Socialist Worker

Unions stopped strikes short of a Total victory

by Charlie Kimber
Issue No. 2191

Total oil refinery workers protesting in France

Total oil refinery workers protesting in France

Total oil refinery workers in France have forced concessions from their bosses with high profile strikes.

But union leaders called off the strikes just as workers were on the verge of victories that would have encouraged much more resistance.

A strike and occupation by Total workers had begun to spread to other oil firms, and petrol supplies had run out at some garages.

President Nicolas Sarkozy intervened and pressured the bosses to make a deal.

Total offered a formal agreement that it would not shut or sell refineries in France in the next five years.

Union leaders recommended the deal as enough to end the strike and work has resumed—except at the plant at the heart of the strike, Dunkirk.

The fate of the Dunkirk refinery is left out of the deal. It will be decided at a works committee meeting on Monday of next week.


Many Total workers are angry that the strike ended just when the bosses and the government were on the ropes.

One Associated Press report says, “At the Gonfreville refinery, the decision seems to have been very close.

“A mass meeting in the afternoon had decided to continue the strike.

“Then another vote took place after the announcement of the decision to return to work at several other sites, and the strike was finally suspended ‘by a very narrow majority,’ according to the CGT union.”

Meanwhile French air traffic controllers struck for four days last week, causing massive disruption to internal and cross-Europe flights.

But, as at British Airways, union leaders decided to settle for talks rather than extending the action.

A political battle is taking place across Europe—over whether to raise the level of the resistance to match the scale of the crisis or to end the battle when minor concessions are on offer.

We need to make sure the response is the first one.

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