News

A Rogue French Labor Union Just Shut Off the Power in Paris

France's massive transport strike is mostly over, but some members of a Paris union are not going quietly.
21 January 2020, 6:00pm
france strike unions power outage
Sipa via AP Images

This article originally appeared on VICE US.

Just one day after the end of the longest transport strike in the history of France, local members of one of France’s famously militant unions kept their fight with President Emmanuel Macron going in a big way: by cutting power to thousands of people in Paris’ southern suburbs.

According to Le Parisien, the power grid workers' action affected 11 suburbs to the south of Paris between 5:30 and 8 a.m. Tuesday morning. A local leader of the General Confederation of Labor (CGT) union, Franck Juanno, told the Associated Press that the area was targeted in the “symbolic” action because it contains one of the “economic lungs of Europe.”

As the AP notes, the affected areas included the Paris Orly Airport, for which train service was shut down during the outage, and Rungis Market, the world's largest food market.

The action comes as most workers returned to work on Monday after a grueling six-week strike over Macron’s proposed reforms to the pension system. On December 5, as Macron’s government proposed raising the retirement age and consolidating the country’s dozens of pension systems into one universal standard, a general strike was launched against the government.

The general strike stretched into the new year and the transport strike became the longest in national history, heavily affecting public transportation in the nation’s capital and elsewhere and forcing Parisians onto bikes and into cars. Despite that, the strikes remained popular — a poll published earlier this month found 61 percent support.

Earlier this month, the French government backed down on raising the retirement age and has agreed to make several other concessions to the unions. In an interview with the New York Times, CGT leader Phillipe Martinez said that it’s “thanks to the mobilizations” that the government made these concessions.

Over the weekend, dozens of protesters attempted to enter a Paris theater where Macron and his wife were watching a play, and the following day police arrested nearly 60 people at a Yellow Vest protest in Paris.

But by Monday, public transportation in Paris had mostly returned to normal. Though unions were divided on how to proceed, most had called an end to the strike. According to the Guardian, the leader of the Unsa-RAPT union, which is one of several unions that represent Paris metro workers, said that workers needed to “get their breath back and recharge their batteries” after such a long, sustained action. But, they said, there was still a need for “another form of action.”

The rogue action by the CGT local on Tuesday indicated that the unions aren’t finished with Macron, whose approval rating has largely remained in the toilet over the past few years.

Juanno, the local CGT leader, admitted that the power cut wasn’t ideal. “It bothers me,” he said, speaking to a French broadcaster. “But unfortunately there is always an impact, and a power cut isn’t the end of the world.”

Cover: National demonstration with the unions CGT, FO, SOLIDAIRES, FSU, railway workers SNCF and staff of RATP, teachers, against the pensions reform of Emmanuel Macron government, on January 16, 2020 in Paris from Montparnasse to Place d'Italie. Paris, FRANCE - 16/01/2020 (Sipa via AP Images)