Thousands on strike in France for higher wages – Manila Bulletin
PARIS, France — Strikers staged rallies across France on Tuesday to demand higher wages in response to soaring inflation, amplifying a protest by refinery workers that emptied gas stations and caused upheavals head to millions of motorists.
The strike caused less transport disruption than expected, although unions have promised further action against President Emmanuel Macron in the coming weeks, particularly over a hotly contested pension reform.
“It’s a shame that it took lockdowns for something to happen,” said Nadine, a 45-year-old worker in the metal industry who was among more than 1,000 protesters in Strasbourg, in the northeast. east of France.
“But today, if we don’t block anything, nobody listens,” she said.
Among a crowd of some 1,800 marching through the southern city of Montpellier, Magali Mallet, a medical secretary, said she was there because many workers were “living on a knife edge”.
The Interior Ministry said 107,000 people took part in marches across the country, including 13,000 in Paris – a far lower estimate than the 70,000 reported by the CGT union.
Anti-capitalist ‘black bloc’ protesters also joined the demonstration in the capital, spraying graffiti and smashing the windows of a bank and a BMW dealership before being dispersed by riot police.
The ministry said 11 people were arrested in Paris and nine officers injured in clashes with protesters, with four arrested elsewhere.
The wider strike came after workers at several oil refineries and depots operated by energy giant TotalEnergies voted to extend walkouts that are now in their third week.
The blockages have severely disrupted fuel distribution across the country, particularly in northern and central France and the Paris region.
“We are going to ask for a 10% salary increase. With the cost of living and energy costs rising, we need it – there are more and more working poor,” said Laurent Léger, 59, during the Paris march.
– ‘Serious consequences’ –
Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne said less than a quarter of petrol stations across the country were experiencing shortages, down from 30% previously.
His government used requisition powers to order some of the workers back to fuel depots, a move that has infuriated unions but has so far been upheld by the courts.
But officials are also pushing bosses to recognize wage demands, with Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin saying on Tuesday there was “a wage problem” in France and urging employers “to raise wages where possible”. .
Workers have also been on strike in the nuclear power sector, which could hamper efforts to restart reactors for maintenance or safety work.
The electricity network operator RTE warned on Tuesday that “any extension of the social movement” in nuclear power plants would have “serious consequences” on the supply of electricity this winter.
Macron said last week that only 30 of 56 nuclear reactors were online, while the country hoped to have 45 in working order by January.
But French state energy supplier EDF said on Saturday it was postponing plans to return five of the shut down reactors to service.
– Tense autumn? –
Beyond transport and other public sector workers, unions had hoped to squeeze out staff in sectors such as food and health.
The Education Ministry said less than 6% of its workers had walked off the job, although the rate rose to 23% for vocational schools.
The strike could herald a tense fall and winter as Macron also seeks to implement his flagship domestic policy of raising the retirement age to 64 or 65 from the current 62.
Economic pressure partly caused by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, as well as the failure of Macron’s party to secure an outright majority in June’s parliamentary elections, could also stoke public anger.
A poll by the Elabe group found that one in three French people would be ready to take part in a strike or a demonstration in the coming weeks to demand wage increases in the face of soaring inflation.
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