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France: “The powerful no longer want retirement to be the product of a collective solidarity”

Sunday 23 February 2020, by siawi3

All the versions of this article: [English] [français]


“The powerful no longer want retirement to be the product of a collective solidarity”

February 22, 2020

Photo: Alexandros Michailidis /

Last month, the French philosopher Jacques Rancière addressed a general assembly of striking railway workers at the Montparnasse train station in Paris.

Author Jacques Rancière
ROAR Collective

If I am here today, it is, of course, to affirm my total support for an exemplary struggle, but also to say in a few words why it seems to me to be exemplary.

I have spent a number of years of my life studying the history of the workers’ movement and it has shown me one essential thing: what we call social benefits is much more than benefits acquired by particular groups — it was the organization of a collective world governed by solidarity.

What is this special benefits scheme for railway workers that is presented to us as an archaic privilege? It was part of an organization of a common world where the things essential to everyone’s life were supposed to be everyone’s property. The railroads, for example, belonged to the community. And this collective ownership was also managed by a collective of workers who felt committed to that community; workers for whom the retirement of each one was the product of the solidarity of a concrete collective.
Demolish piece by piece

It is this concrete reality of the collective, united in solidarity, that the powerful of our world no longer want. It is this edifice that they have undertaken to demolish piece by piece. What they want is for there to be no more collective property, no more workers’ collectives, no more solidarity from below. They want there to be only individuals left, possessing their labor power like a small capital that can be made to bear fruit by renting it out to bigger people. Individuals who, by selling themselves day after day, accumulate points for themselves and only for themselves, in anticipation of a future in which pensions will no longer be based on labor but on capital, that is to say on exploitation and self-exploitation.

That is why pension reform is so decisive for them, why it is much more than a concrete question of financing. It is a question of principle. Retirement is how working time produces living time and how each of us is linked to a collective world. The whole question is to know what makes this link: solidarity or private interest.

Demolishing the pension system founded on collective struggle and solidarity organization is the decisive victory for our rulers. Twice already they have thrown all their forces into this battle and they have lost. We must do everything possible today to ensure that they lose a third time and that this loss helps them lose their taste for this battle once and for all.

This text was originally published in French by Le Monde. English translation for ROAR by Joshua Richeson.