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Scuffles break out as French strike to demand higher wages

Scuffles break out as French strike to demand higher wages
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PARIS, Oct 18 (Reuters) – Dozens of black-clad protesters clashed with police and smashed shop windows on the sidelines of a march for wage increases in Paris on Tuesday.

Regional train services have been cut by about half as several unions called a nationwide strike, trying to capitalize on anger at decades of inflation to spread a week-long industrial dispute at oil refineries to other sectors.

“The question of wages is the top priority for the French,” said the head of the hard-liner union CGT, Philippe Martinez, before the otherwise peaceful march. “It’s more than urgent,” he said.

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“At some point it will no longer be manageable,” says Laetitia Berthault, one of the demonstrators, referring to a salary increase of just 10 euros per month at the furniture chain for which she works. “I am a single mother, two children. We’re tightening our belts…we have no choice. But it is not easy.”

As the march grew tense, Reuters reporters saw police crack down on protesters, while BFM TV showed footage of masked people dressed in black smashing shop windows. According to a police source, six people have been arrested.

Union leaders hoped workers would be re-energized by the government’s decision to force some of them to go back to work in the service stations to get the fuel flowing again, a decision some say endangering the right to strike.

But a poll by Elabe pollsters for BFM TV showed that just 39% of the public supported Tuesday’s call for a nationwide strike, while 49% opposed and a growing number opposed the oil refinery workers’ strike.

The refinery workers’ strike has become one of President Emmanuel Macron’s biggest challenges since his re-election in May.

Nearly 10% of high school teachers went on strike Tuesday, and fewer in elementary schools, data from the Department of Education showed. The call for strikes was felt most strongly in vocational schools, where teachers are resisting planned reforms.

On the transport front, Eurostar said that was the case cancel some trains between London and Paris because of the strike.

French public rail operator SNCF said traffic on regional links was down by 50% but there were no major disruptions on national routes.

As tensions mount in the euro zone’s second largest economy, strikes have spilled over into other parts of the energy sector, including nuclear giant EDF (EDF.PA)where maintenance work crucial to Europe’s electricity supply is being delayed.

A union representative from FNME-CGT said on Tuesday the strikes were affecting work at nuclear power plants, including the Penly plant.

The strikes are taking place while the government is about to pass the 2023 budget with special constitutional powers This could avoid a vote in parliament, Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne said on Sunday.

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Additional reporting by Sudip Kar Gupta, Dominique Vidalon, Benoit van Overstraten, Myriam Rivet and Juliette Jabkhiro; Writing by Ingrid Melander and Sudip Kar Gupta; Edited by Gerry Doyle and Emelia Sithole-Matarise

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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