Unrest in Western Europe as Workers Target Oil Companies
Author: Greg Valliere
October 17, 2022
GROUND ZERO IS FRANCE, WHICH FACES a national work stoppage tomorrow that may shut rail and air service; workers already have walked out of refineries, leading to a national gasoline shortage.
THE WORKERS’ MAIN DEMAND — FROM FRANCE TO CALIFORNIA — is that energy profits should be distributed to customers and workers; in France the protests are aimed at TotalEnergies and Exxon Mobil.
FRENCH PRESIDENT EMMANUEL MACRON, who won re-election earlier this year but then suffered a parliamentary election setback, faces a fiercely angry public that wants to close the gap between the ultra-wealthy and ordinary voters, who are expressing anxiety over fears of a looming cold winter as the Ukrainian war drags on.
MACRON FACES UNREST THAT MAY BE MORE WIDESPREAD than the “Yellow Vest” protests in 2018 and 2019. His support in parliament seems more tenuous now than it was during those earlier protests.
SEVERAL ARTICLES IN RECENT DAYS have detailed the growing unrest in Europe, including a piece in the Saturday New York Times reporting that “economic anxiety is palpable” across Europe, driving large protests in Prague, Britain’s biggest railway strike in three decades, as well as walkouts by bus drivers, call center employees, etc. — causing many governments to introduce relief measures to cushion the blow and ward off still more turbulence.
THE REFINERY STRIKE in France could lead to a national general work stoppage, some analysts fear. At the heart of this crisis is oil industry profits — over the first half of the year, TotalEnergies made $10 billion in profit and Exxon Mobil raked in $18 billion.
THE DEMAND FOR HIGHER WAGES, an obvious theme of this unrest, could increase inflationary pressures throughout the world. Some French refinery workers have rejected a 7% salary hike, and in the U.S. railroad workers still may reject a deal that would give them a 14% first-year increase — plus signing bonuses.
UNDER INTENSE PRESSURE, French officials amended its pending finance bill, proposing to apply a temporary tax on oil, gas and coal producers that make 20 percent more in profit on their French operations than they did during recent years.
SOME OF THIS MONEY would be returned to workers and energy consumers, but the genie is out of the bottle — Western Europe faces widespread unrest, which might send a message to Volodymyr Zelensky that his support in the West may not be endless.
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