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Power cuts, railtrack occupations, mass pickets as French unions fight labour reform

Railworkers demonstrate outside the bosses' union Medef HQ at Lyon on Wednesday
Railworkers demonstrate outside the bosses' union Medef HQ at Lyon on Wednesday AFP

Trade unionists fighting the French government's labour reform, as well as sectoral disputes, targeted refuse incinerators, railway stations and power supply on Thursday as 16 of France's 19 nuclear power stations were on strike. Protesters picketed the company of bosses' union chief Pierre Gattaz in protest at his description of strikers as "terrorists" in an interview.

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As strikes on the railway and in the power sector continued and floods hit parts of the country, protesters hit targets for flash protest Thursday:

  • Power was cut off to 125,000 homes in Saint-Nazaire in western France on Thursday morning as strikers took over a high-voltage substation;

  • Consumers in the Paris region may have preferred the unions' action there - 1,100,000 subscribers were charged at lower rates;

  • Rail strikers occupied a signal box at Paris's Gare de Lyon, stopping departures for about an hour, and sat on the rails at the Channel port of Caen for thre-quarters of an hour;

  • Refuse collectors staged mass pickets at three out of four of the Paris region's incinerators, one having been hit by strike action since Monday;

  • Mass pickets and selective blockades took place at various sites, including power stations, rail stations, the Saint-Nazaire shipyard and the Renault factory near Rouen, with eight police officers reported slightly injured while clearing a picket at Toulouse in the south-west;

  • Several thousand people demonstrated at a factory in Lyon as Economy Minister Emmanuel Macron visited it;

  • About 100 occupied the local headquarters of bosses' union Medef in Aude in the south of France and others briefly blocked entrance to the company owned by Medef chief Gattaz;

  • Rallies against the labour reform bill took place in a number of provincial cities, ahead of a national demonstration in Paris on 14 June;

  • A strike on the Paris metro had little effect but the national rail strike continued, with the SNCF rail company saying that 15 percent of staff were taking part;

  • An air traffic controllers' strike scheduled for three days starting Friday was called off after employers promised not to cut jobs, although Air France pilots may strike for their own demands on 11 June.

The war of words continued, too.

Gattaz issued a statement saying that his use of the word "terrorist" had been "misunderstood" and admitting that it "could shock", while going on to slam the "thuggish methods used by the CGT", the main trade union leading the protests.

CGT leader Philippe Martinez insisted that he and his allies were ready to talk to the government and that they had no intention of disrupting the Euro 2016 football tournament, due to start in eight days' time.

Labour Minister Myriam El Khomri said that "my door has always remained open", while calling on the union to "create a spirit of discussion".

But scrapping the law "is not an option", she went on.

Prime Minister Manuel Valls decried the "waste" caused by the protests.

"This conflict is weighing on our economy at a time when the actions of the government are allowing a recovery, growth and a fall in unemployment," he told parliament on Wednesday.

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