Thousands in France given free electricity by protesting workers

They have been dubbed the ‘Robin Hoods of energy.’ Unions say it is the workers’ way of showing opposition to proposed pension reforms

A photo of an engineer in a high-vis vest looking up at an electricity pylon
Setting up the free power is a risk for the workers, but has been hailed as a non-violent form of protest as part of the anti-pension reform movement
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Some energy workers have been dubbed ‘the Robin Hoods of energy’ after illegally organising free energy to be sent to homes and public sites in France as part of the protests against pension reform.

The CGT, one of France’s main unions, has confirmed the action and used the “Robin Hood” term. It said: “Dozens of establishments in the public interest (including hospitals, crèches, lycées, and collèges) and thousands of users and professionals were sent free gas or electricity.

“Hundreds of small businesses were placed on a lower tariff, and hundreds of users were reconnected after fraudulent disconnection in this cold weather period.”

The methods have been described as a non-violent way to protest, a good alternative to action that causes damage to properties, and is much more welcome among the public than blocking oil refineries and preventing petrol deliveries.

‘Action without noise’

Such action is not new, however. They most recently date back to 2004, during protests that occurred when EDF changed status and was deregulated for the first time.

Fabrice Coudour, federal secretary of the CGT Federation of Mines and Energy (FNME-CGT), told Nouvel Obs: "[This type of action] hasn’t stopped since, without necessarily making any media noise.

“For example, we regularly intervene on illegal cut-offs of power, because they are made during the winter break. This autumn, we switched 10,000 users on to free gas and very few talked about it.”

The engineers are tight-lipped about exactly which establishments and homes are concerned, and have to stay discreet.

Making the switch can be risky for them because around 92% of homes in France now use smart meters like Linky. These can detect remote actions more easily.

Continued protests

Energy workers are among those to have taken a major role in the recent protests and strikes against the government’s proposed pension reforms. More protests and demonstrations are set for this Saturday (February 11), and the most recent day of action was February 7.

Read more: New strike day announced in France, protests also this Saturday

The government claims that 757,000 people turned out for the movement, but the CGT union said the number was closer to two million.

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