French trade unions have begun a nationwide strikes to demand higher salaries amid the highest inflation in decades, one of the biggest challenges to President Emmanuel Macron since his reelection in May.
Tuesday’s strike, which primarily affects public sectors such as schools and transportation, is an extension of the weeks-long industrial action that has disrupted France’s major refineries and put petrol stations’ supply in disarray.
Rail operator SNCF is seeing “severe disruptions” with half of train services cancelled, according to transport minister Clement Beaune. Suburban services in the Paris region and bus services are also impacted, operator RATP said, but the inner-Paris metro system should be mostly unaffected.
The effects were already visible at Paris hub Gare de Lyon on Tuesday morning, with packed suburban trains disgorging floods of passengers onto the platforms every 15 or even 20 minutes.
I’ve got a two- or three-hour trip today, rather than an hour and a half normally– Yera Diallo
adding that “I have no idea how it’s going to go this evening”.
Beyond transport workers, unions hope to bring out staff in sectors such as the food industry and healthcare.
Trade union leaders are hoping workers will be energised by the government’s decision to force some of them to go back to work at petrol depots to try and get the fuel flowing again, a move some say may jeopardise the right to strike.
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The CGT union notably has called for continued walkouts into a fourth week at TotalEnergies, despite the oil company reaching a deal including a 7 percent increase and a bonus on Friday with other unions. The CGT is demanding a 10 percent pay rise, citing inflation and the firm’s huge profits.
In its early years the CGT was racked by ideological divisions between socialist, syndicalist (promoting an overthrow of capitalism by the working class), and other factions. The confederation advocated the use of collective bargaining and the general strike to reach economic goals, but it was also concerned with achieving more revolutionary social changes through class warfare.
The CGT declined after syndicalists took control in 1906, but the organization began to grow again under the leadership of the socialist Léon Jouhaux, who served as its secretary-general from 1909 to 1947. By 1914 the CGT’s leadership was sufficiently moderate to support the French government in World War I.
In 1921 the CGT expelled its more radical unions, which were led by anarchists and communists as well as syndicalists. The expelled unions responded by forming the Unitary General Confederation of Labour , whose politics came to be dominated by Moscow.
The CGTU rejoined the CGT in 1936 when communist parties and unions formed popular fronts with socialist organizations in joint opposition of fascism. By supporting the Popular Front government of the mid-1930s, the CGT won a number of victories, including a 40-hour workweek and an all-around wage increase ranging from 7 to 15 percent.
By this time the confederation represented more than five million members. That number dropped somewhat when the CGT alienated its more moderate socialist members by sponsoring strikes in 1947 to protest the French government’s dismissal of communist ministers.
Even after the defection by the socialists, the CGT remained France’s largest and most powerful labour union federation for many years. The CGT maintained close ties with the French Communist Party and was a member of the World Federation of Trade Unions.