French unions showed their muscle in the streets of Paris and dozens of other cities in the country in the latest expression in a campaign of nationwide industrial action to demand improved pay and working conditions, denounce the increased cost of living, and demand relief from the government from soaring prices.
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Around 150-200 demonstrations were announced for the day all over France by the Confederation Generale du Travail (CGT) labor union.
The CGT was behind the multisector one-day strike, which threatened to paralyze the capital’s public transport network.
According to the CGT, 4,000 people took part in the demonstration in Paris, which kicked off at 2 p.m. local time (1300GMT) at the Place de la Republique and ended at Place de la Bastille.
The police and the Interior Ministry put the number of demonstrators in Paris at 2,000-4,000, while there were no riots or scuffles during the protest.
Although there were other protests scattered around France in cities like Lyon or Montpellier, disruptions were heavily concentrated in Paris, where workers of the Regie Autonome des Transports Parisiens (RATP) public transport network have overwhelmingly backed the strike, declaring a Jeudi Noir (Black Thursday) for services. At least half the subway lines were idle and many suburban buses were as well.
Five metro lines were fully closed, and another seven only operated at peak hours. Thursday's strike came as commuters have grown increasingly angry with Paris public transport, with services still reduced since the COVID-19 pandemic started although traffic levels have broadly returned to pre-pandemic levels.
Unions have staged strikes across several sectors in recent weeks seeking pay hikes or increased hiring as spiraling energy costs feed into widespread inflation.
Public Accounts Minister Gabriel Attal said: "The slogan of this strike at the RATP was 'zero metro, zero RER,’ but also ‘zero empathy for all the French people I am thinking of today, who have not been able to go to work, who have not been able to travel, who may have had difficulties dropping their children off at school’,” he said, referring to the Reseau Express Regional (Regional Express Network), a hybrid commuter rail and rapid transit system serving Paris and its suburbs.
This is the third mobilization of the unions in a row, after two other nationwide protests on Oct. 18 and Oct. 27. The protest on Oct. 18 involved 107,000 demonstrators, according to the Interior Ministry, but the CGT said there were at least 300,000 protesters.
The strike grievances and demands included an increase in the minimum wage, re-evaluation of all salaries in line with inflation in the same way as the SMIC, and re-evaluation of the salary scale for public sector workers.
The CGT is also angry at the government’s use of emergency strike-breaking powers during earlier strikes at oil refineries in October that led to widespread petrol and diesel shortages at filling stations on a national scale.
Union leaders are also hoping to step up pressure on President Emmanuel Macron as he prepares to revive a controversial pensions overhaul that would push back the official retirement age from 62 to 64 or even to 65.
French consumer prices in October rose at their fastest pace since 1985, driven by rising energy, food and manufactured goods prices, according to official data
Food prices in particular grew almost 12% in a blow to the least well-off households who spend a larger share of their monthly budget at supermarkets.
Meanwhile, energy prices added almost 20%, despite government interventions to limit bills for consumers that have kept overall inflation below levels seen in their European Union neighbors. ■