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By Baptiste Becquart and Adam Plowright
Three weeks into a refinery strike that has caused fuel shortages across the country, tens of thousands of protesters marched in Paris on Sunday, adding to a growing picture of defiance and anger about inflation. online news
The demonstration against the rising cost of living on Sunday was called by the left-wing political opposition and led by the head of the France Unbowed (LFI) party, Jean-Luc Melenchon.
Security forces fired teargas and launched baton charges on several occasions after they were pelted with objects, while several shops and at least one bank were targeted by suspected anarchists.
Some protesters wore yellow florescent vests, the symbol of often violent anti-government protests in 2018 which shook the pro-business centrist government of President Emmanuel Macron.
Opponents of Macron are hoping to build on the momentum created by the refinery standoff which began at the end of September.
“We’re going to have a week the likes of which we don’t see very often,” Melenchon said Sunday while speaking on a truck in the middle of the crowd.
“Everything is coming together. We are starting it with this march, which is an immense success.”
Several French unions, but not all, have announced a national day of strikes on Tuesday that is expected to affect road transport, trains and the public sector.
Organisers claimed 140,000 people attended Sunday’s march, but police put the figure at 30,000.
The strikes and protests are being closely watched by the government which is aiming to pass a highly controversial change to the pensions system in the next few months.
Macron, who won re-election in April, has pledged to push back the retirement age from 62, with the reform scheduled before the end of the winter.
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“I’m really worried,” one ruling party MP told AFP last week on condition of anonymity. “We need to find a route between the need for reforms and the fact that people are riled up and tired.”
- ‘Unacceptable’ –
Four of France’s seven refineries — all belonging to Paris-based energy group TotalEnergies — remained blocked on Sunday.
The French company announced on Friday that it had reached a pay deal with the two largest unions representing staff at its refineries, raising hopes of an end to the standoff.
But the hardline CGT union has refused to accept it, with its members continuing to maintain picket lines.
Budget Minister Gabriel Attal denounced the continuation of the strike on Sunday as “unacceptable”, while business lobby group Medef said “150 people” were “taking the country hostage.”
“Of course there’s a right to strike, but at some point the country needs to be able to work,” Attal told French media.
Staff at two other refineries owned by the US group Esso-ExxonMobil returned to work at the end of last week, but operations there will need at least a fortnight to return to normal, the company said.
Around a third of petrol stations across the country have supply problems, meaning drivers are often waiting hours to refuel.
Many companies have cut back on travel and deliveries, while even emergency service vehicles face shortages.
The huge profits made by energy groups due to record fuel prices have led to some sympathy for employees pushing for higher wages.
But one poll by the BVA polling group released Friday suggested that only 37 percent of people supported the stoppages.
Sunday’s protest march through Paris was called by Melenchon’s party and backed by its coalition allies — the Greens, Socialists and Communists.
Recent Nobel literature laureate Annie Ernaux and another 60 figures from the arts and public life had also called for people to join the march in a joint letter.
© Agence France-Presse. All rights are reserved.
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Notes from APS Radio News
From the early part of March 2020 to April 15, 2022, the US Federal Reserve had been increasing its holdings by nearly $5 trillion dollars.
It did this each month of that period by buying billions of dollars of corporation and government bonds, in effect, infusing massive amounts of money into the economy.
And, as the FRED graph shows, it did so at rapid rate or at a high rate of velocity.
Economists say that when massive amoutns of fiat money are infused into the economy at high rates of velocity, the likelihood of noticeably higher rates of inflation is made greater.
A number of other central banks followed a similar policy.
For example, between late February 2020, even days before the media started fixating on the virus thingy, and March of this year, the European Central Bank embarked on its own version of monetary expansion.
During that period, the ECB increased its holdings by over 5 trillion euros.
The Bank of Japan also increased its holdings.
Between February of 2020 and earlier this year, it had increased its holding by a few hundred trillion Yen.
For a number of years, including the Bank of Japan, major central banks have kept their interest rates low.
For its part, the Bank of Japan kept its interest rates at negative rates, meaning that depositors had to pay banks to hold their money.
During and before the pandemic, major corporations had increased the number of mergers and acquisitions, as those entities were able to make their purchases using inexpensive money and higher stock valuations.
The other part of the equation was that of supply.
As a result of lockdowns, many small and medium-sized businesses were closed.
Shipping ports had lost workers, and truck drivers going to those ports had to wait in long lines, as a result.
In effect, well before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, shortages of various goods and services developed.
The invasion and sanctions imposed have aggravated shortages of commodities like petroleum and grain.
And there have been instances of price gouging.