Labor & Workforce

French unions bring wage demands to the streets

Paris, Oct 18 (EFE).- Union workers across France took part Tuesday in protests demanding that wages and salaries be indexed to inflation – currently running at 5.6 percent – as President Emmanuel Macron’s government struggles to put a lid on rising discontent.

Participants also defended the right to strike at a moment when authorities have ordered striking staff at oil refineries to resume work amid worsening fuel shortages.

Two days after more than 100,000 people turned out in Paris for a anti-Macron march organized by the parties of the left, members of the CGT, France’s second-largest union, joined in what was described as an “inter-professional mobilization.”

While the unions said that roughly 300,000 people participated nationwide, the Interior Ministry cited a figure of 107,000.

Here in the capital, the ministry estimated the number of protesters at around 13,000, far short of the 70,000 claimed by organizers.

“What the government, which pretends to be concerned, has to do is to raise the minimum salary to 2,000 euros ($1,971)” a month, CGT chief Philippe Martinez told reporters covering the demonstration in Paris.

The CGT is the driving force behind the strike at refineries and fuel depots, which has had an impact on millions of motorists.

“Let the employers negotiate and let them negotiate at the level of the demands, because in the case of TotalEnergies, 100 percent of what it is offering (a 5 percent pay hike) is eaten up by inflation,” Martinez said.

The union wants a 10 percent increase for employees of TotalEnergies, one of the world’s seven oil supermajors.

Agnes, a 68-year-old retiree, criticized the government for compelling refinery workers to return to work, telling EFE: “They can’t be forced, it’s something very serious.”

Last weekend’s march in Paris was peaceful, but Tuesday’s protests witnessed acts of vandalism by black-bloc militants who also clashed with police.

Fifteen people were arrested nationwide, all but four of them in the capital.

Preliminary numbers indicate that 10 percent of teachers honored Tuesday’s one-day job action, though the biggest impact appeared to be on transit service.

During a parliamentary debate on the 2023 budget, Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne said that the proportion of gas stations without fuel had dropped from around 30 percent to less than 25 percent since the government ordered striking refinery employees back to work.

Macron’s party lost its legislative majority earlier this year and to no one’s surprise, Borne suggested Tuesday that the government is likely to resort to Article 49.3 of France’s 1958 constitution to enact the budget over the objections of an opposition that ranges from the hard left to the far right. EFE atc/dr

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