French strike pits workers against. Government as inflation bites


By NICOLAS GARRIGA and BOUBKAR BENZABAT, Associated Press

PARIS (AP) — Tens of thousands of French workers took to the streets across the country on Tuesday, striking for wage increases that keep pace with rising inflation. The industrial action came after weeks of strikes that have plagued French oil refineries and caused gasoline shortages across the country.

“It’s time to get back to work,” French Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne said on Tuesday of people on strike at oil giant TotalEnergies’ French refineries.

Railroad and other transport workers, trucking and bus companies, some high school teachers and public hospital workers have responded to a call from an oil workers’ union to demand wage increases and protest against government intervention in refinery strikes.

According to the Interior Ministry, more than 100,000 people marched on Tuesday in multiple demonstrations in French cities. Thousands of people also took to the streets on Sunday to demonstrate against rising prices.

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Social Security retiree Bernard Mirc, 70, who took part in the Paris protest, said

“We are calling for a wage increase everywhere. In all trades, in all trades, because we now find ourselves with underpaid employees compared to the cost of living,” said retired Bernard Mirc, 70, who participated in the Parisian demonstration.

Meanwhile, only one in two trains was running on the southern region rail network on Tuesday, causing delays in the morning rush hour. Disruptions were also reported on high-speed trains in the north, as well as Eurostar and intercity trains linking France with Spain.

Similar protests have erupted across Europe in recent months over the impact of inflation, causing disruptions such as canceled flights and trains. Thousands of people demonstrated in Prague twice last month, in part against high energy prices, airline workers went on strike like Germany and Sweden to demand higher wages and at the In the UK, everyone from nurses to railway workers quit their jobs to demand that their pay keep pace. inflation.

Tuesday’s protests in France come after the left-wing CGT union rejected a deal on a pay rise that oil giant TotalEnergies reached with two other unions on Friday. The CFDT and CFE-CGC unions, which together represent the majority of the group’s French employees, have agreed to a 7% salary increase and a financial bonus.

Strikers have demanded higher wages thanks to windfall profits at energy companies that have seen high oil and gas prices as Russia’s war in Ukraine worsens an energy crisis.

But the CGT rejected the deal, demanding a 10% pay rise and urging continued protests.

The secretary general of the CGT, Philippe Martinez, declared “our demands are more than ever on the agenda, the question of wages. We see that this is the number one priority for the French.

“Inflation affects all workers in Europe,” added Martinez. “We see that the profits of large companies are exploding and that employees are told that we cannot increase their wages, that there is no money. So this anger is generalized in Europe”.

Long lines of cars were seen for weeks across France as drivers waited – sometimes for hours – to refuel. Many gas stations have temporarily closed pending deliveries.

French President Emmanuel Macron’s government is losing patience with the strikers, who are backed by his leftist political rivals.

Borne, speaking in the National Assembly on Tuesday, said “negotiations led to the signing of agreements” with the majority unions at both TotalEnergies and ExxonMobil’s French subsidiary, Esso, where workers have ended their strike last week.

“Therefore, it is not acceptable that a minority continues to block the country,” she said.

Borne said around 25% of French service stations were experiencing temporary shortages.

She noted a “marked improvement” in the situation in northern France, where 18.5% of service stations are now disrupted, compared to 55% last week. She said the situation has also improved in the Paris region over the past 24 hours.

Samba Cissé, who works as a courier, traveled to Paris from a suburb on Tuesday in search of gasoline.

“I need petrol to be able to work, it’s as simple as that,” Cissé said.

Inflation rose around the world as economies rebounded from the COVID-19 pandemic, then worsened as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine sent food and meat prices skyrocketing. fuel.

French inflation reached 6.2%, which is the lowest among the 19 countries that use the euro, according to the European Union statistics agency Eurostat. By comparison, Estonia saw consumer prices climb 24% last month compared to the previous year, while the rate for the Netherlands was 17% and for the eurozone as a whole 10%.

AP journalists Barbara Surk in Nice, France, and Masha Macpherson, Oleg Cetinic and Sylvie Corbet in Paris contributed.

Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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