11th May 2021

Rolling general strike hits France

  • A strong majority of French people support open-ended industrial action (Photo: lemarakk)

Massive demonstrations and a rolling strike have hit France in the biggest protest yet against the government's attempt to increase the retirement age from 60 to 62, although Paris insists it will not be moved.

With 3.5 million taking part in the rallies and marches across the country, according to organisers, it beats the 2 million that in 1995 forced a retreat over a similar move and ultimately led to the fall of the government.

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Police put the figures at 1.23 million, although in Marseilles, a police union actually attacked the estimate as false, while some police joined the protests in the capital.

Half the flights at Orly Airport and a third of flights at Charles de Gaulle Airport were cancelled. Two thirds of high-speed trains were stilled, although Eurostar reported that its Paris-London service has been uninterrupted.

The country's largest oil port, Fos-Lavera, has been closed for 15 days as a result of industrial action.

In Marseille, dockers are in their third week of strikes, and 10 of France's 11 oil refineries are shuttered. Diesel prices have gone up across the continent, while some papers have reported hoarding of petrol in the west of the country.

The press are full of references to 1968, the famous year of radical upheaval, as 300 high schools closed their doors, some barricaded with dustbins, and teachers, pupils and students joining the protests.

Union leaders and the Socialist Party are warning the government it risks provoking widespread radicalisation if it pushes through with its legislation, although the opposition socialists themselves had earlier called for a two-year increase to the retirement age.

The demonstrations come even though the government has this week already passed many of the changes proposed.

Some 69 percent of citizens support the strike, with another 61 backing open-ended industrial action.

It is the third one-day strike in the last month, and, for the first time, some of the unions have voted for rolling action beyond Tuesday.

Each day, the rolling strikes involve the unions serving renewed notice for a further 24-hour halt to work.

Workers in the RATP Paris public transport system, the national rail network and Total oil refineries have so far given such notice.

Union members reportedly strongly back open-ended industrial action as they are fed up with the repeated marches and feel this is their last chance to force the government to back down.

A second day of mass protests is scheduled for Saturday.

However, French Prime Minister Francois Fillon denounced the strike as "irresponsible". "We are determined to carry through this reform."

The government so far shows no sign of caving in.

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