French strikes address deeper issues

The scene in Paris lately hasn’t been exactly conducive to romance.
Street protests with attendance in the millions and widespread labor strikes have taken place over the past two months in opposition to a proposed pension law that would raise the minimum age of retirement from 60 to 62.
Evidently, French workers are serious about those extra two years.
Labor unions have shut down all 12 of France’s oil refineries, which, according to the BBC, has led to a nationwide gas shortage.
Austerity measures like pension reforms and spending cuts are being implemented throughout the EU and France cannot be an exception.
Though labor unions will continue to flex their muscles, fiscal tightening is inevitable in the aftermath of the global recession.
This union holdup of sectors of France’s economy has demonstrated not only their stubbornness to accept small reforms but also their lack of understanding of economic conditions.
Deep recessions will always require unpopular policy decisions.
A closer analysis of the pension system in France indicates why exactly these protests have become so popular.
Apparently, being an old French person is pretty nice.
According to The Economist, France spends more on pensions as a percentage of gross domestic product than any western country, roughly 25 percent.
France also boasts the second-highest average number of years spent in retirement at 12.5.
In reality, though, this system is not sustainable with France’s current budget problems.
The pension system alone will create an estimated $54 billion deficit by 2018.
French workers must recognize this lop-sided spending outlay and understand that if austerity doesn’t come in the form of a raised retirement age, it will come in the form of large spending cuts and tax increases.
Of those three courses of action, the retirement age change is the most sensible and least painful.
It will make the pension system affordable for the government while generating additional tax revenue from workers remaining in the work force longer.
This is clearly not a consideration of the millions of protesters, many of whom are students who aren’t even in the work force yet.
These demonstrations seem to be the result of a broader disapproval of President Nicolas Sarkozy, whose popularity, especially among students, is falling, according to the New York Times.
The pension reform measure will probably pass by the end of the month and things in France will return to normal.
Gas stations will start pumping again.
Trains will move and workers will eventually retire, probably without noticing much of a difference.
At the end of the day, some degree of fiscal austerity is a necessary evil.
The entire EU has announced measures to cut deficits and France will have to follow suit sooner or later.
The recent strikes and protests are more of a demonstration of the unions’ power to organize against an unpopular president than well-informed policy discourse.
The French should consider themselves lucky to have been so spoiled with a generous pension plan to begin with.
An extra two years in the work force is not a big deal.