Scuffles break out as French strike demands higher wages

PARIS, Oct 18 (Reuters) – Dozens of protesters dressed in black clashed with police and smashed shop windows in Paris on Tuesday on the sidelines of a march for pay rises.

Regional rail traffic has been roughly halved as several unions called for a nationwide strike, seeking to capitalize on anger over decades-high inflation to extend a week-long industrial action at oil refineries in other sectors.

“The issue of wages is the number one priority for the French people,” said hardline CGT union leader Philippe Martinez ahead of the otherwise peaceful march. “It’s more than urgent,” he said.

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“At some point, it is no longer manageable,” said Laetitia Berthault, one of the protesters, pointing to a salary increase of only 10 euros per month in the furniture chain for which she works. “I’m a single mom, two kids. We’re tightening our belts…we don’t have a choice. But it’s not easy.”

As the march grew more tense, Reuters reporters saw police charging at protesters, while BFM TV showed footage of hooded and black-clad people smashing shop windows. A police source said six people had been arrested.

Union leaders hoped workers would be boosted by the government’s decision to force some of them back to work at petrol depots to try to get fuel flowing again, a move some say would jeopardize the right to strike.

But a survey by Elabe pollsters for BFM TV showed just 39% of the public backed Tuesday’s call for a nationwide strike, while 49% opposed it, and a growing number opposed the workers’ strike. oil refinery workers.

The strike by refinery workers has become one of President Emmanuel Macron’s toughest challenges since his re-election in May.

Just under 10% of secondary school teachers were on strike on Tuesday, with even lower numbers in primary schools, according to data from the Ministry of Education. The strike call has been most seen in vocational schools, where teachers oppose planned reforms.

On the transport front, Eurostar announced that it was canceling some trains between London and Paris due to the strike.

French public rail operator SNCF said traffic on regional routes was down 50% but there were no major disruptions on national lines.

As tensions mount in the eurozone’s second-largest economy, strikes have spread to other parts of the energy sector, including nuclear giant EDF (EDF.PA), where maintenance work crucial to Europe’s electricity supply will be delayed.

A representative of the FNME-CGT union said on Tuesday that the strikes were affecting work at nuclear power plants, including at the Penly plant.

The strikes come as the government is set to pass the 2023 budget using special constitutional powers that would allow it to circumvent a vote in parliament, Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne said on Sunday.

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Additional reporting by Sudip Kar Gupta, Dominique Vidalon, Benoit van Overstraten, Myriam Rivet and Juliette Jabkhiro; Written by Ingrid Melander and Sudip Kar Gupta; Editing by Gerry Doyle and Emelia Sithole-Matarise

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