How pension reform could alter our relationship with national solidarity

How pension reform could alter our relationship with national solidarity

Will the pension reform be launched this fall? Since the beginning of the school year, the government has sent several signals indicating that this will be the case. Labor Minister Olivier Dussopt, for example, assured France Info on September 7 that the reform remains a priority for the government, referring to a schedule that will begin on September 15, the date on which the Guidance Council of Pensions (COR) must submit its report on the financial status of the system. As for the unions, they invited the executive, on Thursday, September 8, during the launch of the National Refoundation Council (CNR) to put aside the project of postponing the age of majority.

Therefore, the next few weeks have every chance of being socially explosive. In late 2019 and early 2020, President Emmanuel Macron’s project was at the origin of several weeks of strikes. The reform then intended to unify the existing systems, based on the solidarity of states and professions with different rules, in a single universal system managed by distribution and by points accumulated throughout the professional career. The adopted text put an end to the “special” regimes but was finally abandoned with the pandemic.

Two years later, the new project seems to abandon this objective of unifying the schemes, focusing on the retirement age at 65, the indexation of pensions to inflation and a minimum pension of 1,100 euros for the entire career.

“Organic Solidarity”

With a new relative majority in the National Assembly, the Executive must now compose in a context where the social partners are not very likely to argue. The government, however, seems determined to implement the reform, the campaign promise of the re-elected president, although certain analyzes show that the regime’s balance sheet is not threatened. But, what does this desire translate in terms of the vision of our social solidarity after the successive reforms of recent decades?

Sociologists refer to the notion of “organic solidarity” developed by Émile Durkheim to account for a form of solidarity specific to modern societies. The social division of labor, born of industrialization, diversifies activities and makes cooperation necessary.

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The French pension system illustrates this type of solidarity. It is the product of a history of granting and winning disability and retirement pensions concerning, first of all, workers who share the same status and function. Historians have shown that the first retreats in France are all “special”. In the first place, because they precede the general regime, which dates back to the Ancien Régime, with the creation by Colbert of the Caisse des invalides de la marine to provide a pension to sailors who are no longer afloat.

Then, because the State only intervenes late without questioning this model. Other corporations follow the movement, in particular the employees of the Farms and the civil servants of the State. Pensions were also discussed during the French Revolution, since the concept emerged in 1791, in the Finance supplement of Diderot and d’Alembert’s Methodical Encyclopedia, and aristocrats theorized the idea of ​​benefiting from it. Collective pensions based on provident societies or company plans were then developed during the 19th century and the best organized professions created specific pension funds.

neoliberal turn

In terms of pensions, various works by sociologists and economists show that, however, the “special regimes” were discovered during the neoliberal turn of the 1990s. Neoliberalism was accompanied by the development not of collective social rights but of the man taking as a value the individual, his freedom and equality.

This weakens the consensus on pay-as-you-go pension systems, in which contributions from assets pay retirees’ pensions. In France, the 1991 white paper on pensions highlights the future difficulties of the pension system due to demographic changes and increased life expectancy and opens the door to reforms (Balladur 1993, Fillon 2003, reform of special regimes in 2008, Woerth reform in 2010, Touraine in 2014).

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In 2020, the focus on special diets is striking. Because the first reform, that of Balladur, referred above all to the general regime, accentuating the distance with the other regimes. It focused on three points: gradual increase in the contribution period necessary to obtain a full pension, increasing it from 37.5 to 40 years; modification of the method of calculating the average reference salary from the best 10 years to the best 25 years; finally, annual revaluation of pensions, no longer on the evolution of salaries, but indexed on the index of evolution of consumer prices.

This development reflects a more individualistic relationship with our solidarity system that could be further strengthened with the next reform (although we currently do not know exactly to what extent).


Our research work on pension reforms in Latin America, as well as in Eastern European countries, shows that since the 1990s there has been a paradigm shift due to a crisis of legitimacy in post-war models.

These years were marked by strong pressure from supranational financial organizations, such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF), to establish, in indebted countries and in exchange for debt renegotiations, a pension capitalization system in the form of individual accounts. managed by private pension funds.

Our research shows that these systems have proven to be costly for the community and socially unfair, because they fail to enroll poor wage earners, and in particular working women. There is no need to clarify individual rights and establish a direct link between contributions and pension amounts. The employed poor, when they are not obliged to join a fund or a pension fund (this is the case of the majority of self-entrepreneurs in Latin America), simply do not join because their resources are very low.

In the countries of the South, these private or mixed systems have often been counter-reformed and renationalised. From these experiments, however, there remains a tide creeping in rich countries to give rise to the idea that post-war pension systems are no longer viable for tomorrow, trying to obscure the financial prospects of the pension system. .

However, according to figures from the Social Security Accounts Commission, published on July 12, 2022, the finances of the welfare state could be a little less degraded than expected this year. Financial income would grow faster than expenses. In addition, INSEE and COR have strong uncertainties about the impact of population growth on the resources and expenses of the system.

Then we must assume that such a reform is above all cognitive, one way among many others of apprehending reality by constructing it. This doxa is based on the idea that working life is more flexible, mobile, made of rational individual choices and no longer standardized and synchronized as a life cycle of which retirement is the corollary. The question then arises of the consequences of social disintermediation and the form of social regulation necessary for this hyper-individualized career management.

The very high flexibility of the workers, if confirmed, requires a solid collective social solidarity. Instead of giving in to a hypothetical refrain, we should ask ourselves how to collectively guarantee decent pensions.

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