Requisition fails to dampen French strike

The government’s efforts to end strikes at French refineries suffered a setback Friday when a judge found that the requisition ordering strikers back to work under threat of prosecution was “a serious and obvious infringement on the right to strike.”

The judge’s ruling came shortly before the French Senate passed the pension cuts proposed by the Sarkozy government. Unions in response to the vote said that their mobilization to stop the cuts would continue and called for more demonstrations this coming week.

The refinery workers’ strike, which has stopped production at all 12 of France’s refineries, and the blockade of fuel depots by the strikers has severely curtailed gas deliveries and caused fuel shortages across the nation. 

Transport Minister Dominique Bessereau said that 35 percent of the gas stations in the Paris region had run dry and that there were shortages in the eastern and western parts of the country.

French president Sarkozy has made reopening the refineries a priority and on Friday had local authorities issue a requisition to force workers at the Total Grandpuits refinery back to work. A requisition is an order requiring workers to return to work when authorities deem that there is a threat to public order. The requisition applies only to strikers at the Total Grandpuits refinery, near Paris.

Local authorities issued the requisition Friday morning. Shortly after the requisition was issued, police charged picket lines at the refinery and the local authorities served strikers with the requisition.

Strikers could have been jailed if they defied the requisition, so in the afternoon they begrudgingly returned to work. One worker wore a jacket with REQUISITIONED scrawled on its back. “I’ve been requisitioned,” he told reporters. “But it stinks.”

Shortly after the refinery opened, the CGT, the union representing the Grandpuit workers, asked a judge in Melun, a Paris suburb, to vacate the order, arguing that the requisition undermines the right to strike, a constitutional guarantee in France.

The judge agreed saying that the requisition was too broad. When workers in the Grandpuit got word of the judge’s decision, they walked off the job again.

After the ruling, the government issued another, more specific requisition that requires only workers who load fuel onto fuel trucks to return. The union has appealed that requisition and a ruling is pending.

Charles Foulard of the CGT told reporters that the strikers’ next actions will depend on the ruling on the latest requisition. “The requisition is in effect, so we’re going to meet with the organization, and debate with workers to see how we’re going to continue the struggle.”

In the meantime, other French strikers continued to pressure the government. Workers at Total refineries near Lyon and Donges voted Friday to extend their strike another week.

Flying pickets blocked fuel depots in lower Normandy and Cournon ‘d Auvergne. They dispersed when they were attacked by police.

UNEF, the university student’s union, reported that 10 universities were either shut down or partially shut down by students opposing the pension cuts.

The CDFT, a union that said that it would suspend its strike action, changed its mind and decided to continue supporting the strike after union leaders listened to rank-and-file members.

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