France Paralyzed Amid a Tense Political Context, Continuous Strikes and an Economic Crisis

Murad Jandali | 2 years ago




On October 18, 2022, French trade unions launched a general strike to demand a wage increase amid the highest inflation in decades, which is one of the stiffest challenges facing President Emmanuel Macron since his re-election in May.

This also comes two days after thousands of people took to the streets of the capital, Paris, to protest against the high cost of living, the declining purchasing power of citizens, and strikes that led to the closure of many gas stations in many parts of France.

The disturbances in France come at a critical time for the French president and his government, who will try to pass the 2023 budget using a special constitutional mechanism that will enable him to pass a vote in Parliament in which he does not have a comfortable absolute majority.


Black Tuesday

Demonstrations continued in French cities, with the participation of tens of thousands of people, to protest the high cost of living and to demand higher wages at the invitation of the left parties, led by the leader of the France Proud party, Jean-Luc Melenchon.

On October 18, 2022, France was on a date with a general strike called by trade unions, in which the sectors of transport, electricity, government jobs, schools, universities, health, and some of the largest private sector companies participated.

The new strike, which the media described as Black Tuesday, comes as an extension of the strikes that have been going on for weeks, which have paralyzed and frozen all aspects of French life, disrupted oil refineries, and obstructed supplies to gas stations, with other sectors joining the burning protests against inflation, high prices and government policies.

Protests joined by all the left parties, which had been preparing for months to confront the era of Emmanuel Macron in the streets and Parliament, and gave social demands a stormy political background.

The participants in the Great March in Paris on October 16, 2022, chanted to get out of the predicament of the Ukrainian war and to stop the massive aid to Kyiv in order to save the French from the series of economic and social collapses.

According to the estimates of the police, the number of participants in the Paris demonstration reached 30,000 people, while the organizers said that the number reached about 140,000 demonstrators.

Trade union leaders hope employees will act because of the government's decision to force some back to work at petrol depots to try to restore fuel flows, a move some say jeopardizes the right to strike.

The general confederation, in particular, called for a continuous strike for the fourth week in the facilities of the company Total Energy, despite the oil company reaching an agreement with other labor unions on October 14, 2022, that includes a 7% increase in salaries and a bonus.

Meanwhile, the General Confederation is demanding a 10% wage increase, citing current inflation and the company's huge profits, which amounted to $10.6 billion in the first half of 2022.

At Esso ExxonMobil of America, unions are asking for a 7.5% pay increase, regardless of promotion and seniority, and a bonus of €6,000 for a fair redistribution of profits, given that the group posted a net profit of $17.9 billion in the second quarter of 2022.

As tensions mount in the Eurozone's second-largest economy, strikes have spread to other parts of the energy sector, including nuclear power giant Electricity de France, potentially delaying critical maintenance work on Europe's energy supplies.


Serious Period

Last September 27, the French woke up to the nightmare of closing 3 oil refineries run by oil giants Total Energy and Esso Exxon Mobil and their storage facilities.

Since then, employees at the French and American energy groups have been demanding a 10% pay rise as well as indexing 2022 wages to match record inflation.

This paralyzed France from north to south almost completely as a result of the closure of gas stations and the increase in prices and forced the government to take several measures to solve the prevailing situation.

On October 11, 2022, Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne threatened oil refinery workers that the government was prepared to use force to order employees at warehouses operated by Exxon's Esso France unit to return to work, with similar measures possible at Total warehouses if wage talks do not lead to a solution.

This is what happened last week, as the French government used emergency powers to force striking fuel depot workers, such as at the Mardyck depot in northern France, to return to work in order to release fuel stocks that had become trapped inside the besieged facilities.

It is noteworthy that there is fear among the French public opinion of the intensification of the economic and social crisis in the country, as what is currently happening is described by Le Figaro newspaper as a heart attack, while Le Monde newspaper is denouncing it as an internal war.

Liberation newspaper pointed out that France is going through a serious and decisive period, adding that the protests and strikes are a test for Emmanuel Macron and his government.

The newspaper considered that the French government underestimated the oil refineries' strikes, which prompted this movement to expand even more, noting that the gap has widened between Macron and the French and calling on the government to present plans that would convince the French of its policies.

Meanwhile, L'Humanite newspaper confirmed that the low wages and the deterioration of the purchasing power of French citizens were the cause of the protests and strikes that the country has witnessed recently.

In turn, lawyer Zaid Al-Azem explained in a statement to Al-Estiklal that "in countries such as France, the government cannot intervene much and force private companies to increase employees' wages, but it can only provide recommendations to them in this regard, which is what is currently happening. It can also raise the minimum wage in the country, which happens annually."

"However, the French government remains required to invite companies to raise the wages of their employees in proportion to the rising cost of living and inflation," he said.

Mr. Al-Azem also indicated that "the current protests in France are a little similar to the Yellow Vest protests that occurred in 2018. However, the most important characteristic of what is happening now is the widespread and intense strikes, in addition to the French resentment of the crisis of queues in front of gas stations."

As for the repercussions of the general strike on French society, the lawyer confirmed that "unfortunately, it will lead to more paralysis, stagnation, and economic crises. France is currently engaged in a war economy towards Russia and is seeking to get rid of its dependence on Russian gas, which will have negative effects in the first year on the French economy."


Tense Political Atmosphere

On his part, Macron and his government refused to link any relation between the strikes and protests in the country and the repercussions of the Russian-Ukrainian war, describing the issue as a dispute between companies and their employees.

However, the demands of the demonstrators are all related to the rise in food and energy prices resulting from that war, rejecting the government's plans to amend the retirement law and strict rules for helping the unemployed, and demanding an increase in salaries, fighting high prices, and freezing the prices of a group of basic commodities.

The meeting chaired by President Emmanuel Macron, on October 16, 2022, at the Elysee Palace, in the presence of the Prime Minister and concerned ministers, resulted in a decision to accelerate work to re-supply gas stations as soon as possible and expand forcing a group of employees, especially in energy depots, to return to work to get out of this crisis, which began three weeks ago.

Macron said after the meeting: "I am on the side of all our compatriots who are struggling and have had enough of this situation. We want this to be settled as soon as possible."

Commenting on the developments of events, Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne said that "the strikes come amid a tense political atmosphere, the French government is preparing to approve a budget in 2023 and raise the retirement age from 62 to 65 to use the third paragraph of Article 49 of the French Constitution, which enables it to pass a vote in Parliament."

In this context, lawyer Zaid Al-Azem indicated in a statement to Al-Estiklal that "the French opposition, right-wing and left-wing parties, threatened to withhold confidence from the government if it took this step."

However, he pointed out that such a measure must obtain an absolute majority vote in Parliament, that is, more than 289 deputies, and this matter is not available to the right and left camps.

At the same time, Mr. Al-Azem noted that "the overthrow of Elisabeth Borne's government will only happen if all the French opposition parties, including the Republicans, unite, although I exclude this scenario."

Meanwhile, observers believe that France is currently witnessing a major crisis that may enter the country in early parliamentary elections against the background of these repercussions, as the opposition's threats to overthrow the government may also push Macron to dissolve Parliament.

The general strike is scheduled to represent a watershed shift in finding a settlement or entering the country into chaos.

Therefore, the government is currently seeking to find a way out with energy companies that satisfies the workers and another that meets the directions of the left parties, which no longer want an increase in wages, a price ceiling, and a clear plan to confront the deterioration of the climate, but rather to address the roots of the crisis in France.

The crisis, in the opinion of the left-wing parties, lies in the reckless policies led by Emmanuel Macron since his first term, which trapped France with the United States, implicating it in the Ukraine war, and the recklessness of NATO, which has transformed France and Europe in general into a disaster that is expanding with days.

It is noteworthy that the Left alliance turned into the first opposition force and the strongest in the French Parliament after winning 149 seats, compared to Macron's alliance, which won 244 seats in the French legislative elections last June.


Living Difficulties

Many analysts fear that the current protests will escalate and clashes between police and protesters, as happened in the 2018 yellow vest protests, Macron's first era, during which demonstrators denounced high taxes and widespread poverty.

In turn, the head of international relations for the France Proud party, Christian Rodriguez, explained in a statement to the Spanish teleSUR channel on October 18, 2022, that "For more than 5 years, Macron has been the president of the rich, and his policy is to give gifts to the rich without taking into account the poor."

He indicated that the rich, whose percentage is estimated at 1% in France, made a lot of money during his era, adding that at the same time, there were 9 million poor and 8 million people who received food aid.

"The French know there is a problem. The recent protests' demands for a minimum wage increase, a tax on super-profits, and the restoration of public services are evidence of their awareness of these problems," Rodriguez emphasized.

An opinion poll, the results of which were published by Le GDD newspaper on October 5, 2022, shows that "economic and life difficulties dominate the concerns of French citizens, inflation on the one hand and the high cost of living on the other."

According to the poll, 92% of the French people confirm that inflation, which has been at unprecedented levels in France for 40 years, has become the first source of concern for the French and that 82% of them consider that the state is not doing enough to combat it.

The poll revealed that 53% of the French people want the government to enhance the purchasing power of citizens who are suffering under the weight of high energy prices in all its forms, which affects large sectors of economic activities, foodstuffs, and services.