France: Strikes escalate, power hit

May 27, 2016

Striking French workers demonstrating in in Marseille on May 26.

Mass strikes and protests continued to rock France on May 26 as trade unionists ramped up their campaign against hated new labour laws.

The militant CGT union federation took to the streets of cities across the country demanding the scrapping of the “El Khomri Law,” named after Labour Minister Myriam El Khomri. About 100 people broke away from the main Paris demonstration and clashed with riot police who fired tear gas. Sixteen were arrested.

Meanwhile train drivers, air traffic controllers and nuclear power plant workers joined the ongoing strikes at fuel refineries that have left petrol pumps running dry across the country.

Protesters blocked roads and bridges, while unions called for rolling strikes on the Paris Metro on the opening day of the Euro 2016 football tournament on June 10.

Posters at a protest in the port of Le Havre bore a blood-red tombstone representing the Act reading: “Not amendable, not negotiable: Withdraw the El Khomri Law.”

The law, imposed by the Socialist Party government as a decree after parliament refused to pass it, lengthens the basic working week from 35 to 46 hours, cuts statutory redundancy payments while capping those made for unfair dismissal and places new restrictions on trade union activity.

Pickets of petrol refineries continued despite heavy-handed policing and even attacks by fellow citizens. In the Mediterranean coast town Fos-sur-Mer, a man was airlifted to hospital after a motorist rammed a picket line outside a refinery.

Electricity generation was cut by about 4000 megawatts — about 4% of national capacity — after workers at nine nuclear power plants joined the strike on the night of May 25. Ten more plants had voted to join the action.

Cracks showed in the Socialist Party government's stubborn defence of the law, with finance minister Michel Sapin suggesting the most controversial clauses could be rewritten.

Prime Minister Manuel Valls also said “There could be improvements and modifications” to the legislation, but insisted that withdrawing it “is not possible.”

He said: “You cannot blockade a country, you cannot attack the economic interests of France in this way.”

[Abridged from the Morning Star.]

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