For the jury selection process, the defense and the prosecution interviewed a pool of 70 residents from the Santa Fe area. It was a difficult process, as the lawyers sought to find people who had not been exposed to the intense media coverage surrounding the case. According to AP, the lawyers interviewed non-English speakers, a welder, a teacher, a graduate student and a mother who provides for six children. Sixteen jurors — including four alternates — were sworn in for trial.

Gutierrez-Reed’s defense team intends to argue that their client — one of the youngest and least powerful people on set — has been used as a scapegoat. Rust was only the second film the armorer had worked on. Gutierrez-Reed started in the industry in August 2021 with a western in Montana starring Nicolas Cage. However, her family is no stranger to the industry. Gutierrez-Reed’s stepfather is Thell Reed, an experienced Hollywood firearms consultant who worked on major productions such as L.A. Confidential, Tombstone and 3:10 to Yuma.

The defendant’s lawyers will seek to blame the film’s producers, including Baldwin, for the poor security measures on set, which was located on a Bonanza Creek ranch. On the day of the accident, the Rust camera crew had walked off the set to protest the poor safety conditions. Gutierrez-Reed admits to loading the .45 Colt revolver that killed Hutchins. However, her lawyers claim that she tried to get David Halls, first assistant director, to check the weapon before the rehearsal where the fateful accident took place. In a December 2022 deposition, Gutierrez-Reed said that Halls had said there was “no time” to do the weapons check.

Halls, another defendant in the case, pleaded guilty to one count of negligent use of a deadly weapon. He was sentenced to six months probation as part of a plea deal.

New Mexico prosecutors have other plans for the armorer. They intend to paint an unflattering profile of Gutierrez-Reed in court: that of a careless employee who may have been working under the influence of drugs. She is charged with evidence tampering for allegedly handing off drugs to another person on the day of the on-set shooting.

In the next two weeks, about 40 people will come to court to give testimony. This list of witnesses includes the police officers who found six real bullets among prop projectiles. These were found in boxes, on a belt and a shoulder bag that were part of Baldwin’s wardrobe. Authorities believe that one of the armorer’s responsibilities was to have differentiated between dummy rounds and real bullets.

The producers of the film were fined $100,000 by the government of New Mexico for failures in security protocols. The body in charge of workplace and occupational safety wrote a report claiming that those responsible for the film did not make any changes following a series of earlier accidents, where weapons had been fired due to carelessness.

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Yorkshire Ripper: ‘The Long Shadow’, the story of a serial killer | Culture

The Long Shadow is an excellent British series, and its viewers would do well to keep in the mind the decade in which its plot takes place. During the 1970s, London was experiencing a liberating social and culture shake-up, while in Yorkshire County, police were trying to arrest a serial murderer who targeted women. Complicated times, in which economic crisis and unemployment forced some housewives to turn to sex work to be able to feed their family. This was the demographic from which the so-called “Yorkshire Ripper” initially chose his victims.

Largely avoiding special effects and any morbid fixation, the sobering series, which can be seen on Amazon Prime and ITVX, makes use of remarkable locations and wardrobe from the aforementioned decade. To them, it adds an important take on the deep-rooted machismo that characterized the vast majority of the police officers who were involved in the long-lasting investigation. The cops display intolerable contempt towards women in general, and their female colleagues in particular. And before we satisfy ourselves by thinking that such relatively recent bias is a British thing, consider the fact that it wasn’t until 1974, when the Equal Credit Opportunity Act passed, that women’s right to open their own bank account without a signature from their husband was recognized in the United States. Not to mention, that there was no national plan to combat gender-based violence until just last year.

Peter Sutcliffe murdered a total of 13 women in Leeds, Bradford and Manchester, and it took five years for police to identify and arrest the assassin. In the series, investigators are played by heavyweight British actors like Toby Jones and David Morrissey, the latter in the role of George Olfield, who was the head of the police operation for the majority of those years, and who was highly criticized for his fixation on following clues that went nowhere. Special mention should be made of the splendid self-criticism exhibited in the seven episodes of The Long Shadow, which was written by George Kay and directed by Lewis Arnold, an apt account of the events that caused the very foundations of British society to tremble.

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‘The Bill Gates Problem’ – The Case Against World’s Richest Man

The Case Against World’s Richest Man

When Clinton assumed the presidency of the United States, there was eager anticipation from the Chinese, not for Clinton himself, but for Bill Gates. This was during the late 1990s, a period when the internet was still in its nascent stages, and the digital boom of the early 2000s had not yet reached its peak. The enigmatic persona that captivated the attention of the burgeoning Asian powerhouse is now portrayed in “The Bill Gates Problem” as a “domineering, brusque figure” whose demeanor is likened to “a cauldron of passions that freely erupts.” According to a former employee cited in the book, Gates was perceived as “a complete and utter jerk to people 70% of the time,” while the remaining 30% saw him as a “harmless, enjoyable, exceptionally intelligent nerd.”

The 1990s were also the decade of the conflict between Microsoft and the now defunct Netscape browser, which challenged what was already being openly described as the former’s monopolistic practices. Gates was investigated and accused in Congress for such practices; he ultimately won the battle, but the case harmed his reputation, and in 2000 he resigned as CEO of his company. From there he undertook an expansion of the foundation that he had established with his wife and to which he has dedicated his main efforts in the last two decades. In 2006, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation received the Prince of Asturias Award for International Cooperation.

With a personal fortune of $100 billion and tens of billions more in his private foundation, Gates has been one of the richest men in the world for decades, and the foundation has been the most generous organization of its kind, specializing above all in health aid, education and child nutrition, with a large presence in Africa and India among other regions of what was formerly known as the Third World. Tim Schwab, a contributor to the weekly left-wing newspaper The Nation, undertook a detailed investigation to denounce something that in truth was already known: that American foundations are largely a way for billionaires to avoid taxes.

To prove this, he thoroughly looked into the accounts and procedures of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the failures and occasional successes of its philanthropic policies, and came to the conclusion that behind this facade of help to the needy hides an operation of power. He is ruthless in his criticism, although accurate in his analysis of the growing inequality in the world. Absorbed by the revolutionary rhetoric, he laments that the Gates Foundation has remained “deadly silent” regarding movements such as Occupy Wall Street or Black Lives Matter, which demand social change in the face of the “excess wealth and ‘white savior’ mentality that drives Bill Gates’ philanthropic work.” He does attribute some good intentions, but his criticism is merciless, sometimes even coarse, while the absence of solutions for the problems he denounces — other than the calls for do-goodism — is frustrating.

His abilities as an investigative journalist are thus overshadowed by a somewhat naive militancy against the creative capitalism that Gates promotes and an evident intention to discredit not only his work but, above all, him. The demands he makes for transparency and the accusations of obscurity are dulled by the author himself in the pages he dedicates to Gates’ relationship with Jeffrey Epstein, the famous corruptor of minors at the service of the international jet set. Gates has explained his meetings and interviews with him on countless occasions, and in no case has any type of relationship, other than their commercial relations or some confusing efforts to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, been proved. Still, Schwab raises, with no evidence whatsoever, the possibility that their relationship “could have had something to do with Epstein’s principal activities in life: sexual gratification and the exercise of power.” The book is full of this kind of opinions and speculations, to the detriment of a more serious analysis of Gates’ mistakes in the management of his foundation, the problems of shielding the intellectual property of vaccines in the hands of the pharmaceutical industries and, ultimately, the objective power that big technology companies have in global society.

He signed a collaboration agreement with the RAE to improve Microsoft’s grammar checker and was interested in the substantial unity of the Spanish language in all the countries where almost 600 million people speak it. That man was very far from the sexist, arrogant, miserable predator that Schwab portrays. Nor did we deduce — and this can be applied to the personal adventure of Steve Jobs, Larry Page, Zuckerberg, Elon Musk or Jeff Bezos — that his life’s goal was world domination, as suggested by this book. If they have achieved it, or may achieve it, it is due to the dynamics of digital civilization and the objective difficulties in governing it. The deregulation of financial capitalism, which has increased inequality among humankind, is due to the incompetence of obsolete political institutions and to leaders who care more about their own fates than those of their people. The criticism against “lame and wasteful government bureaucracies” might be part of the propaganda promoted by the world’s wealthy, but lately we have also heard it from small-scale farmers across Europe.

In conclusion, we found the book to be more entertaining than interesting. It provides a lot of information — we’re not sure if it’s entirely verified — and plenty of cheap ideology. Above all, one can see the personal crusade of the author, determined to prove that Bill Gates is a problem for democracy and that millionaire philanthropists are a bunch of swindlers. The world needs their money; maybe managed by party bureaucracies, that much is not clear. Bill Gates’ money, that is, but not Bill Gates himself.


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