How pension reform could upset our relationship to national solidarity

How pension reform could upset our relationship to national solidarity

The pension reform will it be launched this fall? Since the start of the school year, the government has sent several signals indicating that this will indeed be the case. The Minister of Labour, Olivier Dussopt, for example, assured France Info on September 7 that the reform remained a government priority, evoking a calendar which will begin on September 15, the date on which the Pensions Orientation Council (COR) must submit its report on the financial state of the system. As for the unions, they invited the executive, on Thursday September 8 at the launch of the National Council for Refoundation (CNR) to put aside the plan to postpone the legal age.

The next few weeks therefore have every chance of being socially explosive. At the end of 2019 and beginning of 2020, the President’s project Emmanuel Macron was the cause of several weeks of strikes. The reform then aimed to unify the existing systems, based on solidarity of statuses and professions with distinct rules, into a single universal system managed by distribution and by points accumulated throughout the professional career. The adopted text put an end to “special” regimes but was finally abandoned with the pandemic.

Two years later, the new project seems to abandon this objective of unifying the schemes by focusing on the retirement age at 65, the indexation of pensions to inflation and a minimum pension of 1,100 euros. for a full 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 inclined to discuss. The government nevertheless seems determined to implement the reform, the campaign promise of the re-elected president, even if certain analyzes show that the accounting balance of the scheme is not threatened. But what translates this desire in terms of vision of our social solidarity after the successive reforms of recent decades?

Sociologists refer to the notion of “organic solidarity” as developed by Émile Durkheim to reflect 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 conquests of invalidity and retirement pensions concerning first of all, workers sharing the same status and function. Historians have shown that the first retreats in France are all “special”. Firstly, because they precede the general regime, dating back to the Ancien Régime, with the creation by Colbert of the Caisse des invalides de la marine to provide a pension to navigators 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 State. Pensions were also talked about during the French Revolution, since the concept emerged in 1791, in the Finances supplement of the Methodical Encyclopedia of Diderot and d’Alembert, and the aristocrats theorized the idea of ​​benefiting from it. Collective pensions based on provident societies or company schemes then developed during the 19th century and the best organized professions se endow specific pension funds.

Neoliberal turn

In terms of pensions, various works by sociologists and economists show that we are nevertheless discovering the “special diets” during the neoliberal turn of the 1990s. Neoliberalism is accompanied by the development no longer of collective social rights but of human rights taking as their value the individual, his freedom and equality.

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

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In 2020, the focus on special diets calls out. Because the first reform, that of Balladur, concerned above all the general regime, accentuating the distance with the other regimes. It focused on three points: gradual increase in the period of contribution 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 wages, but indexed on the index of evolution of consumer prices.

This development reflects a more individualistic relationship to our solidarity system which could be further strengthened by the next reform (even if we do not know exactly at present to what extent).


Our research on pension reforms in Latin America as well as in the Eastern country show that since the 1990s there has been a paradigm shift due to a crisis of legitimacy of 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 unjust, because they fail to affiliate 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. Poor employees, when they are not forced to join a fund or a pension fund (this is the case for most autoentrepreneurs in Latin America), simply do not join because their resources are so low.

In the countries of the South, these private or mixed systems have often been the subject of counter-reforms and renationalised. However, from these experiments there remains a ground swell which is slowly advancing in the rich countries to give rise to the idea that the post-war pension systems are no longer viable for tomorrow, endeavoring to darken 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 slightly less degraded than expected This year. Financial income would grow faster than expenditure. In addition, INSEE and the COR have high uncertainties about the impact of population growth on system resources and expenditures.

We must then make the assumption that such a reform is above all cognitive, one form 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 like 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-individualised career management.

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

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