Paris police brace for Sunday protests over cost of living, fuel strikes

OCT 16, 2022 LISTEN

Nearly three weeks into a strike that has forced filling stations across France to close, police in Paris are preparing for protests Sunday against soaring living costs.

Left-wing opponents of President Emmanuel Macron's administration have organised the demonstration for this Sunday, which they say is also in protest against government inaction over climate change.

Jean-Luc Mélenchon, firebrand leader of the left-wing France Unbowed (LFI) party, had planned the march well before the current strike, but organisers are hoping to pick up some of the momentum from the current industrial unrest.

According to LFI deputy Manon Aubry, "The rise in prices is unbearable. It is the greatest loss of purchasing power in 40 years."

It is time the billions that the big companies were reaping in profits were passed down to those struggling to make ends meet, she added.

Police are expecting around 30,000 people to attend the march – which will begin at Place de la Nation at 14h00 local time – with one source saying they feared problems from hard-left "troublemakers". 

More demonstrations ahead

The dispute at French refineries and fuel depots has forced many filling stations to close and has had a knock-on effect across all sectors of France's economy.

Four of France's seven refineries and one fuel depot are still out of action after striking members of the hard-left CGT union rejected a pay offer from the hydrocarbon industry leader that other unions accepted.

They remain furious that Macron's government used requisitioning powers this week to force some strikers back to open fuel depots, a move that has so far been upheld by the courts.

But the union risks stoking resentment in a country where three-quarters of workers rely on personal vehicles for their jobs. One poll by released on Friday, suggested that public support for the strike was at just 37 percent.

The militant CGT union is pushing for a 10-percent pay rise for staff at TotalEnergies, backdated to the beginning of the year.

The union has extended its strike action until at least Tuesday, when it has also called for a broader general strike involving public transport nationwide.

Government calls blockades 'unacceptable'

Meanwhile, Public Accounts Minister Gabriel Attal said on Sunday that the continuation of blockades at French refineries was "unacceptable" even though agreements have been reached regarding wage increases.

"It's not a question of the right to strike, but at some point the country has to be able to function," Attal said on French television.

"What is certain," Attal added laconically, "is that you have some trade unions who give the impression of they are acting in the interests of millions of French people."