strikes: Demonstrators target power stations, refineries and
transport network, but fail to paralyse the country
CGT union must now decide whether to increase its
confrontation with the government or continue with its guerrilla
actions against ‘economic pressure points’
most concerted challenge so far to reforms in French labour law
produced widespread disruption and scattered violence on Thursday but
failed to bring the country, or the government, to its knees.
ports, power stations, trains, planes, refineries, roads and bridges
were targeted by strikes or blockades organised by the
hard-line Confédération Générale du Travail (CGT) union
federation. Demonstrations in Paris and other large cities were
scarred by violent clashes between a fringe of anarchist and hard
left protesters and the riot police. In one incident in Paris, a
blazing supermarket trolley was propelled by hooded and masked
demonstrators into a police barrier.
police also used tear gas to disperse crowds who attacked shop fronts
in central Paris. Police said on Thursday night that they had made at
least 16 arrests during the disturbances in the capital.
strikes failed, however, to paralyse the country. Most trains and
planes ran normally. There were no significant power cuts.
fuel blockade and panic buying which closed one in three filling
station earlier in the week appeared, however to be worsening.
against the Socialist-led government’s proposals to make French
labour laws more business-friendly and less rigid attracted tens of
thousands of supporters – but fewer than the organisers had hoped
the largest and oldest of France’s eight different union
federations, now faces an awkward choice.
CGT has seized the leadership of a disparate movement of the
traditional and hard left which bitterly opposes the labour law
reforms. More moderate parts of France’s much splintered
labour movement, including the second largest federation the CFDT,
strongly support the changes.
the CGT now try to extend and harden its confrontation with the
government? Or does it continue with its guerrilla actions against
“economic pressure points” such as refineries and fuel depots
which have caused severe problems since the weekend?
François Hollande and his Prime Minister, Manuel Valls, also face a
difficult strategic decision. Does the government hold firm and risk
embarrassing disruption during the Euro 2016 international football
championship which France stages for a month from 10 June? Or does it
offer concessions in the hope of giving the CGT an exit strategy?
government put out mixed signals on Thursday. The finance minister,
Michel Sapin, suggested that parliament could be asked to “look
again” at some aspects of the clause which most incenses the CGT:
plans to allow local management-worker deals to supersede national
union agreements and some aspects of national labour law.
Minister Valls, backed later by President Hollande who is visiting
Japan, said that there was no question of this principle being
abandoned. He did, however, open the door to some “modifications”
and “improvements” when the draft law comes back to the national
assembly next month.
Valls was mostly, however, in uncompromising mood. He said that the
dispute raised the fundamental question of who runs France, the
government or the protesters. “If we withdrew these proposals, it
would be an admission that this country cannot be governed,” he
said. “This country is dying from the impossibility of reform.”
protester waves a CGT flag at riot police in Paris (MATTHIEU
to 75 per cent of French people oppose the employment law reforms,
according to opinion polls. Nonetheless, the unpopular Mr Hollande
and Mr Valls hope that that the rare spectacle of a French government
holding firm against strikes and street protests might offer some
prospect of electoral salvation when the country votes for a new
president and parliament next year.
concerted “day of action” was regarded by both sides as pivotal.
On the whole, the government will have been reassured by the outcome.
the CGT had called out its workers in 16 out of 19 of the country’s
power stations, there were no systematic power cuts. Three out of
four high speed trains and six in ten other trains operated despite a
CGT-inspired strike in the state owned French railways.
air traffic control strike forced the cancellation of 15 per cent of
flights at Orly and Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris. It also
forced the cancellation of some flights due to cross French air
shortage of petrol and diesel caused by CGT blockages at fuel depots
and refineries appeared to be worsening despite the government
decision to break into its three months “strategic” fuel reserves
earlier this week. Up to 40 per cent of filling stations were said to
be out of fuel or running very low by Thursday night.
Paris, a group of hooded hard-left and anarchist youths broke away
from the main march and smashed the windows of shops and a
supermarket. The letter “A” for anarchy was sprayed in red paint
on the damaged buildings.
fringe of violent protesters also threw bottles and stones at riot
police, who responded with tear-gas, stun grenades and baton charges.
They shoved a blazing supermarket trolley at police lines. The main
march – 18,000 strong according to police, 100,000 according to the
organisers - passed off peacefully.
dock workers protest new labour laws in the port city of Le Harve
(CHARLY TRIBALLEAU/AFP/Getty Images)
a 51-year-old picketer was gravely injured when he was struck by a
car which charged through a barricade near a refinery at Fos-sur-Mer
east of Marseilles. The injured man was taken to hospital by
helicopter. A 25-year-old man later surrendered to police.
thousands of dock workers poured into the square in front of the city
hall of the French port city of Le Havre, setting off smoke bombs
throughout the area.
police crack down on Paris protests against labour reforms
of protesters turn out on streets of French capital as refineries and
nuclear power stations across the country come to a halt
police arrested 16 people and fired teargas in violent clashes with
protesters marching in Paris as striking workers continued to
blockade refineries and nuclear power stations in an escalating
stand-off over labour reforms.
of thousands of people marched across France in protest against
François Hollande’s planned labour bill, which aims to make it
easier for companies to hire and fire workers and was forced through
parliament without a vote this month following more than ten weeks of
fired teargas at about 100 people on the edge of a protest march
through Paris. Several masked people charged shop windows, smashing
them, and cars were damaged near the route of the march. There were
skirmishes at Place de la Nation as riot officers cordoned off
protesters, some of whom complained of heavy-handed policing.
Caen in Normandy, the website Normandie Actu filmed what it called a
case of police violence as an officer appeared to repeatedly kick a
demonstrator on the ground. The police described the incident as
estimated between 18,000 and 19,000 people took to the streets in
Paris, an increase on the last national demonstration day against the
labour reforms. Unions put the figure at 100,000. Street marches took
place in towns and cities across France, including Toulouse, Bordeaux
French workers continued to disrupt oil refineries and nuclear power
stations, halted some air traffic and trains and prevented almost all
national newspapers from printing in the growing industrial action.
Union activists blocked roads and bridges in northern France while
some train drivers and air traffic controllers joined the action.
just two weeks to go before France hosts around 2 million visitors at
the showpiece Euro 2016 football tournament, the government is under
increasing pressure to find an end to the dispute and stage some kind
of climbdown. More disruption is expected next week and unions have
called for rolling strikes on the Paris Metro to start on the day of
the opening Euro 2016 football match on 10 June.
the government vowed to stand firm and refused to abandon its
reforms. The prime minister, Manuel Valls, insisted the law would not
be withdrawn, but said it might still be possible to make “changes”
or “improvements”. He told the Senate: “You cannot blockade a
country, you cannot attack the economic interests of France in this
way,” branding the CGT union “irresponsible”.
brushed aside signs that some in the ruling Socialist party were
buckling, such as the finance minister Michel Sapin, who suggested
the most contested part of the legislation could be rewritten –
namely a contentious clause that gives individual companies more of a
free hand in setting working conditions.
has framed the labour reforms as a crucial loosening of France’s
famously rigid labour protections, cutting red-tape and slightly
tweaking some of the more cumbersome rules that deter employers from
hiring. This would, he argued, make France more competitive and
tackle stubborn mass unemployment that tops 10% of the workforce.
after more than two months of street demonstrations against the
labour changes, the hardline CGT union has radically intensified its
strategy and is now trying to choke-off the nation’s fuel supply to
force Hollande to abandon the reforms it sees as a betrayal of
of the CGT union continued to insist they wanted the reforms scrapped
entirely, not merely modified. “It’s inadmissible,” Arnaud
Pacot of the CGT union in the Aube region of eastern France told BFM
TV from a nuclear plant being blocked by activists.
third of petrol stations across France were empty or dangerously low
on fuel after several days of blockades at refineries.
government has started using its strategic fuel reserves and forcing
depots to reopen, but supplies are still limited and purchases are
being rationed. Five of the country’s eight refineries are still
either halted or operating at reduced capacity.
motorists were still in long queues around petrol stations across
France. Companies ranging from gardeners and hauliers to florists
trying to deliver flowers for French Mother’s Day this weekend
complained about the impact on business.
CGT said all but three of France’s 19 nuclear power stations had
voted to stop work in a country that gets 75% of its electricity from
nuclear power. RTE, the body overseeing the national power network,
said the stoppages had not had an immediate effect on the electricity
supply, but “if it worsens, it will have an impact on the
management of the network”.