Douchy-les-Mines (France): French police fired water cannon today to disperse scores of activists blocking a northeastern oil depot, as pumps ran dry and unions stepped up strikes in a bitter battle over labour reforms. With a fifth of petrol stations in France running low, police moved in to break a blockade at the depot in
Douchy-les-Mines near the Belgian border that had been in place since Thursday.
“They cleared away all our barricades. The depot was unblocked without confrontation,” said Willy Dans, a spokesman for the local branch of the SUD union. “The police moved in quickly. They used water cannon. We got the feeling they were tense,” Dans.
Watched by around 80 striking workers, firefighters extinguished burning tyres that were blocking roads and sending thick plumes of smoke billowing into the air. Most petrol stations in the area were empty, forcing motorists to hop over the border to Belgium to fill up, reported an photographer on the ground.
The blockades are part of a wave of social unrest that has seen thousands take to the streets in often violent protests against labour reforms proposed by President Francois Hollande’s deeply unpopular Socialist government.
“We have to fight” against the reforms, said Dans, adding he felt the movement had popular support. Yesterday, Philippe Martinez, the leader of the CGT union which has mounted the blockades and strikes at refineries, vowed to continue the action until the labour legislation is withdrawn.
At least six out of the eight refineries in France have either stopped operating or have reduced their output due to strikes and blockades. Transport was further hampered today by a rolling strike on the trains, causing chaos for commuters.
The social unrest has raised concerns for the smooth running of the month-long Euro 2016 football championships hosted by France which starts on June 10.