Riot police stand guard behind a fire as refinery workers hold a blockade of the oil depot of Douchy-Les-Mines to protest against the labor reforms, on May 25, 2016. ©AFP
Police in France
have used water cannons to disperse protesters blocking an oil depot near the Belgian border, prompting further anti-labor reform strikes at nuclear plants.
Police on Wednesday tried to break up protests that have been going on since Thursday at Douchy-les-Mines in northern France.
“The police moved in quickly. They used water cannon. They cleared out all our barricades. The depot was unblocked without confrontation,” said Willy Dans, a spokesman for the local branch of the SUD group of trade union.
This came as a fifth of petrol stations across France ran dry and unions stepped up their strikes in a battle against the government-proposed labor reforms.
The police standoff with protesters across the country pushed workers at nuclear plants to meet on Wednesday to decide on joining the nationwide strike.
The CGT national trade union voted to begin a 24-hour strike at Nogent-sur-Seine nuclear plant, located southeast of Paris, later at 1900 GMT on Wednesday.
The government says the proposed labor reforms, which focus on maximum working hours, holidays as well as breaks, are aimed at boosting the country’s economy and curbing the high unemployment rate.
Unionists block the trucks in Le Havre northwestern France, on May 25, 2016, to protest against the labor reforms. ©AFP
The strikes have so far affected oil depot and refineries and caused fuel shortages as six out of eight refineries stopped operations or reduced output. Train and metro strikes have also been announced.
The government has accused the CGT of taking the country hostage.
“A small minority is trying to radicalize things. We will unblock the situation,” said Junior Minister Jean-Marie Le Guen, warning that a union “cannot govern the country.”
The French oil industry federation said on Wednesday the government had started using the country’s strategic oil reserves to counter refineries’ blockade.
“Yes, a small quantity of the stock has been drawn. It was authorized by the government, only the government can authorize it,” said Catherine Enck, a spokeswoman from the French union of oil industries (UFIP).
UFIP President Francis Duseux also stressed that the industry had been using the strategic reserves for two days.
“Every day we use the equivalent of about one day of consumption. At worst, if the situation remains very tense, we can do this for three months,” he added.
France has been hit by a series of strikes in the past week, since President Francois Hollande said he would not withdraw the labor reforms.
Numerous rallies have been staged for over two months, some of them turned violent by police intervention.