In recent months, the France has lived to the rhythm of monster demonstrations against the pension reform, which arouses almost universal opposition in the country. Its adoption by the government in March, without a vote in the National Assembly, has only reinforced a social anger that worries even the Cannes Film Festival.

Anxious to avoid any risk of overflow during the festivities, the city authorities have banned demonstrations in a large perimeter around the Palais des Festivals and the Croisette.

Opponents of the reform, however, warned that they would not remain inactive during this event, among the most publicized in the world, considered a showcase of the France.

"Cannes is not just glitter and bling. It is also about the workers, the people without whom the festival would not even take place," explains Céline Petit, local representative of the CGT union.

Having failed to overturn the ban on demonstrations in court, the CGT found a way around it by organizing a small gathering of hotel workers on private land, just outside the porch of Cannes' best-known palace, which counts among its clients this year the icon of cinema and darling of the festival, Martin Scorsese.

The use of this location means that the rally is technically allowed, provided that the protesters – a mix of union representatives and workers from the hotel and restaurant sectors – are no more than a dozen.

Braving the rain, they unfurled a large banner with the inscription "No to reform", in large letters. The prestigious setting, in front of the entrance to the recently renovated Carlton, has made its small effect, despite the reduced size of troops.

"Hotel staff are not used to being heard," said Ange Romiti, a CGT member representing the staff of the Carlton Hotel. "This is an opportunity to get our message across at a time when the eyes of the world are on Cannes."

The event took place the day after the world premiere of the fifth and final installment of the "Indiana Jones" saga. © Benjamin Dodman, FRANCE 24

No workers, no Cannes

Emmanuel Macron's pension reform raises the minimum retirement age from 62 to 64 and tightens the conditions for obtaining a full pension.

Unions believe that these changes are deeply unfair and that they mainly affect women with chopped careers and low-skilled workers who start their careers early and work physically exhausting jobs – the same "essential workers" then in the spotlight during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Without the Carlton's 680 employees and thousands of other employees in the crucial Riviera hospitality sector, "absolutely nothing would happen in Cannes," says Ange Romiti. "But the cleaners, the doormen, the waiters, the cooks... These are all exhausting jobs that you can't continue until age 64."

The government has also come under heavy criticism over the timing of its reform, which came just after the pandemic and at a time of high inflation.

"It was a misguided and inelegant decision," Romiti said. "It was not democratic either," he said, deploring the government's use of Article 49.3 of the Constitution that allowed it to bypass Parliament, despite the rejection of the reform by an overwhelming majority of French people.

"Our democracy has taken a hit. It is important that people continue to fight and remind the government that this is not acceptable," he concludes.

Concerns among seasonal workers

For protesters gathered outside the Carlton, the pension reform threatens to exacerbate structural problems in a sector already facing severe shortages.

"Young people are abandoning these professions," says Ange Romiti. "They will be even less inclined to exercise them if they have to lift mattresses and carry heavy trays until age 64."

The film industry itself is facing a haemorrhage of jobs, observes Mathilde, a festival employee who went to the Carlton demonstration in solidarity with hotel staff. She is a member of the Collectif des precariouss des festivals de cinéma, which has launched a campaign to raise awareness of the growing difficulties of employment in the sector.

Mathilde explains that the government's recent cut in unemployment benefits has made life impossible for seasonal workers on whom film festivals depend, while pension reform penalizes workers with non-linear careers.

"It's just not worth working at festivals anymore, and festivals can't get by without us," she said.

It is a message that the CGT has also put forward by threatening to cut off electricity during the 12 days of the festival, as well as at Roland-Garros and the Formula 1 GP in Monaco, to protest against the pension reform. So far, the union has not carried out its threat, but it remains valid.


On display in Cannes! © France 24

Screenwriters' strike in Hollywood

Although often described as a glitter microcosm far removed from the real world, the Cannes Film Festival has a long and rich history of social and political activism, from its roots linked to the Popular Front to the unrest of May 1968, during which a sling of directors, led by Jean Luc Godard, interrupted the festival.

Among the founding members of this great mass of cinema is the CGT, which still sits on the board of directors. She has planned another, larger demonstration on Sunday, this time further from the Croisette. She will also organize a screening of the 1988 documentary "Amor, Mujeres y Flores" (Love, Women and Flowers) about the devastating effects of pesticides on women working on Colombian plantations.

This year, the Cannes Film Festival is taking place in a particularly tense social context on both sides of the Atlantic, with American screenwriters launching a massive strike at the beginning of May.

The Writers Guild of America, the trade association representing screenwriters, is calling for better wages, new contracts for the streaming era and safeguards against the use of artificial intelligence in screenwriting — a demand Hollywood studios have rejected.

This subject has been invited on several occasions during the many press conferences organized in Cannes, the members of the jury having, from the opening of the festival, given their support to the protest movement.

"My wife is currently picketing with my six-month-old baby, tied to his chest," said American actor and director Paul Dano, one of the nine jurors of the 2023 edition. "I will be on the picket line when I go home."

On Thursday, Ethan Hawke wore the slogan "Pencils Down" on his shirt at the press conference following the screening of Pedro Almodovar's 31-minute queer western "Strange Way of Life," which received rave reviews.

The next day, Sean Penn, actor and veteran activist, put a layer back, calling the studios' position on artificial intelligence "human obscenity" at a press conference for the film "Black Flies", by Jean-Stéphane Sauvaire, in which he plays a New York paramedic.

"The first thing to do in these conversations is to change the name of the 'Producers' Guild' to 'Bankers' Guild' to better reflect the way they behave," he said. "It's hard for so many writers and people across this industry not to be able to work right now. I imagine that the Guild will have to examine its conscience to see which of its two facets prevails."

Cannes © Film Festival Graphic Studio France Media World

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