France: A Determined Strike Against Layoffs at Total’s Oil Refinery in Grandpuits

Credit: AFP

In the Paris region, employees at the Total oil refinery in Grandpuits have been on strike since Monday, January 4 against the announced closure of their plant, which would lead to 700 jobs lost. They are holding firm in their arm-wrestling match with the oil giant Total, and have voted to remain on strike until at least February 11.

Total’s management wants to end its refining activities, using the excuse of climate change. They say they are aiming for a “green” conversion, oriented towards the production of biofuels. But the real reasons are different. Total wants to refine its oil in low-cost countries, and avoid the investments needed to modernize its Grandpuits plant. This threatens nearly 700 jobs, among them both direct employees and subcontractors. And management’s promises that there will be only voluntary departures aren’t convincing anyone. The strikers also insist that they are fighting for a whole region that would be impacted by the closure, including small businesses, schools, and young people.

This strike was decided on by the workers in mass meetings and led by a strike committee, and it could lead to a federation of workers in the different industries threatened with layoffs. On January 23rd, a demonstration took place in Paris called by workers at a tourism company, and workers from many other companies threatened with layoffs participated. There was no call for action or support from the labor union officials.

Ignored by the major media, this strike is nevertheless supported by leftist political groups, including the New Anti-Capitalist Party (NPA) and La France Insoumise (Rebellious France), as well as climate activists. The strikers have gone to various Total sites in France, and called for solidarity strikes.

There is no question that a victory at this plant would be extremely encouraging for the struggles to come in the context of this economic crisis. It could be at least as contagious as… the new mutations of COVID-19!