France: why young people are so mobilized against pension reform

Young people demonstrate against the pension reform on January 21, 2023 during the day of national mobilization.

© AFP/Thomas Samson

Text by: Louise Huet |

Aurore Lartigue Follow

7 mins

Since the start of the movement, young people have been very visible in the demonstrations against the pension reform.

What pushes a generation into the streets that has not yet entered professional life?

Can this participation be decisive for the movement?


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Retirements are a matter of young people and our generation has understood this well

", proclaimed in their joint press release several high school and student unions.

As proof,

on January 31

, “

150,000 young people mobilized everywhere in France against the abject project of government pension reforms, three times more than on February 19!

rejoiced La Voix lycéenne, L'Alternative, Unef, the Union of Communist Students, the Movement of Young Communists of France, the Young Ecologists, the Young Insoumis • es and the Young Socialists calling to "

do everything possible to widely mobilize the youth

” for the strikes and demonstrations to come.

On January 21, youth associations and La France insoumise (LFI) even marched independently against the pension reform, bringing together at least 14,000 people in Paris, according to the independent firm Occurrence and 150,000 according to the organizers.

If it is always difficult to precisely measure the extent of such mobilization, the presence of the young generation, with slogans such as "

Metro, work, vault 

" or "

You put us 64, We May 68

", in processions is undeniable.

And it should be noted, believes 

the sociologist Paolo Stuppia

1, a specialist in social movements, who has worked on student mobilizations, because the latest attempts at reforming this branch of social security had not really aroused young people, that this either in 2007 on the special schemes, in 2010 with the Woerth reform raising the legal retirement age from 60 to 62 or with the reform aimed at gradually increasing the contribution period.

🔴 Youth organizations call for the 🔥 blocking of high schools and universities 🔥 on the occasion of the #greve7fevrier against the #reformedesretraites!

– The Alternative, trade union and association (@AlternativeESR) February 2, 2023

Blocked horizon and climate emergency

So, what drives people to go and demonstrate against a reform that seems a long way off when you are 16 or 20 years old and have not yet entered professional life?

Question of "


 " with their elders, they explain first, especially since their parents are often a few years from retirement age.

They therefore feel concerned on two counts and say they want to be able to take advantage of this time with their loved ones as long as they are still in good health.

Here we find the traditional call for the “convergence of struggles”.  

► Also to listen: These young people who feel concerned by the pension reform

But the motivations go much further.

These two additional years of work, also fear the young adults interviewed, will mechanically aggravate their difficulties of integration into the labor market.


These are two years where the company will not hire new staff,

 " said Louis, 24, who has just finished his studies.

The longer people work, the tighter the labor market remains for us.


A sign posted in a street in Paris during the mobilization day of January 19.


Above all, this reform appears to be outdated, disconnected from current issues.

Louis took part in all the demonstrations to show his disagreement with

 the “ideology

” advocated by the government, he says, of a society based on the value of work.


They want to sell us the idea that work would be the way to emancipate oneself, but having to work always more, always longer, for money and to continue to consume, when we face so much inflation that makes us precarious and to the unprecedented climate crisis that we are experiencing, it is distressing

", laments the young man, who

wants another working model, with more meaning.

The climate emergency comes back in the mouths of the young people interviewed.

In this context, the debates on extending the contribution period seem totally out of step with the concerns of a generation that does not know what its future will hold.

For Léonard Sandeau, a Master's student at Science Po Paris, the current power, even if it has the appearance of youth with its forty-something president, "

continues to speak like the politicians of 40 years ago


I am in favor of a more egalitarian society, where we work less


 This is the meaning of history,

supports this regular of the demonstrations who regrets "

that they want us to work more when we know that the reduction of working time is one of the ways to move towards a more ecological society

The Drop Too Many


For us, this reform is the straw that broke the camel's back,

" summarizes Maëlle Nizan, vice-president in charge of social issues at the Federation of General Student Associations (FAGE).

In recent years, we have highlighted the precariousness of students, we also see that young people are very anxious about their future by the climate crisis, by the difficulties of professional integration and this reform will not help things, on the contrary , it will add difficulties.


For the sociologist Paolo Stuppia, this measure could indeed be perceived by some young people as “

the drop too many in a horizon already blocked on several floors  


An additional provocation, he develops, in a set of public policies – we remember the five-euro reduction in housing aid (APL) for example – which ultimately, in the long term, would always be drawn up against young people. and the least favored in society.


Other reasons may explain the large presence of young people in the processions.

The political situation, for example, analyzes the author of

Geopolitics of Youth

: many young adults were among Jean-Luc Mélenchon's voters in the last presidential election.

And then supported the Nupes in the legislative elections.

The relative diversification of university mobilizations

” in recent years, he also notes.

Beyond the issues related to education, was added that of employment or ecology. 

Paolo Stuppia also cites a final reason: “

the massive spread of student labor.

“Today, a million students work, which represents 5% to 6% of the French workforce, he underlines.

This makes all the more people in contact with the world of work and therefore potentially concerned by the issues related to it. 

What to consolidate the movement and make it decisive for the future of the reform?

Paolo Stuppia is careful not to predict the future: the success or not of a movement depends on various parameters, in particular the involvement of people who are less politicized or a priori less likely to mobilize, he points out.


But young people are first-rate actors and participate in making claims visible

", confirms this specialist. 

Compared with the last "winning" mobilization in France in 2006 against the CPE, union unity is even broader, he notes, with the presence of the FAGE in particular, in the ranks of the inter-union.

There is an accumulation of factors that makes young people feel really concerned and that they say to themselves that it is time to get moving and change things

, confirms Maëlle Nizant of FAGE.

And I think that this enthusiasm, the fact that everyone is united around a common fight, also plays a role.


Paolo Stuppia remains cautious: “

For the moment, if we have been able to notice the presence of young people in the processions, the mobilization on university sites and in high schools seems more complicated.

It will therefore be necessary to keep an eye on possible calls for autonomous actions, such as blockages in universities or high schools, outside the dates of mobilization of the inter-union.

1. Paolo Stuppia is a sociologist, member of the CESSP (European Center for Sociology and Political Science – University of Paris 1).

He is the author of

Geopolitics of Youth

, published by Le Cavalier Bleu and of 

2006: a student victory?

The anti-CPE movement and its tracts

, published by Syllepse


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