France engulfed in strikes, protests over labour reform
Tens of thousands of demonstrators took to the streets of France yesterday for a one-day nationwide strike protesting a government labour reform proposal that would make it easier for employers to hire and fire workers and weakens the power of unions.
Several thousand people shouting anti-government slogans marched largely peacefully through Paris yesterday, demanding that the government reverse the labour bill. Government sources said nine people were detained for property damage and police encountered some minor violence by protesters.
The situation has been particularly tense in the French port city of Le Havre, where workers are blocking one of the country’s main oil terminals. Thousands of dock workers poured into the square in front of city hall yesterday, setting off smoke bombs throughout the area.
Meanwhile, at least 11 of France’s 58 nuclear power plants were hit with unplanned outages when workers joined the strikes.
Trade union members were seen slowing traffic at the Gravelines Nuclear Power Station, handing out leaflets and encouraging drivers to join the strike.
The Gravelines facility is the sixth largest nuclear plant in the world, the second largest in Europe and the largest in Western Europe. As union activists disrupted fuel supplies, trains and nuclear plants around the country, French Transport Minister, Alain Vidalies, played down concerns that strikes would lead to blackouts, saying France could import electricity if needed.
French Prime Minister Manuel Valls suggested possible “changes” or “improvements” to the labour bill that has sparked intensifying strikes and protests, but insisted the government will not abandon it.