French labour and student unions have pledged to continue blocking fuel depots and staging protests a day after the Senate approved a controversial bill to reform the country's pension system.
A final Senate vote and the start of school holidays on Saturday were unlikely to end the battle over pension reform in France as angry unions began a legal tug-of-war with the government and announced a new wave of strikes and protests starting next week.
Senators on Friday passed unpopular legislation to raise the retirement age by 177 votes to 153, after the government used a special measure to speed up the voting process. The bill now moves on to a joint parliamentary commission, which is expected to rubber stamp changes from the original text on Oct. 27, before final approval by the Constitutional Council, France's highest constitutional authority.
As families prepared for two weeks of school holidays, French Transport Minister Dominique Bussereau told radio Europe 1 that holiday travellers would not face disruptions on the country’s motorways. Work stoppages at oil refineries and blockades of fuel depots have caused shortages in petrol stations across France in recent days.
A spokesman for the CGT union, France's largest, said that work at all 12 of the country's oil refineries was frozen on Saturday morning.
The right to strike
The blockade of fuel depots has become a major bone of contention between the government and the unions opposing plans to increase the number of years people must work to collect a full pension.
On Friday, a court in Melun stepped into an escalating row over the blockade of the Grandpuits depot near Paris after riot police were sent in to dislodge strikers who were preventing deliveries of fuel.
The court overturned the order by the local prefect to forcefully reopen the depot, in which at least three people were injured in scuffles with police, according to union representatives. The court agreed with strikers that the “requisition”, as the order is called, went against their legal right to strike.
In an unusual move, the same prefect issued a second requisition order late on Friday. A final judgment in the Grandpuits depot case could set a precedent for the dozens of fuel depots that have been sealed off by protesters across France.
Another week of industrial action
While the Senate’s approval of the pension reform bill came as no surprise, the decision to cut short the debate has sparked anger among the bill's opponents.
French unions have called for fresh strikes on October 28 and November 6, which are expected to further disrupt France's transport network. The UNEF student union has announced a separate day of nationwide action as early as Tuesday.
“We want these days of strikes and demonstrations to be huge,” Nadine Prigent of the CGT union told FRANCE 24. “What we are saying to workers is that we can still stop these reforms.”
CGT union leader Bernard Thibault told RMC Radio on Thursday: “There is no reason at all to stop. There is no other alternative while the government remains intransigent.”
While as many as 63% of French surveyed in recent days said they opposed the government's reform plans, a new survey on Saturday by the right-leaning newspaper Le Figaro said 56% of people wanted the strikes and protests to end once parliament voted the bill into law. Forty-three percent said they wanted the protests to continue.
Date created : 2010-10-23