French Strikes

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Diesel fuel supplies around France’s Eastern city of Lyon run low after unions announced Friday that 13 refineries in France were on strike, with many depots also blocked, over government plans to raise the retirement age from 60 to 62, a direct result of the attempts of countries throughout Europe to cut spending and raise revenue to bring down deficits and debts after the worst recession in 70 years. While the Ecology Ministry claims fuel stocks at Paris’ Charles de Gaulle airport are good for the time being, a sign at a gas station in Feyzin, near Lyon announced a fuel shortage at all pumps.

In Paris, balloons floated above the Place de la Republique, marking the starting point for the wave of marches protesting against the proposed raised retirement age, beginning on Saturday.  The ministry of the Interior announced that, on Tuesday, 1.2 million people walked out of work, whereas unions put the figure at upwards of 3.5 million. Perhaps the most visible indication of the strike was the presence of students throughout the city, on what would otherwise have been their ordinary school day. 

The French strikes are among four staged in the past month, in the showdown between the workers and the government. Rather than this strike end after 24 hours, as unions have previously done, this time round they staged a vote each day on whether to continue. Needless to say, this prolonged strike period caused chaos concerning transportation and delivery of goods, with train, bus and metro services all drastically reduced.

Bernard Thibault of the General Labour Confederation warned that more strikes could follow. Thibault complained that workers were “fed up with being constantly portrayed as privileged or in some way guilty on the issue of pensions.” Only 6% of pensions are currently “special regime,” which allows beneficiaries to retire after 37.5 years, in contrast to 40 years for other public and private sector employees. Workers in jobs deemed especially physically demanding can retire as early as 50 years of age.

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