Scuffles break out as French strike demands higher wages

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PARIS, Oct 18 (Reuters) – Dozens of protesters dressed in black clashed with police and smashed shop windows on the sidelines of a demonstration on Tuesday when several thousand people took to the streets of Paris to demand wage hikes as high inflation erodes their purchasing power.

Eleven people were arrested in Paris, the Interior Ministry said at the start of the evening, adding that 107,000 people across the country had followed the call for protest by left-wing parties and some unions, including 13,000 in the capital city. The hardline CGT union said 70,000 people took part in the march in Paris.

Regional rail traffic has been roughly halved as several unions have called for a nationwide strike, seeking to capitalize on anger over decades-high inflation to extend weeks of industrial action at oil refineries to d other economic sectors.

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“The issue of wages is the number one priority for the French,” said CGT union leader Philippe Martinez before the march. “It’s more than urgent,” he said.

“At some point, it’s no longer manageable,” said Laetitia Berthault, one of the protesters, pointing to a pay rise of just 10 euros per month from the furniture chain she works for. “I’m a single mom, two kids. We’re tightening our belts…we don’t have a choice. But it’s not easy.”

As the march grew more tense, Reuters reporters saw police charging at protesters while images of hooded and black-clad people smashing store windows were shared on social media.

STRIKES THREATEN INFRASTRUCTURE

Tuesday’s protests, promoted by opposition politicians for weeks, were small compared to those of the yellow vest movement or opposition to a rent reform during President Emmanuel Macron’s first term in office.

But coming amid a Europe-wide energy crisis, the strikes have become the president’s toughest challenge since his re-election in May.

As industrial action at oil major TotalEnergies (TTEF.PA) continues to weigh on oil supplies for a fourth week with no clear end in sight, the government faces the risk that wider walkouts could destroy more other parts of the infrastructure.

French national grid operator RTE warned on Tuesday that prolonged strikes delaying the restart of some reactors of the nuclear power group EDF (EDF.PA) could have “serious consequences” for the country’s electricity supply over the winter. next.

Union leaders hoped workers would be boosted by the government’s decision to force some of them back to work at petrol depots to try to get fuel flowing again, a move some say would jeopardize the right to strike.

But a survey by Elabe pollsters for BFM TV showed just 39% of the public backed Tuesday’s call for a nationwide strike, while 49% opposed it, and a growing number opposed the workers’ strike. oil refinery workers.

On the transport front, Eurostar announced that it was canceling some trains between London and Paris due to the strike. French public rail operator SNCF said traffic on regional routes was down 50% but national lines had not suffered any disruption.

As tensions mount in the eurozone’s second-largest economy, strikes have spread to other parts of the energy sector, including nuclear giant EDF (EDF.PA), where maintenance work crucial to Europe’s electricity supply will be delayed.

The strikes come as the government is set to pass the 2023 budget using special constitutional powers that would allow it to circumvent a vote in parliament, Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne said on Sunday.

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Additional reporting by Sudip Kar Gupta, Dominique Vidalon, Benoit van Overstraten, Myriam Rivet and Juliette Jabkhiro; Written by Ingrid Melander and Tassilo Hummel; Editing by Gerry Doyle, Emelia Sithole-Matarise, Alexandra Hudson

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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