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French strikes go into overdrive

October 19th, 2010 10 comments

Following on my post about Oct. 19 planned strikes, they are well underway across the country. You can see specials in New York Times as well as here too with pictures, BBC News, Libération, and Figaro. BBC even has Q&A about the strikes. English translations of French press commentary can be read here. BBC has pictures here.

France 24 has a travel survival guide posted as well, stating that disruptions could continue for the rest of the month. I’ll be sure to keep you informed.

Paris metro and suburban rail line updates can be found on the RATP website. At the time of this posting, metro line traffic was getting back to normal, but bus lines were still disrupted. RER trains are running 2 out of 3 for the RER A, 1 out of 2 for RER B (the Charles de Gaulle Airport line).

You can see the status of your trains in Ile de France (Paris region) for RER trains on this website. You can get more info on SNCF trains here. You can find information for other metro areas transport below, mostly in French. You can see the status of departures and arrivals in the main train stations at Gares en Mouvement website.

Aéroports de Paris (which runs Orly, Roissy Charles de Gaulle and Beauvais airports) said to expect possible delays, cancellations and other inconveniences on Oct. 19 and after. Check with your airlines, as some were asked to cancel flights.

Other major cities and their transport systems below with relevant updates:
Lyon, Grenoble, Marseille, Toulouse, Bordeaux, Strasbourg, Lille, Nice, Nantes, Rennes, Dijon, Brest, Caen, La Rochelle, Le Havre, Montpellier

You should know as well that almost 3000 gas stations at supermarkets (50% of supermarkets) are almost or completely out of fuel, as fuel depots are blocked around the country by strikers. 4000 stations are being affected by a slowdown in provisions, but François Fillon says there should be a “return to normal in the next four to five days.” Sarkozy said he will respond “with force” to get the economy back going. In the meantime, here are some tips about how to find a station.

BBC posted this info from the IEA concerning the fuel shortage:

-France, like other European countries, has at least 90 days of oil reserves
-Emergency reserves are held by oil industry and last for 30 days
-Strategic reserves are controlled by the government and last for 60 days
-The reserves are divided between crude and “oil products” – petrol, diesel and heating oil
-The reserves are held at France’s 12 refineries and 100 oil depots

It seems the participation at midday is down from last week, but it is still quite significant. President Nicolas Sarkozy and Prime Minister François Fillon are determined to pass the reform, with Sarkozy calling it his “duty”. The reform is set to be voted on by the French Sénat tomorrow. Figaro has a fantastic, detailed chart of what the reform proposes. As you will see, fonctionnaires remain the aristocracy of France, weighing on pensions even more.

In addition to transport, some schools are closed as well as the post offices. 400 high schools are blocked on strike around the country (including the one next to my apartment), with violence breaking out at some like in Nanterre. There were some quite vulgar signs and banners that I will not detail here, but one could say that the lycéens are not happy. Youth feel like raising the retirement age will be to their detriment, not only for working longer but also for leaving older people in jobs that they feel could prevent them from getting jobs. But that is only if the economy cannot diversify and produce jobs for young graduates.

Since Socialist president François Mitterrand lowered the retirement age from 65 to 60 in 1981, the unemployment rate has averaged 9.5% from 1983 to 2010, based on many factors including especially rigid labor laws that make it costly for companies to hire (payroll taxes can reach almost 50%, so that for an employee making 2000 euros/month, the company is paying about 4000 euros). So while I understand the worries of students who want to secure a job after their studies, I certainly do not think raising the retirement age will take away their jobs. How many 20 year-olds take jobs that 60 year-olds take, anyway?

What France needs is to raise the retirement age, and 62 is a reasonable level to start with (it will go higher after), and it needs to encourage private industry, venture capital, entrepreneurship and reduce costs for companies to give them incentives to hire. There is a traditionally anti-business sentiment in France, akin to the anti-government feelings in the US. But I think in the past couple years our countries have started to bridge that gap slowly – but there remains undeniable cultural disparity.

A couple of interesting polls give insight into the situation. The first one asks “Do you think the strikes and protests are beginning to lose steam?”, and over 58% said yes, but this was conducted by the Figaro, which is center-right. The second one, still by Figaro, asks if the government should use force to gain access to fuel depots that are blocked. The result? An overwhelming 80% said yes. Indeed, Sarkozy said that he would do this, because the economy is being hit by these strikes

Figaro TV news is at the bottom of this posting to give you an inside look at the violence between youth and police. I’ll update this week as we go along. Good luck!

This just in: French strikes planned for Oct. 19, fuel supply to Paris airports cut

October 15th, 2010 1 comment

Wow, French unions are calling for yet another “day of action”, this time for Tuesday Oct. 19. This will combine public transport strikes and high school closings, as well as a continuation of the blockade of oil refineries that is threatening to cut supply in the country.

The French government is being urged by oil representatives to open up the emergency supply of provisions, as they state there are only 10 days worth of stock left. All of 12 French refineries have been either shut down or blockaded by protesting workers, leading to this situation, but riot police have successfully intervened and reopened 4 refineries. However, the fuel supply to the 2 main airports in Paris, Orly and Charles de Gaulle, has been cut. Consequently, CDG could run out of fuel by next week, whereas estimates on stock for Orly are for another 17 days. See article below for more information. You can also look at the Paris airports website for information. Check with your airline companies too.

As BBC notes in this insightful report, President Nicolas Sarkozy is facing record low approval ratings, but he has insisted that his government will not cede in the midst of opposition to pension reform. Meanwhile Socialist Party leader Martine Aubry and others from the left are calling for renegotiations, but the left remains split between those who would be willing to raise the age to 62 amid concessions and those who do not want to negotiate. The President of UMP (Sarkozy’s center-right party) in the Sénat, Gérard Longuet, has called out the Socialists as hyocrites for suggesting retirement age 60 because people would not be able to get full pension.

The UMP’s youth and student arm is trying to reach out to high schoolers in the midst of strikes and protests to inform them about the retirement reform; you will see many students protesting, but dig deeper and often they are not that informed.

Stay tuned. I will update my blog on Oct. 18 with pertinent transport info for the country. Meanwhile, watch out for disgruntled strikes tomorrow (Saturday Oct 16) as protests are planned for around the country as well that day. Hang in there!

Fuel supplies to Paris’ main airports through a major pipeline have been cut off amid strikes over pension reforms.

“The company that operates the pipeline told French media that the capital’s main airport, Charles de Gaulle, could run out of fuel as early as next week. There are fears of fuel shortages as all of France’s 12 oil refineries have been hit by strikes, and many oil depots remain blockaded.

Unions are opposed to government plans to raise the retirement age. Trapil, the firm that operates the pipeline to Paris’ airports, said supplies had been cut off on Friday.

A company spokesman told AFP news agency: “Orly airport has stocks for 17 days, and Roissy [Charles de Gaulle] for at least the weekend.”

In recent days government officials have tried to play down fears of petrol shortages, insisting that France has enough to see out the industrial action.However, panic buying has broken out in some areas, putting supplies under greater strain.

Earlier in Friday, riot police reopened oil deports that had been blockaded in Fos-sur-Mer in the south; Cournon in central France; and Lespinasse and Bassens in the south-west, AFP reported. French Junior Transport Minister Dominique Bussereau told reporters: “We cannot afford petrol shortages. One must bear in mind those of us who need transport.”

However, new blockades were set up at least five other fuel depots.

On Thursday, France’s petrol distributors urged the government to release emergency fuel stocks, warning that only 10 days’ fuel was left. Demand at petrol pumps has surged by 50% in the past two days.

In the port of Marseille, more than 70 ships carrying crude for refining are stranded as dockers continue their rolling strike.The protests erupted after centre-right President Nicolas Sarkozy announced plans to raise the minimum retirement age from 60 to 62, and from 65 to 67 for a full state pension.

More than a million people took to the streets in the latest national protest on Tuesday. France’s main unions have since stepped up their action, calling for the fifth in a series of strikes and street protests on 19 October. Students, who joined Tuesday’s demonstrations in large numbers, held further protests on Friday. More than 300 secondary schools across France – about one in 15 – remain affected by strikes and blockades.

French reform likely to pass despite threat of ongoing strikes

September 24th, 2010 No comments

In the wake of the second round of strikes on Sep. 23 after Sep. 7, unions are calling for continued protest against French government plans to raise the retirement age from 60 to 62, and 65 to 67 for full pension access, among other details in a large, long-overdue reform of the retirement and pension system.

Labor Minister Eric Woerth said that the strike movement was not as big on Sep. 23 and was in effect waning. Of course there was much divergence on analysis of participation, between 1 and 3 million protesting (from police estimates to union estimates). This is often the case.

As the reform text will most likely be passed in the Senate Oct. 5, after having already been approved by the Assemblée Nationale, most French people realize that these protests will not change the government’s core policy proposals. In a Figaro poll, nearly 85% of people out of more than 31,000 said that the “retirement reform would come to fruition despite the strikes and protests”.

But the left is not backing down and Socialist Party head and Lille mayor Martine Aubry has vowed that if the Socialists win the presidency in 2012, they will bring retirement back to 60. For now, the unions are speaking about October strikes possibly affecting weekend traffic. They do not want to give up just yet.

We’ll see how this plays out. In the event of continued strikes, stay tuned to American Expat in France.

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