Striking French dockworkers, truck drivers and railway employees paralyzed a large swath of the nation's supply chain Oct. 19 amid escalating nationwide protests against government plans to reform the pension system.
Dockworkers at Le Havre, France's top container hub, threw stones and paving slabs at riot police who responded with rounds of tear gas during a demonstration this morning through the streets of the northern port city.
The local branch of the CGT labor union called for a general strike, raising fears the port, which has been strike-bound over the past three weekends in an unrelated dispute, could face a prolonged walkout.
By The Numbers: North America - Europe Eastbound Container Trade.
Marseille, France's largest port by tonnage, is at a standstill with three container ships and nine roll-on, roll-off carriers among the vessels unable to load as dockworkers supported the nationwide stoppage that has hit most French ports.
Dockworkers at Marseille's Fos-Lavera oil terminal stayed away from work for the 23rd day Tuesday in a dispute over privatization of stevedoring and job privileges, stranding 47 vessels, including 29 crude oil tankers and 18 oil product carriers.
President Nicolas Sarkozy and the center-right government are refusing to water down plans to raise the retirement age from 60 to 62, drawing threats from union leaders of further strikes in strategic sectors.
The Senate, which has a government majority, is due to vote on the measure later this week and could pass it very soon.
Striking rail workers have halted an estimated 95 percent of cargo traffic at SNCF, the state-owned rail company, and on private operators.
There have been mass cancellations of flights at Paris Charles de Gaulle and Paris Orly airports because their fuel is supplied by a pipeline from one of France's 12 largest refineries, which were closed by strikers last week.
Transport companies face further disruption in the coming days as 1,500 of France's 4,800 supermarket gas stations, accounting for around 60 percent of the French market, have run out of supplies.
The port strikes have raised fears among local stevedores and shippers that more shipping lines will drop French port calls in favor of foreign rivals, notably Antwerp, Zeebrugge and Rotterdam where strikes are relatively rare.
French ports handle only 30 percent of the containers destined for domestic shippers, with the remainder passing through foreign northwest European hubs and increasingly through Spanish ports.
Exports of Beaujolais Nouveau wine in November risk being shipped through Antwerp, said Christian Leroux, president of the Union of French maritime and port companies.
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