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‘Robin Hood’ Strikes in France: Workers Provide Free Energy for Hospitals, Schools, and Low-Income Homes

Last week, energy workers in France provided free energy for hospitals, schools, low-income households, and libraries. They show that the working class holds the keys to the economy, and can put these resources in the service of society.

Otto Fors

February 1, 2023
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Protesters in Paris over proposed pension reforms.

France has been roiled by protests over President Emmanuel Macron’s proposal to raise the retirement age. On both January 19 and 31, over a million people across the country took part in demonstrations, and last week, workers with the CGT union took a more radical approach: they provided free energy as part of so-called “Robin Hood” operations.

Many members of the CGT, one of France’s largest labor unions, work in key energy sectors like oil refineries and power grids. In workers’ assemblies in Paris, Marseilles, Lille, and other cities, they unanimously decided to provide free energy for low-income households, hospitals, schools, and other public buildings and services. Workers also cut power for several hours to the office of a lawmaker from Macron’s party, disabled speed cameras, and manipulated electricity and gas meters to reduce bills for small business owners.

The protests against pension reforms and the CGT’s actions come as workers in France face a cost-of-living crisis. Inflation stands at 7 percent, while energy prices have risen by 15 percent since the start of 2023.

This isn’t the first time that CGT workers have used their strategic power in the energy sector to engage in these actions. In December 2020, they re-connected power to homes in poor suburbs in Paris. The following month, they cut power to the headquarters of the CFDT, a trade union that was negotiating with the Macron administration over pension reforms and refusing to call a strike.

These radical actions show that workers make the world and the economy run — not capitalists. Gwenaël Plagne, a CGT member at a thermal power plant, put it bluntly: “The point of today’s protests is to show that the balance of power is moving up a notch and that, if we wanted to, we could paralyze the country.”

Workers hold the keys to the world’s economy, whether in energy, manufacturing, transport, or other strategic sectors. These resources can be put in the service of the working class, rather than in the service of profit. French workers are showing the way forward.

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Otto Fors

Otto is a college professor in the New York area.

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