PARIS — After two-and-a-half weeks on strike, workers at three garbage incinerators, including the Paprec Energies plant in Saint-Ouen, a northern suburb, returned to work March 24.
The strike was part of the ongoing mass opposition to French President Emmanuel Macron’s push to raise the retirement age from 62 to 64. Macron used his executive powers to impose the change March 20, bypassing a vote in the National Assembly.
“We are against the pension reform. Because our conditions are difficult, we benefit from a special pension setup,” Thierry Saussier, a maintenance and production worker at the Saint-Ouen plant and trade unionist in the Confederation Generale du Travail (CGT), told the Militant during a visit to the picket line. “Workers of the factory leave at 57.5 years. With the reform, they will leave at 59.5 years, and working conditions are getting worse and worse.” They also used the strike to demand improved conditions.
Strikers kept up a 24-hour picket line, allowing only 50 trucks into the plant a day, instead of the usual 400.
This isn’t the first strike this year, Saussier said. “In January we went on strike to improve working conditions and safety.”
Workers are exposed to intense heat, toxic dust and chemical fumes. “We had to fight to get a filtering respirator when we enter the combustion furnace during the maintenance phase,” he said. Pointing to a visibly degraded forklift he added, “Safety officers appointed by management look the other way.”
Saussier, who has worked for 18 years at the plant, joined the CGT during the COVID-19 pandemic. “I saw the working conditions deteriorate. We could no longer let it happen.”
The workers received daily expressions of solidarity from other workers. Professors and students from a nearby university in Saint-Denis visited the picket line and brought a contribution to the strike fund. Several workers from Bosch, a tool factory in Saint-Ouen, also came, as well as rail workers from the train maintenance center there.
Daily protests across the country have continued after Macron’s unilateral move, demanding it be reversed. Close to a million unionists and others rallied across the country March 28.