French workers cut power as transport strike dies down

Members of the yellow vest protest movement demonstrate in Lyon. (AP pic)

PARIS: French energy workers protesting against President Emmanuel Macron’s pension reform plans cut power to Paris’ wholesale food market on Tuesday in the latest of a series of sabotage and wildcat actions as a weeks-long transport strike loses momentum.

The deliberate sabotage of power supplies underlines the determination of left-wing unions after a wave of strikes and street protests since early December failed to force Macron to back down.

The hard-left CGT union’s energy branch said it was responsible for an early-morning power outage at Rungis, the world’s largest wholesale fresh food market. The outage also briefly halted services on the Orlyval rail shuttle serving Orly, Paris’s second-busiest airport.

In the past week, members of hardline unions have also twice entered the headquarters of the moderate CFDT union – which backs the key principles of Macron’s pension reform – and cut power there and have blocked ports and refineries in a bid to force Macron’s hand.

“Blockading certain sites, disrespecting the law by entering private property, and cutting power, all this is disrespecting democracy and the law, it must be sanctioned,” Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said in parliament.

Protesters not linked to the unions have also scuffled with police at a Macron-organised investment conference near the Palace of Versailles and have tried to force their way into a theatre where Macron attended a show with his wife.

On Saturday, the La Rotonde Paris restaurant where Macron celebrated his election victory in 2017 was set on fire in an arson attack that has not been claimed.

“Some who disagree with the government are encouraging violence. Like with the yellow vest protest, the far-left and far-right are regrouping for violent political action. This is extremely dangerous for democracy,” Coralie Dubost, an MP for Macron’s LREM party, said on BFM Television.

Just over a year ago, an increasingly violent yellow vest protest movement against fuel taxes and the high cost of living culminated in a weekend of looting and rioting in Paris, where dozens of cars were burned and official buildings vandalised.

After the government offered concessions on increasing the retirement age, a public transport strike has fizzled out and trains and metros are now largely back to normal.

Philippe plans to present the pension reform plan to his cabinet on Friday and to parliament in mid-February. The plan aims to simplify and balance France’s generous pensions system, but unions say it will reduce workers’ rights.

The reform is crucial for Macron’s reform credentials and his chances for reelection in 2022.