French student protests against job reforms turn ugly

Students protesting labour reforms took to the streets across France on Thursday, torching cars in Paris and clashing with riot police who responded with tear gas and made about two dozen arrests.

French student protests against job reforms turn ugly
Students and youth activists clash with police in Paris and Nantes. Photo: AFP

Fifteen protesters were arrested in Paris, where two policemen were injured, and another nine students were detained in the western city of Nantes.

The reforms, which had been significantly watered down under pressure from an earlier wave of protests, were adopted on Thursday by the cabinet of an increasingly unpopular President Francois Hollande, who hopes to stand for
re-election next year.

“Young and insurgent, the world is ours” read one banner as some 5,000 protesters gathered at Place d'Italie in the south of the French capital, where students torched two cars, threw bottles at riot police and emptied a rubbish bin over other officers.

Protests were also staged in other cities, including Marseille, Bordeaux,Toulouse and Lyon.

Students have been at the forefront of protests over the reforms aimed at freeing up the job market and reining in France's 10 percent unemployment rate.

 Among youths, joblessness is nearer to 25 percent — among the highest in Europe.

The youths, along with unions and the left flank of Hollande's Socialist Party, say the reforms are too pro-business and threaten hallowed workers' rights.

(Police fire tear gas in Nantes. AFP)

(Trouble also flares in Paris. AFP)


Prime Minister Manuel Valls has touted the reforms as “intelligent, audacious and necessary” in the face of stubbornly high unemployment, which has not dropped below seven percent in 30 years.

“Our country has become used to (joblessness) for too long,” he said.

The pressure from opponents prompted the government this month to water down the contested reforms, walking a tightrope between the insistent demands of employers and employees.

“It lends new momentum to social democracy,” said the bill's author, Labour Minister Myriam El Khomri, calling it “balanced, both providing new flexibility to companies and new protections for workers.”

'Reformist' unions back measures

But bosses are unhappy with the withdrawal of a cap on the amount companies must pay for unfair dismissal, as well as the scrapping of a measure that would have allowed small- and medium-sized companies to unilaterally introduce
flexible working hours.

While employers' groups called on Valls to restore the reforms' original goal of creating jobs, the concessions were enough to persuade several so-called “reformist” unions to get behind the new version while still urging
new language on conditions for laying off workers.

The seven unions and youth groups that organised Thursday's protests are demanding the withdrawal of the reforms.

A high school protester in Marseille carried a banner reading: “A great leap forward towards the 19th century”.


Last week students paralysed dozens of schools and universities across France, and on Thursday students were again barricading campus entrances in Paris.

Socialist Party dissidents, threatening stiff resistance when the reforms reach parliament, have presented a “counter-reform”.

The government's proposed reforms are scheduled to be taken up by parliament's social affairs committee on April 5, and by the full body in late April or early May.

Before that, the protest movement plans an even bigger mobilisation for March 31.

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Students blockade Paris schools in election protest

Students blockaded five schools in Paris on Tuesday to demonstrate their political concerns ahead of the second round of the Presidential elections on Sunday.

Students blockade Paris schools in election protest

In addition to the five blockaded lycées, the université Paris 8 in Saint-Denis was closed “for security reasons”.

The students – who are too young to make their voices heard at the ballot box – were protesting against the options available to voters in the second round – where incumbent Emmanuel Macron takes on far-right leader Marine Le Pen – and follows earlier student protests at the Sorbonne.

Many were demonstrating in protest at what they saw as inadequate policies on climate change and social issues from both candidates in the final round of voting, as well as the lack of choice for the electorate.

“It is a continuation of what happened at the Sorbonne,” one student told AFP. “We want a third social round, because the two candidates qualified for the second round have no social or ecological programmes. 

“We want to give a new breath to this Fifth Republic a little at the end of the race.

“We are fed up with the fascist state. We are here against Marine Le Pen, against fascism, for the climate and against capitalism,” another student at the lycée Louis-le-Grand in the capital’s fifth arrondissement said.

“We have blocked all the entrances. We will stay there as long as possible.”

About 100 students blockaded the prestigious school. Some students chant slogans against the “Front National” – the former name of second-round candidate Marine Le Pen’s far-right Rassemblement National party.

The blockades ended peacefully at the end of the day.