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Cops and Protesters Clash in Paris as Strike Shuts Down France’s Nuclear Plants

Unions and much of the public fear a proposed labor reform law — which is designed to revive France's stagnant job market — will rob workers of hard-earned rights.

by VICE News
May 26 2016, 7:50pm

Trade unionists block the entrance of the Nogent Nuclear Power Plant with burning objects to protest against the French labor reform law, in Nogent sur Seine, France, 26 May 2016. (Christophe Petit Tesson/EPA)

Nuclear power plants in France joined the nationwide industrial action this week, as protests against a controversial labor reform law escalated into more violence.

A spokesperson for French trade union CGT told AFP that 19 refineries had voted to join the strike. At the Gravelines nuclear power station, in the north of France, disgruntled employees burned tires in the road and handed out anti-reform law flyers. Workers also picketed outside the Tricastin nuclear site, in the south of France. Even though production has slowed down, officials were not anticipating any power outages as a result of the industrial action. According to AFP, ten nuclear power stations reported lowered production Thursday.

Earlier in the week, workers went on strike in the country's oil refineries, triggering a huge fuel shortage. Five of the country's eight refineries reported slowed down or stalled production Thursday, as reports came in that workers on the French island of Corsica had joined the movement. According to French daily Le Figaro, picketers and members of the CGT barred access to the island's two oil depots. On Wednesday, the government started dipping into its emergency fuel reserves, using up three of the country's 115 days of strategic gas reserves.

According to the French Oil Industry Union (UFIP), one fifth of the country's 11,500 gas stations were experiencing full or partial fuel shortage. Earlier this week, worried drivers rushed to gas stations to fill up their vehicles, which, according to Les Echos, only made the fuel crisis worse.


Dock workers also joined the movement this week, with industrial action expected in "most [French] ports," reported Les Échos. Speaking Wednesday to a reporter from French daily Le Monde, the general secretary of the local CGT branch in Brest said that, "workers want laws that protect them."

Unions and much of the public fear the proposed law — which is designed to revive France's stagnant job market — will rob workers of hard-earned rights.

But despite union and public anger, Prime Minister Manuel Valls said the government intended to stand firm on the reforms. He did, however, concede that some articles might be "improved." Speaking Thursday on LCP — a television network that broadcasts news about the French parliament — Finance Minister Michel Sapin conceded that Article 2 "might have to be altered."

Article 2 — which Valls described as being "at the heart of the philosphy" behind the proposed law — is one of the bill's most contested articles. Critics say the article hurts workers by giving companies more power when it comes to determining things like work hours and time off.

Meanwhile, street protests against the bill have become more and more violent. In Lyon, where between 3,000 (according to the police) and 9,000 people (according to organizers) took to the streets, police used teargas to disperse protesters. According to the police, between 18,000 and 19,000 marched in Paris — a figure disputed by the Workers' Force union (Force Ouvrière — FO), which counted 100,000 demonstrators.

According to AFP, protesters in Paris threw glass bottles at police officers, who responded with teargas. Reports also emerged of protesters being hurt by stun grenades.

According to a survey by French pollster Ifop, 62 percent of the French believe the protests against the labor reform are justified.

Additional reporting by Solenn Sugier.