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Tensions rise as French gas stations run dry

A massive strike over new labor laws could lead to a fuel shortage in France.

Labor unions, including the CGT and the FO, are protesting a set of laws that would make a number of unpopular changes, including reducing how much employees can get paid for working overtime, and making it easier for companies to hire and fire staff in certain circumstances. Union members are blocking oil refineries and fuel depots across the nation as a form of protest.

Many fuel stations are consequently running out of gasoline, diesel, or both. While the ones that still have fuel left to sell manage to stay open — sometimes by limiting how many gallons motorists can buy — the ones that are completely dry are forced to close indefinitely. The shortages started in the north and in the west of the country, but they’ve spread from border to border. All told, nearly a quarter of the nation’s gas stations are affected by the strike in one way or another.

Fuel shortage France
Ronan Glon/Digital Trends

Filling up at the stations that still have gas to sell usually involves waiting in line for 15 or 20 minutes. A gas station attendant in Velaux, a small town situated about half an hour outside of Marseilles in the south of the country, told Digital Trends that the atmosphere is usually tense, and several verbal and physical arguments have broken out in the region over who gets the last drop of gas.

Commuters are carpooling or using public transportation to get to work, but the situation is about to get a lot more complicated. The SNCF, France’s railway company, will go on strike tomorrow, and the RATP, Paris’ public transport operator, has announced plans to strike indefinitely starting on June 2, according to radio station Europe 1. Both are protesting the same labor laws as the refinery workers.

What’s next?

The French government and the unions are blaming each other for the strike, and they’re holding their ground. Police forces were nonetheless sent to break up a blockade outside of the refinery in Fos-sur-Mer, a port in the south of the nation. Seven police officers and a handful of protesters — the exact number hasn’t been announced yet — were injured during the clashes that ensued.

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The conflict could have a much broader effect than a short-term fuel shortage. Total, which operates six of the eight refineries in France, has admitted it will re-evaluate its plans to invest in its French division as a result of the strike, an anonymous source close to the matter told French newspaper Le Figaro.