French unions call for nationwide strike ahead of winter of discontent
Sarah Coates in Paris

Anger is building right across France, with thousands of demonstrators marching through Paris on Sunday – the rising cost of living at the top of a long list of grievances.

"I'm here today because I'm angry," said protester Natalie Meriau. "I'm angry because everything is going wrong: public services, mistreatment at work, super-profits that are not taxed. We have many reasons to be here today. And a government that doesn't listen to us, that continues to favor the same (people) and that asks for effort from the same people. At some point, this has to stop."

Sunday's demonstration, which in some parts turned ugly, comes on the back of mass strikes at many of the country's refineries, as workers demand a pay rise. 


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The situation has left around one in three of France's gas pumps dry – with motorists seen queuing for hours to try to get petrol. As tensions run high, some drivers were seen jumping the line. 

Motorists wait at a Paris gas station. /Christophe Archambault/AFP
Motorists wait at a Paris gas station. /Christophe Archambault/AFP

Motorists wait at a Paris gas station. /Christophe Archambault/AFP

"Those in charge of TotalEnergie earn a lot," said Eric Doire, a retired railway worker and a member of both the CGT union and the Communist party. "They have made a lot of profit and it's normal that the employees demand their dues. 

"Some people are saying they already earn a lot. The problem is not there, it's a question of purchasing power. It's not because we earn 2,000 euros ($1,967) per month that our purchasing power should decrease. What we want is for everyone to live decently with the purchasing power we had before."


Emergency powers

Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne has stepped in using emergency powers in a bid to force refinery employees back to work, also announcing a government fuel rebate of 30 euros ($29.52) per liter will be extended into November – after it was set to expire at the end of this month.

All of this as unions are calling for a nationwide strike on Tuesday, which analysts say could be the crunchpoint in this tug of war.

"Tomorrow is the moment of truth for this movement," said Remi Bourguignon, a professor at the Eiffel School of Management. "Either it works, in which case we will hear a little less about TotalEnergie and more about a general mobilization and thus a very strong expectation expressed towards the government; or on the contrary, if the mobilization is very weak, the strike at Total will be more difficult to hold because it has lost legitimacy in the last few days – and at that moment it could be the moment of the end of this social movement."

If tomorrow's demonstration goes ahead the way unions are hoping, it is likely to cause major disruptions to public services and potentially cripple the city's public transport system – heaping more pressure on the Macron government ahead of what's expected to be a tough winter.

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