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ELECTRIC REBELLION

A French union cut power to an Amazon facility in support of workers

Protesting Amazon France.
Reuters/Stephan Mahe
Deliver us from Amazon.
Ephrat Livni
By Ephrat Livni

Senior reporter, law & politics, DC.

It’s a quintessentially French holiday season as three weeks of labor strikes over proposed pension reforms have halted trains, subways, the national economy, and even, briefly, the god of consumption, Amazon.

One Amazon France location near Paris was expected to get 50,000 packages out the door on the night of Dec. 22. Instead, workers at the Blanc-Mesnil site found themselves in the dark. A strategic pre-holiday attack on electricity left the facility without power and the workers idle.

The local Blanc-Mesnil branch of the General Confederation of Labor union (CGT) claimed responsibility for the act. “It is in support of the workers who walked out last week to denounce their working conditions and to mark our opposition to pension reforms,” Marc Fréville, secretary of the local CGT, told the publication Le Parisien (link in French).

The outage began near midnight and lasted until morning. A line of trucks from the site to the highway waited for operations to resume as some workers sat in the darkness until dawn. Power was restored by Enedis, the local utility, at 7:30 AM. A utility representative condemned the attack and told French press it would be filing a complaint.

Amazon has not been the sole target of power cuts, which seem to be the latest innovation in French labor strikes. French utility workers cut power throughout Paris early in December, forcing the Eiffel Tower to close and leaving many homes dark.

Philippe Martinez, head of the CGT union, has told the media that members may sometimes target public buildings and big businesses but that they do not intend for the sabotage to affect households.

These electric rebellions do present certain dangers, however.

On Dec. 21, a surgeon in a clinic near the city of Toulouse found himself contending with a few seconds of darkness (in French). Although he says the procedure he was performing wasn’t affected by the power cut, a fellow surgeon condemned the “illegal” act. “This cut took place while one of my colleagues was operating. This could have had serious consequences,” Philippe Fiatte said (in French).

That power outage was orchestrated by the local CGT 47 and targeted a local stadium. Clinic director Lionel Combs said that he will speak to utility authorities before deciding whether to sue the union.

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