Oil refineries across France were blockaded Tuesday by workers taking part in a 1-million-strong protest against government plans to raise the retirement age.
Mass strikes also left thousands without electricity and disrupted schools, airports and trains as the country’s biggest union CGT urged people to “bring France to a halt.” Police said an estimated 1.28 million people took part in the protests across France, including 81,000 in Paris.
The capital bore the brunt of the strikes, with most lines on the metro running only at the busiest times, according to the city’s transport agency RATP. The main education trade union FSU said Sunday that 120 schools would close for the day and 60% of primary school teachers would be on strike in the French capital.
France’s civil aviation authority, meanwhile, asked airlines to reduce scheduled flights by 20% and 30% at Charles de Gaulle and Orly airports in Paris respectively. Air France said about 20% of short-haul flights would be canceled, but long-haul services would be maintained. The airline cautioned, however, that “last-minute delays and cancellations cannot be ruled out.”
EasyJet and British Airways also canceled flights.
National railway operator SNCF said very few regional trains would operate and that four out of five trains on the TGV, France’s intercity high-speed rail service, would be canceled. Services will remain “heavily disrupted” Wednesday, it added.
Cancellations are already affecting Eurostar trains connecting major European capitals, including between London and Paris, and London and Amsterdam, with disruption due to extend into Wednesday.
Fuel deliveries to gas stations could also be affected. Eric Sellini of CGT-Chimie, the main oil industry union, told CNN that workers were preventing shipments from leaving oil refineries across the country. At some refineries the blockade will continue until the end of the week, Sellini said.
Total (TOT)Energies confirmed that shipments from its refineries were blocked Tuesday, but said stocks at gas stations were at high levels. “Our teams are mobilized to meet a demand that could be stronger than usual and we have additional logistical resources if necessary,” the company said in a statement.
More than 40% of workers at French energy company EDF were on strike Tuesday, according to a spokesperson.
Another energy supplier, Enedis, said up to 4,000 clients in Boulogne-sur-mer in northern France lost electricity Tuesday morning. The company blamed the power cuts on striking union workers.
In Charleville, also in the north of France, some 1,100 households and business were left without natural gas for much of Tuesday, energy union official Nadège Guth told local newspaper L’Ardennais in a video interview, adding that clients would be reconnected starting in the evening.
Strikes ‘moving up a gear’
France has endured a series of strikes this year, as workers rail against President Emmanuel Macron’s planned pension reforms. The reforms will gradually increase the age at which most French citizens can draw a state pension to 64, from 62.
The unions behind Tuesday’s protests called for a seventh day of action on March 11.
“To this day, these enormous mobilizations, driven by a united group of unions, has received no response from the government. This cannot last. The silence of the president constitutes a serious problem of democracy,” the unions said at a joint press conference.
More than 1 million people also took part in demonstrations on January 19, which brought the country to a standstill and shuttered the Eiffel Tower to visitors.
The government has said the pension legislation is necessary to tackle a funding deficit, but the reforms have angered workers at a time when living costs are rising.
Government minister Gabriel Attal denounced some protesters for calling for the French economy to be brought “to its knees.”
“We have always listened to those who opposed this reform in a democratic framework,” he said in the Senate.
The legislation is currently before French lawmakers, with a vote on the final version of the text expected later this month.