Like the petrol, Parisians' patience for strikes runs dry

Like the petrol, Parisians' patience for strikes runs dry

27th May 2016, Comments 0 comments

French estate agent Benjamin Pastor finally found a filling station that had not run out of petrol on Thursday after four others turned him away.

Like many other Parisians, his sympathy is in short supply for a three-month-long campaign by unions against the government's hotly contested labour reform.

"Absolutely not," Pastor told AFP when asked if he supported the rolling transport strikes and hardline industrial action that has hobbled or shut six of France's eight oil refineries.

Also in the queue for petrol at Porte Maillot in the capital, pensioner Genevieve de Maud'huy marvelled at France's capacity for industrial action.

"The French have an odd habit of supporting strikes," she said.

But she had harsh words for hardline union CGT, which has spearheaded the refinery blockades.

"The CGT presents itself as representing the people, but they are only three percent of the workforce."

The far-left union has 700,000 members out of an overall working population of 24 million.

Entrepreneur Hubert Brosson, 43, agreed, saying: "You're not legitimate if you don't represent the people."

"We are suffering the collateral damage," said Carine Zarkout, 21, an engineering student whose hour-long commute to central Paris has been made a nightmare by the strikes.

"Lots of people... are losing money every day," she said at an upscale market in the affluent west of the city.

A recent poll found that seven out of 10 people still oppose the labour reforms, which critics say are weighted in favour of employers and encroach on cherished workers' rights.

But Pastor, 34, who depends on his car for his work, disputed the survey, saying: "I don't know who is being polled. If they call people's homes, it's people who are either unemployed or who aren't affected" by the reforms.

- 'Poor France' -

"Poor France", sighed Isabelle Slove, buying tomatoes at the market.

Employers "must be able to hire and fire," she said, backing the reform. "We need fluidity, to open the job market."

Key parts of the legislation would let companies set their own working conditions for new employees, allowing managers to cut jobs during hard times and go beyond the 35-hour work week introduced in 2000.

CGT chief Philippe Martinez dug in his heels on Friday, accusing the government of "generating a climate of hatred" and warning that the strikes would continue indefinitely "if nothing changes".

The vendor, 51-year-old Portuguese immigrant Eduardo Fernandes, agreed with Slove, saying: "If you have a problem with the boss you should talk to him directly."

Fernandes, who commutes in from a northern suburb, said the strikes had made him late for work several times.

"There must be other ways to defend your (workers' rights) without paralysing a country," he said.

Nearby, snack bar owner Guillaume Bouvelot said his turnover had suffered since the protest actions began in early March.

"It's not good for business. I support helping people but not people who do nothing," he said.

Bosses must be able to "let people go without fear of labour tribunals," he added. "They have to lighten the load on businesses."

Hotels and restaurants on Friday reported a plunge in reservations for the weekend, with a dip of 20 percent in western France and 15 to 25 percent in Paris.

These come on the heels of a significant drop in business since the jihadist attacks on Paris in November, noted Laurent Duc of the hotel industry federation UMIH.

At least some people are taking the fuel shortages in stride.

Bouvelot said a group of bikers who stopped in the other day found some humour in the situation, saying they were in "Mad Max mode", referring to the film about a post-apocalyptic world in which people fight for petrol.

© 2016 AFP

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