France strikes rides new wave

by Tony Gougeon

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France has been facing one of its most important strike waves this year after the recent announcement of a new pension reform made by President Nicolas Sarkozy at the end of the summer, wishing to push the legal retiring age from 60 to 62.

What seemed to be a usual striking opportunity for French people began to get out of control recently when petrol industries joined the movement, forcing the government to put drastic measures into place and restricting petrol supplies.

Now that the reform has been voted by Parliament, the government expects the situation to get back to normal as soon as possible, Jean Louis Borloo (minister of Ecology and Energy) announcing live on television last night that “95% of the petrol stations have been provided with fuel”. However, protests are still taking place everywhere in the country at high schools, universities, post offices and several other sectors, and people are still expected to be in the streets this Saturday.

Most petrol stations have been forced to shut for a few days, expecting to be delivered soon and encountering a loss of over 100 million euro for the main oil refinery Total, according to its financial director Patrick de la Chevardiere.

However, every time one of them can open again customers have to queue for hours, where they will only be able to purchase up to €21, or be told the station has run out of petrol already. The last weekend of October being a popular holiday for French people, petrol was still rare and the restrictions not lifted.

Some people claim it is still time to fight back: Henriette Minard, 72 and retired, is still calling for people to protest. “The pension reform was the spark the movement needed,” she says. “It is particularly unfair to the previous and next generations: people have been fighting and are still fighting to make their lives more enjoyable. The senate voting the reform last week is not a death sentence to the movement.”

On the other side, some people are starting to get tired of the process: Mai-anh Peterson, a British student sent from Edinburgh to study in Montpelier as part of the Erasmus exchange program says: “This is taking it too far. When it starts to affect people’s everyday lives in such a drastic manner it makes it hard to see what the point is. Retirement ages are increasing all over the world, France should it count itself lucky – it still has the lowest retirement age in Europe. If it’s not economically viable for the government to back down on its proposal, then all I can foresee is a complete standstill.”

Her university, along with numerous others across the country, have been forced to interrupt their normal agenda because students have been blocking access into the buildings, which is the answer students have used for decades now. However, with exams coming up, the movement is losing strength as more and more students are getting worried about their grades.