Tuesday, March 7, Sylvia got up at dawn. But instead of having a quiet breakfast before work, this storekeeper, hired by the local authorities, drove her car to the Valcourt roundabout in Saint-Dizier, in the Haute-Marne. Around 4:30 a.m., she found a small group of citizens there who had come to install filter dams on the outskirts of this city of about 23,000 people – the most populous in the department. Thus, at the call of many trade unions, several axles were blocked for a whole part of the day, which prevented, in particular, heavy vehicles from unloading their goods in the four corners of the commune. Target ? Fight against pension reform with Operation Haute-Marne at an impasse before demonstrating late in the day in front of the town hall. “It’s important to me: retirement at 64, I don’t want that,” says Sylvia, who suffers from ankylosing spondylitis, an inflammation of the joints that affects her pelvis and legs. Regardless of the long hours spent at the roundabout, the cold or the 80 euros of wages lost on this day of the national strike. “When you have a pathology like mine, you understand that work is not health. I want to enjoy life. I’m 49 years old and I clearly don’t see myself going on like this for 15 years,” she exhales.
In Saint-Dizier, the official is not alone in expressing her dissatisfaction with the roundabouts. According to the local union CGT, more than 3,000 people demonstrated on Tuesday, March 7, in the sub-prefecture of Haute-Marne. The local authorities counted, for their part, 2,500 demonstrators and 350 activists mobilized at the roundabouts. “For a small town like ours, this is a success!” says Benjamin Cabartier, general secretary of CGT Cheminots de Saint-Dizier. Moreover, some mobilizations continued the next day along several roundabouts or roads. “Some carriers are getting a little impatient, but the vast majority support us. They come out, drink coffee with us, understand the need for these demonstrations,” assures the trade unionist, who himself mobilized on the Marnaval ring, at the entrance to the city.
Next to him, the man is happy to meet “an impressive number of different people”: teachers, railway workers, metallurgists and local foundry workers, pensioners, a handful of former “yellow vests” and even young people from ZAD de Boure, located about forty kilometers away. “This is not surprising: in Saint-Dizier there is a real fighting and trade union tradition. What would be surprising is the lack of mobilization!”, – comments François Cornu-Gentil, mayor of the city. Republicans (LR). If his successor, Quentin Brière, is unwilling to speak on the issue, notes the former city councilor, he represents “a traditional union core, bringing together more and more profiles: sympathizers of the left, but also retirees, nostalgic for the last action, citizens without labels who want their weariness to be heard, or more generally their rejection of Emmanuel Macron.”
“People feel like they’ve been forgotten”
Benjamin Cabartier cannot contradict him. “There are pensions that, of course, worry people, but not only that. It’s generally tired, ”he sums up, referring, in turn, to rising prices for energy, gasoline, food and wages. “In fact, people feel that they are being forgotten. And no matter how they act, how hard they work, or how tight their belts are, it gets harder and harder for them.” In the past few months, Sylvie has admitted to turning her back on the price of meat stalls at the supermarket, no longer allowing herself to go to the occasional movie show she enjoyed going to, after all. “I leave my car at home Friday night when I get home from work and only take it back on Monday to go to work to save fuel. We bear the brunt of inflation.” The same goes for his 21-year-old daughter, who has just been hired as a security guard and plans to demonstrate over the weekend to defend her pension rights. “Our children are well aware that we will have to fight,” the mother analyzes.
At 55, Veronica and her husband live the same everyday life. This caregiver, who has been out of work for five years due to various health problems, has not missed a single event since the start of mobilization. Yellow vest from the launch in 2019, she has the same urgent need to express her general discontent, the feeling of being “left behind” and, above all, the fear of retiring “in survival mode”. “My former colleagues spend dozens of toilets a day, turn over or carry the sick, sometimes heavy, cling to meals, work with a stopwatch on the buttocks, pardon the expression. That’s what I’m thinking about: how do you want to keep doing this at 64, 65 or 66 years old?
RN “disputed” vote
As in the days of the yellow vests, Véronique believes that the movement is attracting far more than ordinary demonstrators. “We are all fighting for the same thing: to live with dignity on our wages. People can no longer listen to talk about “just” reform when they are always working harder to tighten their belts in everything.” A certain annoyance that prompted several of his relatives and friends to vote for Marine Le Pen in the 2022 presidential election – in Saint-Dizier, the National Rally (RN) candidate won 54% of the vote last April – then to confirm this choice, pushing RN to victory in legislative elections. Thus, in June Laurence Robert-Dehos (RN) was elected deputy for the 2nd constituency of Haute-Marne with 51.70% of the vote, overthrowing outgoing candidate François Cornu-Gentil. “There is a real distrust of politicians that we have been feeling for a long time. People do not find themselves in any party… Therefore, they vote for the RN, which remains a vote of rejection of others,” comments the person concerned.
Having voted for Jean-Luc Mélenchon in the first round of the presidential election nearly a year ago, Virginie claims to have voted white in the second round. “For me, it was a choice between plague and cholera. But deep down, I understand some of the relatives who voted for the RN: this is a protest vote. When you feel that you are no longer being listened to, you try. Everyone. Sometimes residents oscillate between two points of view. This is the case of Marie-Hélène, a retired accountant who voted for Marine Le Pen “for the first time in her life” in the second round of the presidential election after she voted for Jean-Luc Mélenchon. ” I’m more left-handed… But for me it was anyone but Macron,” she explains. “Baskets of 300 euros when there are two of us, the price of gasoline, and now a pension of 64… This is no longer possible.”
Thus, Marie-Helene “for the first time in her life” took to the streets against the pension reform. For a daughter who in a few months will be “a doctor and should have the right to enjoy life” when her career is over, for her friends at work whom she does not see “working for another 10 years” and for “her beliefs”. In the past After three years of retirement, a 60-year-old woman found out she had cancer: “If the reform had already been done, I would have only been able to retire for a year before I got sick. It’s not clear.”