We weren't used to seeing pensioners demonstrating, making claims, yet they were there, wearing grey jackets to carry their message. What happened? Why this intrusion into an area of demands traditionally reserved for working people? A look back at the emergence of a new consciousness among senior citizens, the silver culture, the vanguard of the planet's aging.
Un surprise guest joined the yellow vests: the pensioner, an unexpected figure in the claiming landscape. It's an understatement to say that they were seen and heard. These grey vests were - and still are - omnipresent, leaflet distributors at toll booths, brazier animators at roundabouts, walkers and certainly not breakers at demonstrations, good media clients, always ready to go and talk in front of the camera.
This in-depth inscription in a social movement is new. French intermediary bodies are structured around the world of work, employee unions, employers' unions, professional federations, etc. Retirees are naturally excluded. At most, there were a few sparse demonstrations organized by pensioners' federations. However, there is nothing in common with this massive and, above all, naturally accepted by all as a matter of course, the presence of senior citizens in the processions of yellow jackets, which goes far beyond the traditional scope of demands.
At first glance, the situation might seem paradoxical. What has become of retired people in the collective imagination? Relatively advantaged, who would have a higher standard of living than working people and who, free of the burden of children, could finally enjoy life without constraints.
So what happened to make the pensioners appear so suddenly? As usual in the well-attended collective movements, two forces converged: social, with a social body of retirees in the process of being formed, and economic, for the majority of senior citizens, far removed from the clichés about well-to-do retirees.
The senior citizens' factory, a new social reality
The 1950s and 1960s in the United States had invented adolescence, under the pressure of the gradual unlocking of their society. "The Fury of Life," a film emblematic of an entire generation, launched the adolescent culture, a counterculture that later became widely codified. There is now music, social networks, clothes, food, games, a language specific to adolescents... and above all: the awareness of belonging to a homogeneous, constituted social body, different from others.
Exactly the same thing is happening to seniors. For some years now, a "silver culture" is slowly but surely taking shape, a feeling of belonging to the same whole, a community with specific problems, questions, attitudes. This is really new: for a long time, seniors only defined themselves by their former profession - "former Renault employee", "former railway employee", "retired teacher", etc. - but now they have a sense of belonging to the same community.
What do we hear today in conversations, in town hall or pension fund meetings, in interviews with our yellow/grey vests? "Us pensioners". All over the developed world this senior consciousness is emerging, this feeling of living a similar life experience that longer life expectancy now makes possible. To be senior is no longer simply to be retired, it is to be part of a coherent whole.
Peripheral pensioners, the impossible economic equation
It has been said enough and repeated, yellow vests are an irruption of peripheral France analyzed for years by Christophe Guilluy, the one that keeps away from globalized metropolises, the France of fringes... It is also true for seniors. It's true that the average standard of living of a retired person has become higher than that of a young working person. However, this statistical reality is the result of the diversity of situations that have been the breeding ground for the anger of the grey jackets. The loss of income on retirement is offset for some by the disappearance of loan charges, but a third of retirees are not homeowners. The economic balance at retirement is fragile and has been undermined for years by inflation in local taxes.
It is in this context that the government's provisions came into play. On 3 December, the PLFSS, the draft law on the financing of social security for 2019, was adopted, ratifying the under-indexation of pensions to inflation - an impact of around 1,4 % (1 ). This follows the 1.7 % increase in the CSG on pensions since 1 January. The compensatory measures, abolition of the taxe d'habitation, application of the CSG from an initial pension of EUR 1,200 and then EUR 2,000 when the President spoke on 10 December, are not enough to halt a long-term decline in the purchasing power of pensioners.
Whole battalions of small pensioners slowly fall into the hands of poor pensioners, who end up in the same peripheral France as their children and grandchildren.
Children of the Glorious 30, retired people had identified themselves in May 68 with the youth movement; today, they think they are in the same community of destiny as other retired people and share the same anxieties... It was finally logical that the great demographic transition towards an ageing society should be reflected in the rise of the senior power: we are only at the beginning.