by Peter Franklin
Thursday, 13
October 2022
Dispatch
15:45

Emmanuel Macron moves to crush the protesters (again)

Oil workers have vowed to continue their strikes
by Peter Franklin
Striking oil workers protest outside an Exxon oil refinery. Credit: Getty

Grand Est, France

Believe it or not, the UK isn’t the only economy on the rocks right now. For instance, Germany — with its enormous manufacturing sector — is more exposed to an energy crisis that we are. And then there’s France, whose prowess in nuclear power isn’t quite the shield it’s often assumed to be. 


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For a start, the country’s nuclear power stations are experiencing major technical problems and, even if normal service is restored, most cars and trucks still run on petrol and diesel, not electricity. It’s rather unfortunate, then, that workers at French oil refineries have chosen to go on strike — taking over 60% of capacity offline.

Fuel supplies in many areas are running short, causing queues at petrol stations. The disruption isn’t yet nationwide but, if something isn’t done soon, it will be. The industrial action is concentrated in the northern Hauts-de-France region. I’m currently next door in the Grand Est region and, while there’s not much in the way of panic buying, there are signs taped to fuel pumps warning customers not to fill-up jerry cans (prompted by the black market trade now thriving in the worst-affected areas).  

Losing patience, Emmanuel Macron has ordered strikers at fuel depots to return to work. This isn’t just tough talk from the French President — as The Times reports today, his government has the power to act if there’s a risk to “public order, health, tranquillity and safety.”

It’s still unclear how far the crackdown will go. While the situation is unlikely to escalate into a 1968-style struggle for control of the country, Macron will have searing memories of the gilets jaunes protests during his first term as President. Though he survived that confrontation, he did have to back down on the measure that triggered the protests — a hike in the tax on fuel. 

This time the stakes are even higher. The unions are using their chokehold on the French economy to demand a 10% pay rise. If they succeed then that will open the way for similar tactics in other sectors, just when western governments are struggling to keep a lid on inflation. It is a struggle that Macron cannot afford to lose. 

Liz Truss ought to be watching closely. Her government is planning to introduce legislation to curb the right to strike in vital services. RMT union boss Mick Lynch has called for a general strike if she does. However, if Macron is able to use this weapon effectively in France then Truss will be encouraged to use it here too. 

There’s a deeper lesson for the British Government in this. It’s reported that the Transport Secretary, Anne-Marie Trevelyan, wants to tread carefully on the electrification of transport. This would be a serious mistake. An economy which is dependent on oil is demonstrably open to disruption at every point in the supply chain — from oil fields abroad to refineries and depots at home.

An electrified transport system, especially one powered by diverse, domestic and renewable power sources, will be less vulnerable to hostile forces. 

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Steve Jolly
Steve Jolly
1 month ago

How, exactly, is an electrified transport system any less vulnerable than an oil based one to disruptions? Anyone with a passing knowledge of the subject should know very well that EV batteries and solar panels require materials that are much rarer and more expensive than oil and the UK, as well as most of the west, are far more dependent on even less reliable foreign sources. . Further, solar panels and windmills don’t just work perfectly forever after installation. Like everything else, they have to be monitored and repaired, which requires employees. Are we to assume that the workers in EV factories or wind/solar farms or electric companies are less prone to strike than those greedy oil workers? This is pure environmentalist pie in the sky nonsense that any serious person should immediately disregard as wishful thinking at best and propaganda at worst. Moreover, it’s almost universally agreed that a wind/solar based power grid still requires a base-load source such as nuclear/gas/coal as a backup and to makeup the gaps during times of peak demand. France’s continued heavy investment in nuclear power suggest the French have grasped this basic truth, yet the author is suggesting the British transition to electric transport, increasing power generation needs, without such investment, and that this will somehow magically improve the situation. I humbly submit that the British transport secretary has a better understanding of energy and energy policy than the author.

Last edited 1 month ago by Steve Jolly
Daniel G
Daniel G
1 month ago
Reply to  Steve Jolly

Whilst I’m not convinced the electrifiaction of transport is doable as quickly as the Government and others envisage (if at all), I do think it would be less sensitive to strikes. A week-long strike at EV factories or of wind farm maintenance teams would not cause the same amount of disruption as a week-long strike at oil refineries, for example.

Steve Jolly
Steve Jolly
1 month ago
Reply to  Daniel G

Your point is reasonable, but my counterpoint is that nearly 80% of the rare earth metals that are crucial to both battery and solar panel construction are supplied by China, whose zero-COVID policy is already wreaking havoc with global supply chains and who have, like Russia, been regularly threatening to invade a neighbor they regard as a breakaway province with no history/culture of its own. Western nations can and should develop their own sources of rare-earths which are, despite the name, not so rare that they’re only found in one or a few countries. Western governments, and Australia in particular, are making efforts to change this dynamic, but until that happens, I feel marginally more comfortable depending on oil workers and OPEC than Xi Jinping.

Last edited 1 month ago by Steve Jolly
Steve Elliott
Steve Elliott
1 month ago
Reply to  Steve Jolly

I agree but you might like to look at National Grid’s web page dedicated to busting the “myths” about electric cars. One of which is that there won’t be enough generation capacity if we all changed to electric cars. You can see it here –
https://www.nationalgrid.com/stories/journey-to-net-zero/electric-vehicles-myths-misconceptions
They are confident that there is ample capacity even if we all switched to electric overnight which seems a little optimistic based on their current warnings about potential power cuts during the winter which they were raising even before the present crisis.
I think electric cars are a good thing not because of carbon emissions but because the air quality in the cities is so bad and I’m told already causing health problems. We are just not ready for it yet.
I should confess that I drive a four wheel drive diesel.

Last edited 1 month ago by Steve Elliott
Aaron James
Aaron James
1 month ago
Reply to  Steve Elliott

What is the Biggest Part of petrol cost when you fill your car? Road Tax!

Now factor that into the cost of electricity. How? Tax road use on every Kwh in home, work, and charging points? Use the charging points to meter and charge for it – because that will be a crazy thing to enforce – and hugely costly to run such a scheme. I guess every mile you drive will be plotted and a base tax billed to you – this will make petrol cars a lot cheaper to drive as the costs are almost equal with electric paying no road tax.

Or just add the Billions on increasing income tax, or VAT?

Steve Jolly
Steve Jolly
1 month ago
Reply to  Steve Elliott

As I am American myself, I’ll take your point as reflective of the differences between nations. In America, the prospects of a viable electric transportation network are virtually zero without even taking politics into account, and everything in America is political these days. The UK is a good deal smaller and more densely packed than we are, and you folks don’t have to truck goods across a whole continent, so I’ll buy that this might be doable for you, though I’m skeptical of the claim that all those cars won’t generate any increase in demand/price of electricity. Maybe it will increase the demand/price by less than what is spent on gas producing a net gain at some point after all the initial infrastructure is paid for. None of that has any bearing on whether an electric system would be more vulnerable to foreign disruptions. As the other commenter mentioned, it probably would in the short term, but until the rare-earth market changes significantly, it would actually be much more vulnerable in the long-medium term to a government much more powerful and hostile than the Saudis or any other OPEC nation save Russia.

Last edited 1 month ago by Steve Jolly
Aaron James
Aaron James
1 month ago
Reply to  Steve Jolly

Instead of British Rail giving ‘Time Tables’ for trains it could give weather reports, so one knows when the sun will be out and the wind blowing…….and the trains rolling.

Steve Elliott
Steve Elliott
1 month ago

Is it possible that three disciples of Schwabb – Macron, Trudeau and Rutte have similar ways of handling dissent in their countries?

Aaron James
Aaron James
1 month ago
Reply to  Steve Elliott

‘You will own nothing but a social credit score, and be happy about it’.

That phone you sheep carry will soon be your jailer. Everything you do assessed for taxing – meat eating, miles traveled, what – ever…. and as your money is on it as CBDC (Central Bank Digital Currency) and it GPSes you, and notes every one you are with – contact, stand by……all you buy, all you make, all of everything…..

Your phone will not pay for that double cheesburger if you had one this week – it will be beet-near-meat, near-cheese-burger. Too much gallivanting about – sorry, your phone will not pay for that weekend flight to Paris…..

WEF has all the energy answers – the entire Great Reset – if you bother to read it on their site – is centered on Green Energy – basically by allowing you just as much as you deserve (ha)… to keep the planet from warming. Think Stalinist Russia and Mao’s Cultural Revolution without the prisons and endless killing. Just a dreary life doing nothing buy playing video games at home in your pod-partment with state-fentnyl anti-anxiety pills and 100% nutritional complete (veganish) pizza and coke delivered..

Jerry Mee-Crowbin
Jerry Mee-Crowbin
1 month ago
Reply to  Aaron James

The Great Reset seems to be the ultimate answer to everyone’s problems, at least, according to the World Economic Forum (elected by whom, exactly?). It is a concept well supported by Gates, et al, although none of these unimaginably wealthy people have the slightest intention of being affected by any of the Great Reset plans which are to be imposed on the rest of the world..
As you can see here
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GeykREAlYSg&feature=youtu.be
one of its greatest instigators is Schwab, who firmly believes the Chinese method of controlling the population is very much to be admired and applied throughout the world. But who is a rock solid disciple of Schwab? None other than our very own Chuck 3 who clearly feels that the time for democracy is over and we need to move on.

Aaron James
Aaron James
1 month ago

The old Wage-Price Death Spiral……

Workers demand wages raise, they do get it but not quite enough – then inflation soon outpaces the rise, and so a year later they do it again – but almost all year the ‘real wages’ fall..to get boosted again, and then lag the whole year again….mean wile pushing inflation. Till the cause of inflation are resolved this death spiral crushes the ones who have no power to force wage increases, or ones on Fixed income.

And it is a losers game economically because the wages never catch and pace the inflating process. Some in some positions exceed it – but the majority will not win that race.

”An economy which is dependent on oil is demonstrably open to disruption at every point in the supply chain — from oil fields abroad to refineries and depots at home.An electrified transport system, especially one powered by diverse, domestic and renewable power sources, will be less vulnerable to hostile forces.”

An economy powered by Gretta’s anger and faith, like the one the writer advances, is a fantasy. Going nuclear is I guess sort of an answer. The wind/solar are really just a kind of penance the Politicians self flagellate with as a sort of ‘Struggle Session’ to appease the voters. They can work on an individual scale, but cannot be ramped up to National Grid because their variable output – you can have batteries in your house to make solar/wind work, the National Grid cannot.

Warren Trees
Warren Trees
1 month ago

Aren’t the trains (Thalys and Metro) and many of the city buses already running on electricity in France?