The strike by oil workers has been the most disruptive tactic yet — and in response, the Interior Ministry opened a crisis coordination center Monday just to focus on the conflict. Severe disruptions to air travel, public transport, schools and other facilities are expected.
Currently the strikers are winning. French oil workers defied the government's demand Monday to get back to work and end fuel shortages. Youths and truckers joined in, facing off against riot police and creating chaos on the roads.
* Aviation authorities have been forced to tell short-haul planes coming in to make sure to bring enough fuel to get back.
* The government ordered airlines to drastically cut back their flights into France on Tuesday, when labor unions plan new nationwide protests and strikes across the public sector.
According to AP, striking oil workers piled up tires and set them ablaze Monday in front of a refinery at Grandpuits, east of Paris, after authorities issued a legal order insisting that some reopen the facility. Workers said they would refuse, as curls of heavy black smoke wafted into the air. Other employees and residents formed a "human chain" to prevent people from entering the plant. Dozens of oil tankers remained stuck in the Mediterranean, anchored outside Marseille's two oil ports, where workers have been on strike for more than three weeks to protest a planned port reform as well as the retirement changes.
The obvious conflict comes from:
* Workers are angry because they consider retiring at 60 a pillar of France's hard-won social contract — and fear this is just the first step in eroding their often-envied quality of life. They think Sarkozy wants to adopt an "American-style capitalist" system and claim the government could find pension savings elsewhere, such as by raising contributions from employers.
* Sarkozy's conservative government points out that 62 is among the lowest retirement ages in Europe, the French are living much longer and the pension system is losing money already.