French Conflict over ‘Loi Travail’ Intensifies as Nuclear Workers join Protests.
In Reply: CGT Trade Unionists Face Violence Smears.
France prepares for day of strikes as nuclear workers join labour protests.
France faced an eighth day of industrial action on Thursday after workers at nuclear power stations voted to join protests against labour reforms. Blockades of fuel depots by angry unions have forced France to dip into its fuel reserves.
CGT energy and mining federation spokeswoman Marie-Claire Cailletaud said the strike action at nuclear plants will reduce power output, but that the reactors will not stop running.
“One cannot just turn off a nuclear plant, it is not like a thermal or hydro plant,” Cailletaud said.
The union said late Wednesday that 16 of France’s 19 nuclear stations had voted to join the strike, although CGT official Jean-Luc Daganaud said the effect on power supply would depend on how many workers decided to join the action.
Workers led by the powerful CGT union have blocked oil refineries across France over the past week in protest against planned changes to France’s cherished protective labour laws, leading to fuel shortages in parts of the country and long queues of cars at near-empty petrol stations.
The Ufip oil industry federation has confirmed that around a third of the country’s 12,000 petrol stations were running dry. France has also mobilised its emergency fuel stocks for the first time since 2010 but officials said there was no risk of a shortage.
The French media is full of reports that the Confédération générale du travail (CGT) is “using everything it’s got” in the dispute (Loi travail : « La CGT joue son va-tout »). Le Monde suggests that the leader of the left-wing federation, Phillipe Martinez, has taken on the role of the ‘Leader of the Opposition’ to the El Khomri law. (Le patron de la CGT se hisse au rang de chef de l’opposition à la loi travail.)
There are daily claims, from those hostile to the union federation, that the CGT are using the protests as a means of resolving their own – serious internal difficulties. These range from loss of membership (the result of long-term industrial decline) to the fall-out from the controversy over expenses paid to to their former leader, Thierry Lepaon
It is the case that the CGT faces a challenge from the ‘reformist’ union federation, the Confédération française démocratique du travail (CFDT). This morning on France Inter Véronique Descacq, secrétaire générale adjointe to the CFDT, claimed to have negotiated a deal which they can live with. She asserted that the reform embodies new workers’ rights (listen here).
Against this claim – essentially that the CGT is acting purely out of its own interests – L’Humanité has pointed to the unity between the trade unionists (with the CFDT excepted), from the corporatist and (partly) Trotskyist federation, Force Ouvrière , to the radical left SUD in protests and strikes against the Loi Travail (Une grande partie du personnel qui attendait l’unité syndicale va se mettre en grève).
What is at stake is not only moves to make working practices more ‘flexible’ to the bosses’ advantage. It is the shape of French collective bargaining (covering up to 98% of employees). The ‘reforms’ weaken them allowing local accords and which give employers the ability to go over the heads of unions by enterprise by enterprise referendums. The CFDT is equally acting in its own interests, with, it claims, strength in the these direct company negotiations it can by-pass the CGT which prefers to reach agreements by “branche”, that is by sector.
It would not, by contrast, be unfair to point out the CGT is using the industrial strength that it has – in the sectors cited in the France 24 report. (Loi Travail : pourquoi la CGT durcit le mouvement).
Why should it not do so?
As the conflict intensifies there is a concerted attempt to link the CGT not only with claims of intimidation against non-strikers, but also with acts of violence against its opponents which Descacq echoed. Those in the Parti Socialiste who have backed the ‘reform’ – despite opposition within their own ranks – have, it is claimed, been singled out.
31 of the Governing Parti Socialiste’s offices across the country have, since December, been the target of acts of vandalism. These have mostly been minor but on Monday their Grenoble HQ was sprayed with 12 bullet shots (le Monde).
It would be extremely rash to offer any kind of judgement about the probable outcome of this conflict.
Update: The leader of the CFDT has just declared that it would be “unacceptable” to drop the ‘reform’ as that would mean losing the “new rights” which it offers.