The demands for salary improvements in full rise in prices, with the economy at half gas and a war in Europe are the main engine of social mobilizations this Tuesday in France. Several sectors, from public transport to education or health, are called to go on strike and demonstrate throughout the country, an extension of the conflict that began three weeks ago in the oil refineries.
There are nerves in the Elysee Palace. The president, Emmanuel Macron, summoned the ministers of Economy and Finance, Transport, Energy and Ecology on Monday afternoon. The goal was to tackle power supply blockages, which continue to paralyze around a third of service stations and cause long queues in some regions of the country.
The stoppages on Tuesday will allow the real tracking of the movement to be calibrated. That is, to know if France is a country on the verge of a general strike and a social explosion; if it is merely following a long striking tradition and therefore there is nothing unusual or cause for alarm for the authorities; or if this expresses something typical of these times, and perhaps not exclusive to France: a growing malaise in broad layers of the population due to inflation and the loss of purchasing power and on the eve of a winter of energy savings and possible recession. The day will give a more precise measure of the real danger posed to Macron by the first social conflict of his second and last five years as president.
Politicians like Jean-Luc Mélenchon, leader of the left, called, at a unitary demonstration of the left on Sunday in Paris, for a “general strike”. According to the calls prior to the day of protest, the strike should not prevent, for example, the operation of the metro network in Paris or high-speed trains. But the Government assumes that it will disrupt economic and social life on this day.
The pulse in the TotalEnergies refineries, where the minority union demands a 10% salary increase and has distanced itself from the agreement of other plants to raise 7%, threatens the autumn school holidays. Many French travel during these holidays, which start this weekend.
Macron, slow of reflexes, took two weeks to react to the strike and the fuel shortage. Last week he began mobilizing refinery and depot personnel by law to reopen some oil refineries and depots. On Tuesday he ordered two more.
The defense of the right to strike against these mobilizations is another of the demands of the stoppages on Tuesday.
“The demand that unites us all is the general rise in wages,” said Catherine Perret, confederal secretary of the CGT, on the France Info network. The conveners do not explicitly call for a “general strike”, but for “mobilization interprofessional”. Among the sectors where strikes have been announced are also ports, road transport, nuclear power plants, commerce and services. On Monday night no stoppages in air transport were expected.
The Government, to compensate for the impact of the lack of fuel, has announced that it will extend until November 15 the current reduction of 30 cents per liter of fuel, to which is added, in the same period, a reduction of 20 cents per part of the company TotalEnergies.
The Government has asked companies like TotalEnergies, awash in profits thanks to the fact that the crisis has triggered prices, to raise wages. At the same time, he has urged the CGT to abandon the blockades, arguing that the other unions have already pushed through wage increases at the refineries.
Division in the unions
The conflict in the refineries and, this Tuesday, in other sectors, reflects divisions between the unions. France’s leading union, the moderate CFDT, has not joined. “The fuss for the fuss has never been useful to anyone,” warned, in statements collected by the daily Midi Libre, Laurent Berger, general secretary of the CFDT.
In the railways, the second largest union in the sector, UNSA, is not participating in the strike. The organizers of the interprofessional strike are the CGT, FSU, Solidaires and Sud. This will be the second day of strikes and demonstrations after the one on September 29.
The fear in the Elysée is for now that the queues at the gas stations will multiply, that another prolonged strike in transport will be added to this and that the anger of the French will not be directed at the unions that are blocking but at the president. Above all, if they end up ruining their vacations.
“I am next to our compatriots, who are having a hard time and who are fed up with this situation,” Macron said on Monday. And he promised to solve it: “We will continue to do our best.” From the Government, however, no one dares to announce a date to restore supply and order at gas stations.
The novelty, compared to previous social conflicts, is the international and economic context: the war in Ukraine and inflation. And the political context: since the June legislative elections, the macronistas do not have an absolute majority in the National Assembly, although they form the largest block of deputies. Now they run into the first real obstacle in the hemicycle: the opposition vetoes the Budgets, although in the ranks of the president they are not inclined to accept agreements either.
The result is that this week the Government plans to impose the Budgets by decree, with article 49.3 of the Constitution. The opposition could only stop 49.3 with a motion of censure against the Prime Minister, Élisabeth Borne.