The stand-off between France's government and a hardline union over labour reforms has stiffened as the country mobilised strategic oil stocks for the first time in six years. As Ivor Bennett reports, employers also warned the protests were starting to hurt the economy.
The temptation to fight fire with fire was always going to be difficult to resist. and sure enough, the government's threat of a firm response only ignited further industrial action. Hundreds of French union members joining blockades at oil depots and refineries in a protest over labour reforms. (SOUNDBITE) (French) SPOKESPERSON FOR "SUD" UNION, WILLY DANS, SAYING: "I am an activist, a French citizen who sees that this country is not doing well. I don't want my children to see their social benefits deteriorate from those we have now. So we'll fight until the end, until this law is withdrawn." But in others, the revolutionary spirit could be fading. Barely 10 percent of members turned out for a train strike. More are expected for a walkout at a nuclear plant but the government is confident of weathering any storm. Even if other plants join in, France can import electricity to prevent a blackout. A bigger worry is fuel. The disruptions triggering panic buying. (SOUNDBITE) (French) SHOE DELIVERY WORKER, KOAM, SAYING: "I pushed the limits of my fuel stock. I went to every station supplying fuel, but there is no diesel so we have to keep looking, looking everywhere." Such is demand, the government's had to dip into strategic reserves for the first time in 6 years. Refusing to budge on a reform it says is crucial to fight rampant unemployment. (SOUNDBITE) (English) FIDELITY WORLDWIDE INVESTMENT, INVESTMENT DIRECTOR, TOM STEVENSON, SAYING: "I think in terms of economic reform I think France sort of veers more towards the periphery than it does towards the northern European powerhouse so I think it is a rather interesting reflection of where it stands in that spectrum." The government says it has enough reserves to last three months. At this rate, they may well need them.