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General strike over wage increase paralyzes France and surprises government

Accumulated inflation is 6.2% – the highest in decades – which led the union movement to demand wage increases for

Editor’s Note: This article comes to us from the CTB Union in Brazil, the article was written by André Cintra and was first published in the Brazilian publication Vermelho

Workers stopped in France on Tuesday (18), amid a historic 24-hour general strike against soaring prices. In the last 12 months, accumulated inflation is 6.2% – the highest in decades –, which led the union movement to demand salary increases. For 82% of the population, the Emmanuel Macron government failed to fight inflation.

The French also sympathize with workers at four TotalEnergies refineries who went on strike on September 27. The giants of the sector register growing revenues. In the first half, the French company Total earned US$ 10 billion (R$ 53 billion), and the North American Esso-Exxon-Mobil, US$ 18 billion (R$ 96 billion).

These gains, however, were in no way reverted to the workers. Macron, instead of listening to the demands and negotiating with the oil workers, sided with the multinationals, trying – in vain – to criminalize and stifle the movement. Depots and refineries remain blocked, while long lines form at gas stations.

With the government’s intransigence, adhesion to the general strike was widespread in the public sector and in the private sector. According to the CGT (General Confederation of Labor), “workers in the agri-food sectors, public transport, energy (including nuclear power plants), education, health, commerce and metallurgy”, among other categories, stopped. The circulation of buses, trams (light rail vehicles), subway and trains was affected.

 “We ask for a minimum wage of €2,000 (US$1,970 or even R$10,440), which is equivalent to a raise of €300 (US$295),” said Philippe Martinez, secretary general of the CGT. The unionists have the support of the student movement. Even the far-right Marine Le Pen, a former presidential candidate, took advantage of the chaos to criticize the government.

Macron bet that the fuel shortage would be an asset to play the population against the strikers. That’s not what happened. The success of the 24-hour strike surprised the president, who is trying to make a nefarious pension reform possible for 2023. One of the objectives of the measure is to raise the minimum age for retirement from 62 to 65 years – which was rejected by all union centrals.

In the view of  Le Monde , one of the most prestigious daily newspapers in France, this will be “a week of fire for the government”. Re-elected president in May, Macron has seen his popularity plummet as social tensions escalate. In order to pass the 2023 budget, the government must resort to special constitutional powers, as it risks suffering defeats in parliament.

German news agency  Deutsche Welle  sees the general strike as a sign of a wave of protests across the eurozone, where inflation is higher than in France. “Similar demonstrations have been taking place across Europe in recent months – the main target is the impact of inflation,” points out  DW .

According to the agency, “thousands protested in Prague twice last month, especially against the rise in prices. Airline workers have gone on strike in countries such as Germany and Sweden, as have railway workers in the UK, who have demanded that their wages keep up with the rising cost of living.” The working class rises in France and on the Old Continent.

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