Tens of thousands of workers took to the streets across France on Tuesday, striking to demand pay raises that keep up with rising inflation.
The industrial action came after weeks of walkouts that have hobbled French oil refineries and sparked petrol shortages across the country.
Rail and other transportation workers, trucking and bus companies, some high school teachers and public hospital employees have heeded a call by an oil workers’ union to push for salary increases.
For weeks, cars have been queueing at petrol stations across France, drivers waiting for hours to fill up at stations that, in some cases, had to close temporarily while awaiting deliveries.
According to the interior ministry, more than 100,000 people marched in multiple protests in French cities on Tuesday. Thousands of others had taken to the streets on Sunday to march against rising prices.
Meanwhile, just one in two trains were running on Tuesday in the southern region rail network, causing delays during morning rush hour.
There were also reports of disruptions on high-speed trains in the north, as well as on the Eurostar and the inter-city trains linking France with Spain.
Tuesday’s protests in France come after the left-wing CGT (General Confederation of Labour) union walked out of negotiations for a pay increase deal that oil giant TotalEnergies ended up agreeing with two other unions on Friday.
The CFDT (French Democratic Confederation of Labour) and CFE-CGC (French Confederation of Management – General Confederation of Executives) unions, which together represent a majority of the group’s French workers, agreed to a 7 percent pay rise and a financial bonus.
But the CGT rejected the deal, holding out for a 10 percent pay rise and urging that the protests continue.
Strikers are demanding higher wages, pointing to the windfall profits energy companies have seen due to high oil and gas prices as Russia’s war in Ukraine aggravates an energy crisis.
Philippe Martinez, CGT secretary-general, said “our demands are more than ever on the agenda, the question of salaries. We see that this is the No 1 priority of the French”.
“Inflation affects all workers in Europe,” Martinez added. “We can see that the profits of big companies are exploding and that employees are being told their pay cannot be increased, that there is no money. So this anger is widespread in Europe”.
Inflation has risen around the world as economies rebounded from the COVID-19 pandemic and then got worse as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine sent food and fuel prices soaring.
French inflation has hit 6.2 percent, which is the lowest among the 19 countries that use the euro currency, according to the European Union’s statistics agency Eurostat.
In comparison, Estonia saw consumer prices soar 24 percent last month from a year earlier, while the Netherlands’ rate was 17 percent and the eurozone as a whole was 10 percent.