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In December 2019, France experienced the most dramatic strikes in decades and, with over 800,000 people protesting, the City of Lights came to a screeching halt.
This research attempts to make sense of the 2019/20 French pension strikes that paralysed the country for weeks by exploring the broader question of why welfare state reforms are frequently met with exceptional levels of popular resistance. First, it will discuss how a declining manufacturing sector and the new needs of an ageing population put mounting pressure on the welfare state. The article then analyses both political and institutional barriers to reform, and concludes that the system’s resilience lies within its broad societal support and the electoral backlash associated with unpopular policies.
More than anything, the strikes in France demonstrate that the welfare state has become an integral part of most democracies, and policy-makers cannot expect citizens to give up their economic rights easily. At the same time, it does not seem like the status quo can be maintained either. In order for the welfare state to retain its relevance, it will need to mature and evolve in a way that allows it to meet the new social needs and changing challenges of a post-industrial society
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