Class Struggle Intensifies in France

Striking ExxonMobil refinery workers at Gravenchon-Port-Jerome,  France, October 2022.

Ruling imperialist elites are attempting to pass the burden of the economic and political crisis sweeping across Europe onto the backs of the working class and youth. The people are having none of this and are resisting with strikes, mass meetings and demonstrations.

Strikes calling for immediate wage increases to counter surging price inflation are now underway throughout France. Workers have shut down six of France's seven oil refineries and energy depots. In response the French government has unleashed its police powers ordering workers back to work at the TotalEnergies fuel depot near Dunkirk and the Esso-ExxonMobil refinery at Gravenchon-Port-Jerome, both in northern France. Refusal to work under police orders could result in fines and imprisonment.

General assembly of workers at ExxonMobil plant, October 7, 2022

The Confédération Générale du Travail (CGT) and Force Ouvrière (FO), unions representing energy workers, responded angrily to the government intervention on the side of the global energy monopolies against workers who are attempting to raise their wages in the face of price inflation. They have called on other unions to organize strikes, mass meetings and demonstrations against the use of police powers and for immediate wage increases.

Benjamin Tange, a CGT official at the Dunkirk worksite, denounced the government order as "Macron dictatorship." Describing the upsurge in strike struggles across France, Tange said, "What we're seeing is the anger built up over several months and years, and a breakdown of any social dialogue."

CGT and FO leaders are meeting with other unions to discuss broadening the mass movement for workers' rights and wage increases. During mass meetings of organized energy workers during their strike, they have voted overwhelmingly to continue their struggle until their wage demands have been met. Workers expressed disgust at the government for imposing its police powers on them. They also denounced the energy monopolies, which continually boast to their global investors of the huge profits they are making during the crisis, yet refuse to raise wages.

On September 29, 250,000 protesters took to the streets across France to demand an increase in salaries and pensions and a reduction in working time.

The resistance to price inflation in France is escalating with strikes spreading to sectors and enterprises not currently engaged in walkouts. The ruling elite express alarm at this development, calling the strikes "contagious." The newspaper Le Parisien expressed concern about "the 'contagion' of the movement to other sectors of the country." It mentions in particular "dockers, port agents, railway workers or even employees of nuclear power plants and the automotive sector."

Workers at several French nuclear plants are engaged in partial strikes including the Gravelines nuclear power station and plants in Ardèche, Moselle, Drôme and Tarn-et-Garonne.

Le Parisien continues, "The strike at the SNCF (National Railway Company) could extend to other sectors. The CGT-Cheminots, the main union representing workers at SNCF, and Sud-Rail have called for a strike next Tuesday [October 18] to demand wage increases and protest against requisitions in the energy sector. ‘Anger is brewing, including in our professions,' warned the union, which represents truck drivers among others. ‘We are asking unions to organize general meetings at work sites on the 18th and we do not rule out any scenario for the conduct of the action,' the secretary general of the CGT-Cheminots, Laurent Brun said Thursday [October 13]."

The one-day train drivers' strike organized for October 18 will involve both the SNCF and the Paris transport operator RATP (Régie autonome des transports parisiens).

FranceInfo quotes Vincent Gautheron, general secretary of the CGT RATP saying, "We are mobilizing for wage increases, on the issue of pension reform and to defend the right to strike, which is called into question by government decisions."

(Quotes translated from the original French by TML.)

This article was published in
Volume 52 Number 10 - October 2022

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