Labor strikes in France, which erupted among petrol refinery workers and have spread to the rails and nuclear power plants, have grown as union leaders and the government dig in for what one politician says is a fight “to the death.”
France’s CGT union, looking to recapture elements of its militant past, is leading the action in solidarity with several other workers unions. CGT actions have included setting up roadblocks leading to depots and refineries, and clashes with police have been reported in Paris.
Members working at the nation’s nuclear power plants also voted on Wednesday to participate in the strike.
The strikes come in the aftermath of controversial labor reforms proposed by the Socialist Party government aimed at reducing France’s high unemployment, which currently sits at 10 percent
Tensions rose after the details of the reforms came to light including among them alterations to France’s 35-hour work week, more business control to reduce pay, more flexibility to terminate workers, and the ability to negotiate holidays and other types of leave, like maternity.
CGT leader Philippe Martinez speaks on the decision to strike.
“Was gutting the labor code in (French president Francois) Hollande’s program?… The government has turned its back on its commitments and it is paying the consequences.”
Martinez’s argument is based on the fact that many of the changes disrupt highly regulated benefits that French unions fought for in past strikes, like several types of leave and termination policies, and have become pillars of French society. The labor bill was also passed using constitutional procedures which did not require parliamentary approval.
Union leaders feel that the labor reforms give too much of an advantage to the employers, reducing worker rights and protections. However, business leaders say that the reforms don’t go far enough.
Large strikes in France are fairly common, and the current levels of discontent have been building for several months, as up to 390,000 people took to the streets in March to protest the labor laws.
While organizers put the count at over a million, the discontent has nonetheless been widespread, even giving rise to the Nuit Debout movement, which stands for “up all night,” and has involved occupations of public spaces at night to voice grievances and demand action against austerity and anti-worker policies.
Still, with up to 40 percent of France’s petrol stations reporting fuel shortages, transit throughout the nation becoming increasingly difficult, and nuclear power, the source of over 70 percent of France’s energy, also involved, the strike has maintained popular support.
According to The Local, seven in 10 people oppose the reforms, but 58 percent want the strikes to stop. Martinez says that the strike will continue until the legislation is withdrawn. In response, the BBC reported that French Prime Minister Manuel Valls suggested modifications, ruling out a withdrawal at this time.
In another interview for The Local, a motorist in France who was interviewed while waiting in line for gas doesn’t see the problems as the fault of those striking.
“I’ve already been waiting for 35 minutes. I need petrol to get home because I live 400km from here. I support the strikes. The government is at fault. I’m not irritated by those protesting.”
[Photo by Franck Pennant/AP Images]