The French ask only to be free, like the butterflies

Harold Skimpole

It is understandable, writes Dalrymple,

that those who benefit from the Byzantine system of pension arrangements in France should be anxious for them to continue. Workers on the railways, for example, mostly retire in their early 50s, and a train driver who retires as soon as the rules allow him will quite possibly be in receipt of a pension for twice as long as he worked. His pension theoretically is paid from the contributions of current workers, but since the number of current workers is half the number of former workers in receipt of a pension, the contributions have to be topped up by the government from tax. The 42 privileged pension schemes of early and generous retirement for specially-designated workers — a small minority of the population— are subsidised by the rest of the population, who have to work much longer in order to receive less generous pensions.

Why then, he asks, is there an apparently quite high degree of public support for the present wave of strikes? The answer is that

many French people do not see that what they are sympathising with is the maintenance of a system of privileges. Neither do they see that it is they who are paying for those privileges.

They support the strikers because they are

unaware of the underlying realities of the situation, also because of a general dissatisfaction with life, when anything that discomfits those in authority is welcomed, even if it is even more inconvenient for themselves.

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