French protests target Macron labour reforms

A demonstrator holds a placard with a picture of French President Emmanuel Macron as he attends a national strike and protest against the governments labour reforms in MarseilleImage copyright
Reuters

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Protesters gathered in Marseille, Perpignan and other big cities as the rallies against Mr Macron’s reforms began

In the first big test of Emmanuel Macron’s presidency, 180 protests are due to take place across France against changes to the country’s labour laws.

Some 4,000 strikes have been called but two of the biggest unions have distanced themselves from the action.

Marches were due in Paris, Marseille, Lyon, Nantes and the other main cities.

However, President Macron will miss the disruption, as he has travelled to the Caribbean, to see the destruction wrought by Hurricane Irma.

He was due to visit St Martin and St Barts, which were among the islands worst hit by the hurricane.

Mr Macron came to power with a pledge to overhaul France’s enormous labour code and lower unemployment to 7% by 2022, down from its current level of 9.5%.

Image copyright
AFP

Image caption

President Macron visited Toulouse on the eve of the protests, before flying to the Caribbean

The new laws hand companies more flexibility in negotiating wages and conditions directly with employees, and limit damages paid to workers for unfair dismissal.

Mr Macron’s team announced the plans last month after weeks of consultations with unions and employers.

Last week, the president angered opponents with a remark on a visit to Greece. “I am fully determined and I won’t cede any ground, not to slackers, nor cynics, nor hardliners,” he said.

Who is behind the protests?

The prime mover behind Monday’s protests was the hard-left CGT union.

The demonstrations were not expected to be on the scale of those staged a year ago against the previous government’s attempts to reform the labour code. Two of the other biggest unions, CFDT and Force Ouvrière (FO), said they would not take part, although some local FO branches were planning to march against the reforms anyway.

A number of smaller unions are also involved, including the public sector union FSU, Solidaires, and student organisation Unef.

Some commentators pointed out the irony that many of those taking part in the protests had little to do with the private sector, which was what the reforms were all about.

Two left-wing leaders have thrown their weight behind the demonstrations.

Failed Socialist presidential candidate Benoît Hamon criticised Mr Macron’s description of his opponents as “lazy”, while Jean-Luc Mélenchon, who leads radical left party La France Insoumise (France Unbowed), is planning a further day of action on 23 September.

French protests target Macron labour reforms

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