Striking ‘Robin Hood’ energy workers give public free power in France

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Free gas and electricity flowed into schools, universities, hospitals and low-income households in France on Thursday in an operation by striking energy sector workers dubbed “Robin Hood”. As French President Emmanuel Macron came under pressure amid national strikes in the energy sector, workers in the industry launched their “Robin des Bois” (Robin Hood) operation to give free power to public institutions and private households, without the state’s authorisation. The wave of discontent comes as swathes of the public urge Paris to drop plans to increase the retirement age in France. 

Part the efforts hurled at the French Government involved dishing out free energy. 

Philippe Martinez, secretary-general of the GGT, one of the largest confederations of trade unions in France, told France 24 that operation was performed to “intensify the balance of power” in favour of striking workers. 

He added: “[It’s about] returning energy to those who don’t have it at all because they can’t afford to, and making it free for hospitals and schools.” 

The operation was named after the iconic Englishman known for stealing from the rich and giving to the poor. More of the same could be on the way, union representatives have warned Mr Macron.

Frédéric Probel, secretary general of the CGT in Bagneux, told FranceInfo: “If the government doesn’t retract its retirement reforms, we will continue and we will make energy free for everyone who doesn’t have access to regulated tariffs, whether they are public establishments or businesses.” 

In Paris and the city suburbs, free energy was delivered to a range of public institutions, also included hospitals clinics, skating rinks, swimming pools, high schools, public buildings and street lighting. 

But the Robin Hood operation is just piece of the jigsaw puzzle as strikers use a range of measures to put pressure on the French state. 

While not as significant on the energy sector as strikes earlier this month, fuel deliveries were partially disrupted due to the industrial action taken by oil refinery workers on Thursday. 

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The country’s power output also fall slightly, with electricity supply from the Belleville 1 nuclear reactor lowered by 1 gigawatt (GW) due to the strike.

But on January 10, the situation was far worse, with the nation that is usually a net exporter of energy forced to import from overseas as its power output plummeted by 10 percent. 

However, the industry has warned that it has the ball is in its court and could make the situation for Mr Macron as difficult as it pleases.

Gwenaël Plagne, CGT representative at a thermal power plant in Cordemais, told France 24: “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 paralyse the country.”

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A second national strike that will involve teachers, civil servants, transport workers as well as those from other secotrs is allso planned for Tuesday, January 31. However, this may not only cause a headache for Mr Macron, but so too could it raise the alarm for the UK’s National Grid. 

It comes after the network operator asked three coal-fired power plants in Britain to be warmed up to provide emergency assistance to France amid the strikes. Britain and France frequently exchange energy via interconnectors that send electricity across the channel. 

While as a cold snap plunged the UK into freezing temperatures, having an inevitable impact on heating demand, France’s system operator RTE asked whether the National Grid could provide it with a helping hand. 

National Grid ESO then warmed up three coal-fired power stations to “support the French network in avoiding consumer disconnections”. 

A spokesman for National Grid ESO [electricity system operator] said: “In support of mutual cooperation between Great Britain and its neighbouring electricity networks the ESO answered France’s request for additional GB generation to be able to provide assistance today if required by warming the contingency coal units.

“The ESO was able to take this action to support the French network in avoiding consumer disconnections, as the GB network is currently operating as normal and this action would not have placed GB consumers at risk.

“Following further assessment of network margins in both countries the ESO has now stood down these coal units.”

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