French unions threaten to cut off electricity in dispute over pension reform

As unions prepare for a second day of strike action against planned pension reform, members of the hardline CGT union have threatened to cut off the electricity supply.

French unions threaten to cut off electricity in dispute over pension reform
CGT-mines energies general secretary Sebastien Menesplier has threatened 'direct action' in the pensions battle. Photo by Thomas SAMSON / AFP

France’s eight union federations are united in opposition to planned pension reforms, which include raising the pension age from 62 to 64, and official actions are concentrated on strikes and demonstrations.

Calendar: French pension reform strikes

But some members of the hardline CGT union are threatening more direct action – including cutting off the electricity supply to certain French towns.

The union CGT des mines et de l’énergie, which represents workers in the state electricity supplier, is calling for direct action, with Secretary General Sebastien Menesplier telling BFMTV: “The strike is good but it is no longer enough.”

He called for: “Action and actions that can be seen, that have an impact upon those who support the government and the laws of social regression.”

You can hear The Local team discussing the ongoing strike action in our Talking France podcast – download it HERE or listen on the link below.

The union had previously threatened to cut off the power to any town that elected an MP who supports the planned pension reform – during strikes on January 19th, two towns lost power for a couple of hours; Massy in Essonne (greater Paris) and Chaumont in Haute-Marne (northern France).

Labour minister Olivier Dussopt responded: “A number of actions envisaged are not militant protests, but rather crimes.”

During the strikes of 2019 – which were also over pension reform – CGT members staged short power cuts at several sports grounds during matches.

Members of the CGT who work at oil refineries have already announced extra days of strike action, in addition to the mass strike days, and are threatening to blockade refineries and cut off supplies of petrol and diesel to service stations.

The first mass strike on January 19th saw very limited service on trains across France and public transport in cities, while many schools closed down as teachers walked out. A second mass strike is planned for Tuesday, January 31st.

READ ALSO Do French unions still have the power to stop a government in its tracks?

Member comments

  1. If they think cutting power to towns will win them support, they are mistaken. This should be written into law as a crime and the offenders punished. Far too many services (medical in particular) are dependent on power supply and holding communities hostage in this way is not an acceptable form of protest.

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Macron gives ground to allies in unpopular pension reform bid

President Emmanuel Macron's government on Sunday offered a concession on contested French pension reforms, seeking to shore up support from prospective right-wing allies ahead of the parliamentary debate.

Macron gives ground to allies in unpopular pension reform bid

People who began work between the ages of 20 and 21 will be able to retire at 63, Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne told the JDD weekly, rather than the headline age of 64 that has unions and large swathes of the public bristling.

“We hear the request” of MPs from the conservative Republicans party, whose votes are needed to make up a majority for the reform, Borne said.

Republicans leader Eric Ciotti had earlier told the Parisien newspaper that the change would “secure a very large majority” of his MPs.

Although re-elected to the presidency last year, Macron also lost his parliamentary majority and has been forced either to cobble together compromises or ram through laws using an unpopular constitutional side door.

But he has stuck to the widely disliked pension reform, against which hundreds of thousands of people demonstrated and many workers went on strike in two days of mass action so far, with more planned on February 7 and 11.

READ ALSO: What to expect from Tuesday’s strike in France

Meanwhile the left-wing opposition in parliament has submitted thousands of amendments to stymie debate on the law.

Borne also acknowledged demands from the Republicans and Macron’s Democratic Movement allies for a 2027 review of the reform, which aims to bring the pensions system out of deficit by 2030.

And she said the government would pile pressure on companies to end the practice of letting go of older employees, which leaves many struggling to find work in their final years before pension age.

READ ALSO: 5 minutes to understand French pension reform

“Too often, companies stop training and recruiting older people,” Borne said.

“It’s shocking for the employees and it’s a loss to deprive ourselves of their skills.”

Government plans will force companies to regularly publish details of how many older workers they employ, with Labour Minister Olivier Dussopt on Saturday trailing financial penalties for those which fail to do so.

READ ALSO: ANALYSIS: Who is winning the battle over French pension reform?