Hollande Aims to Divide Strikers as Soccer Tournament Looms

  • Air traffic controllers call off strike; pilot action delayed
  • Paris Metro, high speed train passengers facing disruptions

President Francois Hollande’s government is working to defuse multiple labor conflicts and prevent unions from forming a united front just days before France begins hosting the Euro 2016 soccer tournament.

Paris Metro workers and staff at power plants joined the strike Thursday, almost two weeks after oil refinery employees voted to walk out in protest against Hollande’s labor reform. While a separate action at train operator SNCF has hampered railway traffic, air-traffic controllers unions called off a strike scheduled for this weekend, while Air France pilots postponed calls for action to June 11.

“I’m dedicating all my time” to unblocking the situation before the soccer tournament starts, Transport Minister Alain Vidalies said Thursday on France Info radio. “The unions have a sense of responsibility. Traffic is disrupted but not stopped.”

For Hollande, who has repeatedly vowed not to back down on the key changes to labor laws making their way through parliament, the social unrest is a further hit to his historically bad polling numbers as he gears up for a presidential election less than a year away. Just 11 percent of voters approve of his actions as president, according to a YouGov poll for Le HuffPost and I-Tele published Thursday.

“My door is always open to the unions,” Labor Minister Myriam El Khomri said on I-Tele Thursday. “We are mobilized so that Euro 2016 can take place without disruption.”

Travel problems have been exacerbated by heavy rainfall that led to floods in several parts of the country. In the Paris region, May was the rainiest month since 1960. Towns south of the capital braced for flooding later Thursday as the Seine rose above five meters. The river that flows across Paris is set to rise to levels not seen since 1982 and the city was put on the second-highest alert level. Flooding has closed the A10 highway near Orleans Wednesday and train traffic in the area was severely disrupted.

Strike-Driven Disruption

  • Six in 10 high speed trains were running Thursday, though fewer than half of commuter and regional trains are operating, SNCF said.

  • Gas stations are facing fewer shortages after the government cleared blockades at depots. Oil retailers have boosted deliveries by laying on more fuel trucks.

  • Forty-seven of Total SA’s 2,200 gas stations were out of fuel as of midday Thursday, down from 102 a day earlier. Another 106 reported partial shortages.

  • Four of Total’s five refineries remain halted, while the La Mede plant is running at 80 percent of its capacity and has resumed fuel shipments by pipeline. Exxon Mobil Corp.’s two refineries in Gravenchon and Fos-sur-Mer are working.

  • Electricite de France said 8.7 percent of its workers are on strike. While the company doesn’t expect general power shortages, power grid operator RTE said 125,000 homes were affected by a power cut near the city of Saint-Nazaire at 10:48 a.m. on Thursday after protesting workers disconnected power lines.

  • Protesting workers at French power distribution company Enedis switched 800,000 clients onto the cheaper night rate for their electricity.
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