When the NUPES coalition emerged as the second parliamentary force under the leader Jean-Luc Mélenchon, the party activists were sure that this left-wing coalition would encourage the workers across France to go on strikes and fight against pushing the crisis on the back of the working class. Now thanks to the strike of Total and ExxonMobil workers fuel shortages currently affect nearly two out of three French citizens. Faced with the situation, 79% of respondents consider that Emmanuel Macron and the government are not up to it.The trust towards the neoliberal-far right government, never particularly high, is sinking. 

A survey conducted on October 12 shows that for 21% of people questioned it is impossible to find gasoline at the moment, 43% say they have trouble finding gasoline, while 36% say they are not affected by the shortages. What’s more, surveys show that the most affected citizens are residents of the northeastern district (80% cannot or have difficulty finding gasoline) and the southeast (70%).

“The effect of strikes really depends on the region. For instance, in the Hauts-de-France, the shortages at the stations were so massive that some people couldn’t go to work. On the media and social networks, videos of people arguing more or less violently abound. Scams and trafficking flourish in a relatively isolated way. Even though the government said there would be no shortages, they did happen”

– says Maxence Guillaud, student from Lille, militant of Jeunes Communistes de Nord. 

42 percent of the population support the strike, while 40% of those questioned are rather against.

In the eyes of the French, the shortage is primarily caused by the behaviour of some motorists. In the second place, they point out striking employees, the management of oil groups and the government. With the exception of Emmanuel Macron’s voters, the criticism is widely shared among all categories of the population and other electorates. However, this support rate is lower than during most mass mobilizations measured in recent years. For example, the emergency room staff protest had 88% support in 2019. 

As a result, faced with shortages at a number of gas stations, 51% of French people believe that the government should requisition striking employees to ensure the supply of gas stations. On the other hand, 48% of the people questioned consider that the right to strike should be respected. It seems that the fact that oil shortages hit more than 60% of Frenchmen, creates this difference.

But what is it about? Not only a very nice gift for Mother Earth, in times when some people prefer attacking art, rather than organise the working class in the unions. 

The CGT union called on TotalEnergies employees in France to go on strike starting Tuesday, September 27, demanding a pay raise, a hiring freeze and a massive investment plan. Employees of TotalEnergies in France have started a strike for at least three days to demand, among other things, an increase in their salaries, on the call of the CGT, threatening to block the supply of fuel to service stations.

“We are calling for no products to be taken out of refineries and petrochemicals, where the CGT is based,”

– said Benjamin Tange, CGT central union delegate for TotalEnergies’ petrochemicals refinery in France, in his announcement. 

Among the main sites concerned are the La Mède biorefinery (Bouches-du-Rhône), the Normandy refinery in Le Havre, Donges (Loire-Atlantique), Carling (Moselle), Feyzin (Rhône) and Oudalle (Seine-Maritime), as well as the fuel depots in Grandpuits (Seine-et-Marne) and Flandres (Nord).

In addition to an “immediate wage increase of 10% for the year 2022”, the CGT is demanding the “unfreezing of hiring” in France and “a massive investment plan” in France, Tange asses. He noted these claims had already been the cause of movements on June 24 and July 28.

TotalEnergies employs 35,000 people in France, including its subsidiaries.

Some of the employees receive “extremely low salaries and there is a need to raise them to the level of what the group earns in profits,” said the union leader.

He hopes “a very strong mobilisation” to continue to influence the following days. In addition to disruptions in the supply of fuel stations, he estimated that the production of refineries could experience a decrease in output of 20 to 30%, in case of strong mobilisation. And the effects of that we can witness right now. 

The strike of TotalEnergies workers was at some point joined by the workers of Esso-ExxonMobil, but it failed from the point of view of some strikers. In a reportage from the picket line in the Esso-ExxonMobil’s Normandy refinery in Port-Jérôme-sur-Seine, published in the Reporterre we can read:

“On Tuesday, October 11, the picket line was held here, bringing together mainly ExxonMobil and Total Energies refiners, but also some employees of the Chevron group and Hutchinson, a subsidiary of Total Energies. About 50 strikers are present. They gathered to “get out of the company and show the strength of united workers. Exxon, Total, they are the same boxes, the same problems of wages and maintenance,” said Alexis Antonioli, General Secretary of the CGT TotalEnergies. Two deputies of La France Insoumise (LFI) are also present at the rally: Thomas Portes, elected representative of Seine-Saint-Denis, and Alma Dufour, elected representative of the 4th district of Seine-Maritime”.

For the employees of the two oil giants, what lit the fuse is inflation. The strikers are demanding that wages be reindexed to inflation. They are demanding a 7.5% increase at ExxonMobil and as we said 10% at Total Energy. The core of the protest is that management first proposed an increase of only 4% for next year, while inflation is already 7% in 2022. 

But ExxonMobil’s attempt to disunite the workers succeeded. The proposal was about “a 6.5% salary package in 2023 accompanied by a value-sharing bonus of 3,000”, as it stated in a press release on 10 October. The majority CFDT and CFE-CGC unions have signed this new wage agreement. Now CGT trade unionists are trying other ways of improving their purchasing power. 

In the Reporterre we can read: “Looking weary behind his rectangular glasses, Germinal Lancelin does not hide his disappointment: “It’s over, the agreement is blocked, so now we’re trying to find other solutions to improve the purchasing power of employees. For example, we have asked the local management for a bonus. In light of this, how can we digest the statements made by the management of TotalEnergies and ExxonMobil in their respective press releases (ExxonMobil, TotalEnergies) that the average salary of a refiner is 4,300 euros at ExxonMobil and 5,000 euros at TotalEnergies?”

What will be the bigger picture of the strike in the upcoming weeks?

“Refinery workers were originally on strike to demand higher wages to counter the effects of inflation. Of course, and as with every social movement, implicit reasons exist. The pension reform that will soon be put back on the table is on everyone’s mind, as is the energy crisis. As the movement expands, so do the claims. A comprehensive struggle against the government and its liberal policies is in order”

– replies Maxence Guillaud.

What’s more, the workers from TotalEnergies  will also soon be joined by workers from other key sectors. A note from territorial intelligence indicates that dockers, port agents, railway workers or agents of nuclear power plants and the automotive sector are likely to join the strike. And this is for good reasons, a general strike movement was announced for Tuesday, initiated by the CGT, and soon joined by other unions, such as FO, Solidaires, the FSU, or other student organisations – he adds. 

The CGT called a general strike for Tuesday 18, and was joined by many trade unions. In the longer term, we hope to see a movement of magnitude that will continue. Apart from that, many local strikes are underway, especially in transport. We will try to cover them in the upcoming days. 

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