French oil workers vs. the state

By Daniel Randall

The savagely Thatcherite government of Nicolas Sarkozy in France has used police to break ongoing strikes at three oil refineries. All 12 of France’s refineries were blockaded by striking workers until riot police were used to break the strikes at depots in Donges, La Rochelle and Le Mans.

However, strikers at Donges were able to reimpose the blockade in the early hours of the morning. The strikes are part of an ongoing working-class campaign against Sarkozy’s plans to increase the retirement age from 60 to 62 and increase the age of entitlement for a full stage pension from 65 to 67. As a result of the strike in the oil sector, one in three petrol stations are reported to have run dry.

From the point of view of climate activism, these strikes reaffirm basic truths about high-emissions industries that Workers’ Climate Action has been stating since the network was created; firstly, that even the most polluting industries are not homogeneously evil blocs but riven with class antagonisms. And secondly, that the ultimate power and agency to shut those industries down resides with the people who work in them.

“Oil activism”, which continues to be a feature on the landscape of the environmental movement in Britain, needs to take account of the struggles of workers within the oil industry. Although the French strikes have no immediate ecological demands as yet, if they continue they will necessarily begin to pose societal questions about how production and distribution should be controlled. If oil workers win on pensions, and if radical climate activists engage with their struggles on the basis of solidarity, then when those societal questions are posed perhaps oil workers will use their power to reshape their industry on the basis of working-class ecology.

For more on the French strikes, check out LabourStart’s France page.

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