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Nationwide strike hits France’s energy sector

Protesters attend a demonstration as part of a nationwide day of strike to push for government measures to address inflation, workers' rights and pension reforms, in Paris, France, September 29, 2022. (Photo by Reuters)

In France, a nationwide strike has severely disrupted the energy sector as workers push for a pay raise amid frictions between unions and the government of President Emmanuel Macron over a planned pensions reform.

The CGT union participated in a protest march along with several thousand people in Paris on Thursday.

“Thousands of workers are on strike today. For us this is a starting point, the start of a movement,” said Philippe Martinez, leader of the CGT.

"This is a message to the government but also to the Medef," he said, referring to France's main employer association.

The strike action is seen as a barometer of potential social unrest as Macron pushes ahead with plans to reform the pension system.

"We are here for our salaries, but also because of the pensions issue," said school teacher Marian Talba, 49, who attended the demonstration in Paris. "My husband earns less than I do, and with three children, it's really very complicated."

Marseilles and Montpellier were among several other cities that witnessed a similar strike action.

More than 60% of France's refining capacity was off-line due to the strikes and unfulfilled maintenance plans. Strikes also hit TotalEnergies refineries for a third day.

A 24-hour strike by electricity union FNME hit France's already stretched power grid.

The walkouts came amid a concerted call by some unions for company bosses to raise wages due to high inflation.

The CGT-led national labor mobilization followed months of individual strike actions across business sectors including transportation, retail and education.

Meanwhile, a cost-of-living crisis is engulfing France and several other European countries.

The price of electricity in Germany and France for 2023 has soared to new records due to the European energy crisis caused by the conflict in Ukraine.

Soaring energy prices coupled with runaway inflation have put the livelihood of Europeans under heavy constraints after the Europeans severed their energy ties with Russia, the main supplier of natural gas to Europe, over the Ukraine conflict.

Russia, in turn, slashed natural gas supplies to the green continent, with fears of more drastic cuts in the winter amid tensions between Moscow and the West over the war.

The shutdown of several nuclear reactors in France due to corrosion issues has contributed to the electricity price increase as power production has dramatically decreased in the country.

European countries have launched energy saving campaigns to prepare for the winter.

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