When France’s President Macron this week ordered workers employed by ExxonMobil and TotalEnergies to call off strike action in pursuit of an inflation-based pay claim, he knew he was taking a risk. The strike, now into its third week, has created fuel shortages across the country and, if it spreads, could effectively bring the country to a standstill.

Macron’s patience, as ever on a short fuse, ran out on Tuesday when he invoked emergency legislation aimed at the preservation of national security to demand that key workers taking part in the strikes should return to work. Those who refused the “requisition order” could, he said, face fines or even imprisonment.