‘It’s not a crime’: French unions threaten more power cuts after huge Paris blackout

A huge power cut in Paris that left businesses in the dark and residents stuck in lifts was just the latest of over 100 militant acts by workers fighting the French government's pension reform. And there may be more to come if the words of union chiefs are anything to go by.

'It's not a crime': French unions threaten more power cuts after huge Paris blackout
The CGT union has claimed responsibility for the power outage. Photo: AFP

In all France's electricity providers have lodged over 100 formal complaints linked to “malicious” power cuts since the start of the strike movement against pension reform.

But there may be more to come as the more radical of France's trade unions become more militant in their battle against the government.

“It's not criminal,” (ce n'est pas de delinquance) said CGT union chief Philippe Martinez on Wednesday.

When asked on BFM TV if he would urge those militant workers who have been cutting power to residents and businesses to stop Martinez said “no”.

Instead he said he would ask the French government to stop “provoking” and “stigmatising” strikers.

The latest in a string of power cuts orchestrated by workers protesting over planned pension reform in France saw thousands of businesses and homes south of Paris have their electricity cut off on Tuesday.

“The goal is to take things up a notch” ahead of the government's formal presentation of the pension reform on Friday, said Sebastien Menesplier, secretary general of the hardline CGT union's energy branch.

French officials have denounced the cuts which have affected thousands of homes across France since mid-December, warning that they could have dangerous consequences for ordinary citizens.

Grid operator Enedis said Tuesday's outages were reported at around 6am and affected several suburbs south of the capital as well as Orly airport and the sprawling food and produce market at Rungis, a key source for retailers and restaurants.

READ ALSO OPINION: France's winter of discontent may become a long, troubled and violent spring

Technicians were able to restore power after two hours, and Enedis said it would file suit for the “malicious acts.”

“We take responsibility for the cuts and their consequences, including any complaints by Enedis management,” Menesplier said.

His union also says it is blocking seven of the 11 equipment warehouses used by Enedis and natural gas network operator GRDF, preventing them from dispatching material to work sites.

The CGT has also warned it could begin limiting output at nuclear power plants and other sites as part of its efforts to force the government to abandon the pensions overhaul.

The union has claimed responsibility for a series of power cuts around France in late December and early January. Thousands of homes and businesses in Lyon, Bordeaux and Perpignan were cut off, and several rugby games had to be temporarily halted after power was cut to stadiums.

The CGT is the most hardline of the French unions and has vowed it will not cease its actions until the government entirely withdraws plans to merge France's 42 pension regimes into a single universal system. Its members have also been involved in blockading ports and oil refineries in an attempt to disrupt the country's infrastructure.

But mass transport strikes that crippled the rail and Paris public transport networks from December 5th are now largely over as workers go back and some unions – including Unsa, the biggest on the Paris Metro system, suspend their action.

Transport in Paris on Wednesday is running almost entirely as normal and on the railways almost all services are running as normal.

READ ALSO Paris breathes a sigh of relief as transport services return to normal after strikes

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French customs officers strike over job cuts

Customs officers across France will walk out on Thursday in protest at job cuts that unions say will “weaken the customs network”.

French customs officers strike over job cuts

The national strike on Thursday, March 10th is expected to lead to delays at ports, airports and on the Eurostar.

The strike, which will include a rally outside the National Assembly building in Paris, was called by the CFDT-Douane and has the support of other unions. 

A work-to-rule protest over pay and conditions by customs officers in 2019, under the shadow of Brexit, led to delays and disruption at airports, as well as ports including Calais and Dunkirk, and on Eurostar trains.

Unions are calling on the government to axe plans to switch responsibility for import duty collection to the Direction Générale des Finances Publiques by 2024, at the cost of 700 customs’ officer jobs – and, according to strikers, tens of billions of euros to State coffers.

“We are asking for the reforms to be stopped, mainly that of the transfer of taxation, which is disorganising the network with the elimination of nearly a thousand jobs,” CFDT-Douane’s secretary general David-Olivier Caron said.

The planned job cuts come after years of restructuring and streamlining that has seen thousands of positions disappear, the unions say, when customs fraud and smuggling is rising because of a lack of resources.