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By Stéphanie Lerouge
Striking workers held rallies across France on Tuesday to demand higher wages in response to soaring inflation, amplifying a protest by refinery workers that has emptied petrol stations and caused headaches for millions of motorists. online news
The strike caused fewer transport disruptions than feared, though unions have vowed further action against President Emmanuel Macron in coming weeks — in particular over a hostly contested pensions reform.
“It’s a shame it had to come to blockades for something to happen,” said Nadine, a 45-year-old employee in the metalworking industry who was among more than 1,000 demonstrators in Strasbourg, northeast France.
“But today if we don’t block anything, no one listens,” she said.
Among a crowd of some 1,800 marching in the southern city of Montpellier, Magali Mallet, a medical secretary, said she was there because many workers were “living on a knife’s edge”.
The interior ministry said 107,000 people took part in marches across the country, including 13,000 in Paris — an estimate far below the 70,000 reported by the CGT union.
Anti-capitalist “black bloc” protesters also joined the demo in the capital, spraying graffiti and smashing windows at 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 the protesters, with four arrests elsewhere.
The broader 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.
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The blockades have seriously disrupted fuel distribution across the country, particularly in northern and central France and the Paris region.
“We’re going to seek a 10 percent pay hike. With the cost of living rising, and energy costs, we need it — there are more and more poor workers,” said Laurent Leger, 59, at the Paris march.
- ‘Serious consequences’ –
Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne said that less than a quarter of petrol stations nationwide were experiencing shortages, down from 30 percent previously.
Her government used requisition powers to order some of the workers back to fuel depots, a move that infuriated unions but has so far been upheld in the courts.
But officials are also pushing bosses to acknowledge the wage demands, with Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin saying Tuesday that there was “a salary problem” in France, and urging employers “to increase pay when possible”.
Workers have also been striking in the nuclear power sector, potentially hampering efforts to restart reactors down for maintenance or safety work.
Power grid operator RTE warned Tuesday that “any extension of the social movement” at the nuclear power stations would have “serious consequences” on electricity provision this winter.
Macron said last week only 30 out of 56 nuclear reactors were online, while the country hoped to have 45 working by January.
But French state energy provider EDF said Saturday that it was postponing plans to bring five of the halted reactors back on stream.
- Tense autumn? –
Beyond transport and other public-sector workers, unions had hoped to bring out staff in industries such as food and healthcare.
The education ministry said less than six percent of its workers had walked out, though that rate reached 23 percent for vocational schools.
The strike could herald a tense autumn and winter as Macron also seeks to implement his flagship domestic policy of raising the French retirement age to 64 or 65, up from 62 currently.
The economic squeeze partly caused by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, along with the failure of Macron’s party to secure an overall majority in June legislative polls, could also inflame public anger.
A poll by the Elabe group found that one in three French people would be prepared to take part in a strike or protest in the coming weeks to demand pay increases as inflation soars.
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