‘Bring The Economy To Its Knees’: Protestors Blockade France’s Oil Refineries Over Pension Reform

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Striking union workers blockaded all eight oil refineries in France, halting oil shipments in protest of a bill that would raise the age to qualify for pensions from 62 to 64, BBC reported Tuesday.

While it was not immediately clear when the blockades would end, union leader Emmanuel Lépine said that the move was intended to “bring the French economy to its knees,” according to the BBC. The blockades could cause France to “run out of petrol by the end of the week,” Thierry Cotillard, head of French supermarket group Les Mousquetaires, told the BBC.

The strikes are the sixth mass protest against President Emmanuel Macron’s efforts to raise the retirement age, CNN reported. Macron has previously described the reform as “essential” to head off an anticipated budget deficit, and the government has so far shown no indication it will be swayed by the protests, according to the BBC.

Macron’s reform is unpopular — opposed by roughly two thirds of the French populace according to French surveyor Elabe — but declining participation in protests have prompted some union leaders to propose ongoing “rolling strikes” to maximize their odds of success, the BBC reported. This stance is supported by a small majority of French citizens, with 56% in support of rolling strikes.

“Let’s bring France to a halt!” a coalition of unions said in a statement, according to a translation by CNBC. The group described the government’s planned reforms “unacceptable and useless.”

The protests are grinding France’s rail system to a halt and prompting significant cutbacks in air travel out of Paris, where the protests are expected to be strongest, according to CNN. With roughly 60% of primary school teachers striking, 120 schools were closed in the nation’s capital.

Government spokesman Olivier Véran said last week that the strikes could cause an “ecological, agricultural and health catastrophe,” according to the BBC.

French police anticipate that between 1.1 million and 1.4 million people will demonstrate in 260 locations across the country Tuesday, according to the BBC. Previously, a record 1.3 million protestors shut down visitor access to the Eiffel Tower on January 19, CNN reported.

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