France is preparing for a nationwide strike amid fuel shortages

France is preparing for a nationwide strike amid fuel shortages


France braced for nationwide transport strikes on Monday as the government and unions remained at a deadlock over strikes at oil depots that have fueled shortages.

Leading unions called strikes on Tuesday to pose the biggest challenge yet to President Emmanuel Macron since he won a new term as president in May.

The move comes after workers at several refineries and depots owned by energy giant TotalEnergies voted to extend their strikes in defiance of the government’s move to force workers back into work.

Motorists struggled to fill up tanks as the fuel strike, which has been going on for almost three weeks, shut down supplies at just over 30 percent of France’s petrol stations.

The government, growing impatient with the striking workers, said it was forcing key workers back to work.

“The time for negotiations is over,” Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire told BFMTV on Monday.

The government said it would start requisitioning workers at the Feyzin depot in south-eastern France on Monday, after using the same strategy at the Mardyck depot in the north of the country.

Fuel workers voted to continue walkouts at several refineries operated by TotalEnergies, far-left CGT union coordinator Eric Sellini said, rejecting a wage package agreed between the group’s management and mainstream unions.

The government said three out of seven oil refineries in the country and five large tank farms (out of around 200) were affected.

Macron said Monday he wanted a solution to the fuel crisis “as soon as possible,” adding, “I stand with our fellow citizens who are struggling and who are fed up with this situation.”

During a visit to the Paris Motor Show, Macron also said he would invite the cabinet ministers for finance, energy, environment and transport, as well as the government spokesman, “for an update on the solutions” later on Monday.

The strike at Esso-ExxonMobil, meanwhile, ended late last week at the company’s two French refineries after a collective agreement between management and moderate unions representing the majority of workers.

The government has warned that a return to normal supply conditions at the petrol stations will take at least two weeks after the end of the strikes.

– “Serious disturbances” –

Unions in other industries and the public sector have also announced action to protest the dual impact of rising energy prices and headline inflation on the cost of living.

The left-wing unions CGT and FO on Tuesday called for a nationwide strike for higher wages and against state confiscations of oil facilities, which threatens to paralyze public transport in particular.

Rail operator SNCF will experience “serious disruption” as half of its train services are canceled, Transport Secretary Clement Beaune said.

Suburban transport in the Paris region, as well as bus services, will also be affected, operator RATP said, but the inner-city metro system should be largely unaffected.

Beyond transport workers, unions are hoping to hire staff in sectors such as the food industry and healthcare, CGT boss Philippe Martinez told France Inter radio.

Her action will usher in what is likely to be a tense autumn and winter as Macron also seeks to implement his flagship domestic policy of raising France’s retirement age.

But economic pressures, caused in part by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, coupled with Macron’s party’s failure to secure an overall majority in June’s general election, only adds to the magnitude of the task.

Tens of thousands of protesters marched in Paris on Sunday to express their frustration at the rising cost of living.

The demonstration was called by the left-wing political opposition and led by France Unbowed (LFI) party leader Jean-Luc Melenchon.

Security forces fired tear gas and launched batons after objects were thrown at them while masked men dressed in black searched a bank on the fringes of the demonstration.

Some protesters wore fluorescent yellow vests, the symbol of the often violent 2018 anti-government protests that rocked Macron’s pro-business government.

“We’re going to have a week like we don’t often see,” Melenchon told the crowd.

Organizers claimed 140,000 people took part in Sunday’s march, but police said it was 30,000.

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