Paris girds for cost of living protests as fuel strike rages for third week

Police expect 30,000 people to attend rally on Sunday as French left-wing party deputy decries ‘greatest loss of purchasing power in 40 years’

Motorists wait in lines at a gas station amid a fuel shortage and rising prices in Paris on October 15, 2022. (Christophe ARCHAMBAULT/AFP)
Motorists wait in lines at a gas station amid a fuel shortage and rising prices in Paris on October 15, 2022. (Christophe ARCHAMBAULT/AFP)

PARIS, France — Nearly three weeks into a strike that has forced gas stations across France to close, police in Paris were preparing for protests Sunday against soaring living costs.

Left-wing opponents of President Emmanuel Macron’s administration have organized the demonstration, which they say is also in protest against government inaction over climate change.

Jean-Luc Melenchon, leader of the left-wing France Unbowed (LFI) party, had planned the march well before the current strike, but organizers are hoping to pick up some of the momentum from the current industrial unrest.

“The rise in prices is unbearable,” said LFI deputy Manon Aubry. “It is the greatest loss of purchasing power in 40 years.”

It is time the billions that the big companies were reaping in profits were passed down to those struggling to make ends meet, she added.

Police are expecting around 30,000 people to attend, with one source saying they feared problems from hard-left troublemakers. “The organizer has been warned of these fears,” said the official.

Trade unionists and striking employees gather outside the TotalEnergies refinery site, in Donges, western France, on October 14, 2022. (LOIC VENANCE/AFP)

The dispute at French refineries and fuel depots has forced many gas stations to close and had a knock-on effect across all sectors of the economy.

According to government figures issued Saturday to French broadcaster BFMTV, 27.3% of gas stations were short of at least one product: in the Paris region, that rose to 39.9%.

Four of France’s seven refineries and one fuel depot are still out of action after striking members of the hard-left CGT union rejected a pay offer from the hydrocarbon industry leader that other unions accepted.

They are furious that Macron’s government used requisitioning powers this week to force some strikers back to open fuel depots, a move that has so far been upheld by the courts.

But the union risks stoking resentment in a country where three-quarters of workers rely on personal vehicles for their jobs. One poll by BVA released Friday, suggested that public support for the strike was at just 37%.

The CGT is pushing for a 10% pay rise for staff at TotalEnergies, backdated to the beginning of the year.

A paper reading “Limited to 30 litres” is displayed in a gas station amid a fuel shortage and rising prices, Mont-Pres-Chambord, France, on October 14, 2022, (GUILLAUME SOUVANT/AFP)

It argues the French group can more than afford it, citing TotalEnergies’ net profit of $5.7 billion in the April-June period as energy prices soared with the war in Ukraine, and its payout of billions of euros in dividends to shareholders.

The union has extended its strike action, which started on September 26, up to Tuesday, when it has also called a broader strike involving public transport nationwide.

The CGT walked out of talks with the French group last week, even as other unions representing a majority of workers accepted a deal for a smaller pay hike.

Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne is due to appear on primetime television Sunday evening to discuss the gas shortage.

Most Popular
read more: