Half-term ski holidays in France are facing disruption after lift operators announced "unlimited" strikes in resorts next month over Emmanuel Macron's pension reforms.
Just weeks after skiers endured record-low snow cover over Christmas, their biggest obstacle to hitting the slopes in the next holiday period could now prove to be industrial action.
The two main French unions representing lift and tow operators and seasonal workers filed for open-ended strikes starting next Tuesday to coincide with the second day of mass protests against President Emmanuel Macron’s unpopular plan to raise the retirement age from 62 to 64.
“We have decided to call for a strike during the February holidays because demands are better heeded during this period,” said Eric Becker, head of the lift operators’ branch of the Force Ouvrière union. The other main union, Confédération Générale du Travail also called for “especially strong action” during the Ski World Cup at Courchevel and Méribel in mid-March.
February is peak season in French ski resorts in the Alps and Pyrenees as schools have two weeks off, while many Britons and other nationalities come over during their half-term breaks.
In an apparent attempt not to scare customers away entirely, unions say not all lifts, tows and cable cars will be blocked at once. Instead, they intend to stage rolling partial stoppages across the resorts.
Pascal de Thiersant, director of the Trois Vallées ski park in Savoie, blasted the union action. “After almost two years of Covid then the energy problem, the unions want to pile it on again. That’s really shooting themselves in the foot,” he complained.
The threat of blocked ski slopes is the latest militant action against Mr Macron's retirement reform, which more than 65 per cent of the public opposes, according to most polls.
Last Thursday, all of France’s main unions united for the first time in 12 years to stage a day of mass strike action that saw at least 1.2 million people take to the streets.
Despite the show of force, Mr Macron and his government are sticking to the retirement reform, which reaches parliament in late March.
However, he now faces growing dissent among MPs within his centrist Renaissance party and its allies. There are also splits among conservative Republicans, whom he will rely on to push through the bill in parliament, where he no longer has a majority.
Galvanised by mass action, unionists on Monday also pledged to step in to help bakers in Marseille, southern France, who are struggling to pay rocketing electricity prices.
Out of “solidarity”, the southern port’s CGT energie branch - which represents electricity and gas workers - called on members to doctor the electricity meters of any bakers “they meet” in order to halve their bills.
“In concrete terms, that means playing with the meter so that bakers can have a rate that is either 50 per cent or 60 per cent free,” local union leader Renaud Henry told RMC radio.
While he confessed the initiative was “totally illegal”, he argued that “it is also totally ethical for us”, as he said "speculators" were behind rising energy costs. EDF, France's main electricity utility, is 84 per cent state-owned.
Mr Henry urged energy workers to time ther "Robin Hood-style" action to help bakers with the next planned day of mass action, slated for January 31.
“The idea is that as bakers are mobilised (in strikes), we need to create a link with the working world that is fighting against this unfair pension reform,” he said.
At Monday’s bakers’ protest in front of the finance ministry in Paris, one Breton Boulanger named Alain told 20 Minutes that his energy bill was now five times higher.
“If the government does nothing, the bakers will rise. The French Revolution started because bread ran out.”