Strike wave in France may disrupt the Euros
France's hardline CGT union sought to choke off power and fuel supplies and hamper the public transport network yesterday in a showdown with a government that flatly refused to withdraw a contested labour law reform.
As tens of thousands of demonstrators took to the streets, workers responded to the union call by stopping work at oil refineries, nuclear power plants and the railways, as well as erecting road blocks and burning wooden pallets and tyres at key ports like Le Havre and near key distribution hubs.
The standoff, which raises the spectre of disruption during the France-hosted European soccer championship that opens on June 10, was condemned both by Socialist Prime Minister Manuel Valls and the country's other big trade union, the CFDT.
After months of rolling protests sparked by a reform that aims to make hiring and firing easier, yesterday's stoppages and street marches were being watched closely as a test of whether the CGT-led opposition is solid or at risk of fizzling out.
The street marches were joined by scores of marchers from a youth protest movement called Nuit Debout (Up All Night). Police were deployed to counter risks of the violence in which 350 police and several protesters have been hurt and more than 1,300 arrested at similar rallies in recent weeks.
CGT chief Philippe Martinez, asked if his union was willing to disrupt the Euro 2016 tournament, said: "The government has the time to say 'let's stop the clock' and everything will be ok."
"There is no question of changing tack, even if adjustments are always possible," said Mr Valls, who flatly rejected calls to scrap the part of the law that put the CGT on the warpath. That section would let companies opt out of national obligations on labour protection if they adopt in-house deals on pay and conditions with the consent of a majority of employees.
The SNCF state train company said that upwards of two-thirds of national, regional and local rail connections were operating, suggesting stoppages were hurting less than last week when a similar strike halved the number of trains running.
After police intervention in recent days to lift blockades at refineries and fuel distribution depots, Valls said 20-30pc of fuel stations were dry or short of certain fuels. "The situation is less worrisome as of today," Transport Minister Alain Vidalies said. Deliveries of fuel from depots to the petrol pumps were now improving, he added.
Laurent Berger, head of the rival CFDT union and a backer of the planned labour reform, said: "The political and industrial relations climate has turned hysterical . . . let's calm things down."