Supportive French struggle through strike chaos

By Vicky Buffery

PARIS (BestGrowthStock) – Motorists queued for petrol, eateries fretted over deliveries, shop owners lamented lost sales and travelers were stranded on Tuesday as fuel shortages and transport strikes caused chaos in French daily life.

Boulangeries and bistros in Paris worried about deliveries of key supplies, while shop owners said repeated travel delays had deterred many shoppers and weighed on sales.

A taxi driver at a Paris petrol station said he paid 20 euro cents extra a liter to fill his car with diesel after a week of oil refinery strikes depleted fuel pumps across the country.

France is in the grip of a series of nationwide protests against an unpopular pension reform that has seen striking public sector workers clog up transport networks and airports, disrupt mail and close schools and refineries.

Although disruption is on a far smaller scale than in the 1968 student-working uprising, which paralyzed the nation for weeks, or the 1995 public sector strike that doomed a previous attempt at pension reform, the protests are starting to bite.

“If there’s no fuel then we’re stuck. It will be a catastrophe. France can’t just stop like that,” said Lucie Menelet, a bakery owner in a suburb west of the capital.

She said she will struggle to deliver bread and pastries to local schools and restaurants if shortages continue.

Violeta Juric, who runs a busy bistro in Paris’s central business district, worried she could run short of wine, coffee, beer and other essentials that would force her to shut up shop.

The manager of a clothes shop near Saint Lazare train station said she had lost turnover as a week of public transport strikes has kept shoppers at home. “The protests may not last but we’re never going to make up the lost revenues,” she said.

Fuel shortages are hitting the road freight sector hardest.

Nicolas Paulissen, deputy head of the FNTR haulage union told Reuters fuel supplies for freight vehicles would reach critical levels by Wednesday, jeopardizing deliveries.

“Without trucks it’s impossible to supply factories and shops and the economy becomes paralyzed,” Paulissen said.

The government has hinted it will tap into emergency fuel reserves kept for wartime emergencies if necessary.

ETHANOL CONVERSION KIT

At airports across France, disgruntled travelers were hit with long delays and cancellations, while in Paris exasperated commuters struggled to board overcrowded suburban trains.

“Once again the strikers are taking people hostage. It’s not easy to get to work, for people who need to go to work,” said a passenger at Toulouse airport who refused to give his name.

Countless people who use their cars for their day-to-day business were stuck waiting an hour or more at petrol pumps to fill their tanks, losing valuable time and money.

“I’ve been waiting here for an hour and a quarter, and before that I’d been round all the stations in the area,” said Mohammed Ouzache, a construction worker, sitting at the wheel of his van outside a service station in northern Paris.

Yet many members of the long-suffering public say they sympathize with the protest movement.

Polls show most French people still support the anti-pension reform strikes, but as the chaos set in some are hoping either the unions or the government would back down soon.

One business-savvy executive tried to cash in on the chaos with some timely e-mail marketing for a conversion kit to enable cars to run on ethanol rather than diesel or petrol.

“Petrol shortages: the solution!” ran the advert.

Others stood wistfully in front of empty stores.

“Normally people pay their taxes in September and then in October women start spending on themselves again,” lamented a shoe-shop owner. “But now there’s no business.”

Supportive French struggle through strike chaos