FOS-SUR-MER, France – Behind a barricade of flaming tires, striking workers in front of the Fos-sur-Mer oil depot are standing firm, playing the accordion — and slowly draining France of its fuel.
The union-led blockade, one of several set up at refineries and depots across France, is aimed at securing the withdrawal of the country’s labour reforms, which hopes to inject new life into the country’s rigid labour market. But many fear the new rules will merely erode social protections without creating new jobs, and the fuel blockades here and elsewhere are intended to pressure the government into withdrawing it.
“Not one oil drop goes out,” union activist Maxime Picard told The Associated Press outside Fos-sur-Mer, about 50 kilometres (30 miles) west of Marseille, on Monday. “We’ve been blocking (the depot) since 2:00 am this morning. We are on track to stay until we have the withdrawal of the labour law.”
Black smoke rose from burning tires as trucks were backed up on the road to the complex. One activist played “Bella Ciao,” the Italian wartime resistance song, on an accordion.
In neighbouring Port-de-Bouc, three gas stations had shut. The AP arrived in time to witness the last clients at one of the pumps filling their cars or jerry cans.
“I’ve been waiting for half an hour,” said Sarah Lasbe, a 26-year-old restaurant employee. But like many of those interviewed, she expressed solidarity with the strikers.
“I don’t mind waiting because I think they are right,” she said.
The blockades are beginning to bite as far away as Paris.
“When you block the gasoline you block everything, you block the economy,” said Philippe Taillard, who was interviewed at a pump in the capital where workers were putting up “Out of order” signs.
French authorities, however, are beginning to lose patience, with police intervening to clear protesters from the entrance to one facility. More police action is possible if the blockades continue. Finance Minister Michel Sapin said the government would act when protests “were no longer legitimate.”
The strikers show little sign of being cowed. Workers at the Total refinery in Grandpuits west of Paris voted Monday to halt production at the site through Friday.
Cetinic reported from Paris. Nicolas Garriga in Granpuits, France contributed.
This story has been corrected to show that the activist’s last name is Picard, not Picad.