France forces through labour bill amid new protests

France's controversial new labour laws look set to be pushed through parliament today without a vote, as demonstrators get ready to protest once again.

France forces through labour bill amid new protests
French PM Manuel Valls was unrepentant after forcing the unpopular labour reforms through parliament. Photo: AFP
French Prime Minister Manuel Valls on Tuesday invoked a constitutional measure to force through contested labour laws,
bypassing parliament.
“This country is too used to mass unemployment,” Valls told parliament, saying he was acting in the “general interest” of the French people. “It is not posturing, it's not intransigence,” he said
MPs have 24 hours to decide whether to call a vote of no confidence in Valls' government, which the right-wing opposition has already ruled out.
The highly expected move, needed because the government cannot count on enough support for the bill in parliament, came amid renewed protests across the country.
The government's unpopular use of the 49:3 article when the bill was first presented to the National Assembly gave protests a new lease of life.
In what was the 12th day of protest over the hugely controversial labour laws, unions called for demonstrations across France's big cities on Tuesday. 
In Paris, demonstrators marched between Place d'Italie and Bastille amid a high police presence. Official police estimates put the number of protesters at around 7,000, although unions said the turn out was 45,000. Either way it reflects a significant fall in the number of demonstrators.
Unions are hoping that their march will force amendments or a withdrawal of the bill, although both President Francois Hollande and Prime Minister Manuel Valls had already made it clear that they are done with negotiations. 
The union heads have said that Tuesday's protest will be the last of the summer, but have vowed to return to the streets in September. 
Photo: AFP
The marches came on the same day the bill returned to the lower house of parliament, the National Assembly, after being discussed by the Senate.
Lawmakers in the lower house had until Friday to discuss the many amendments to the bill added by senators, most of which are expected to be scrapped as they were not backed by the government.
But as expected the under-fire Socialist government used what's known as article 49-3 to push through the labour reforms through the National Assembly without the usual vote.
The constitutional manoeuvre was seen as the only way to get the bill through, because even though the lower house is dominated by Socialists, the left flank of the party is staunchly opposed to the labour reforms and would have voted to block them. 
The 49-3 article was also used controversially last year to push through a law that liberalised some economic activities, including the extension of Sunday trading hours.
According to an opinion poll published last week, 73 percent of the French would be “shocked” if the government circumvented a vote on Tuesday. 
President Francois Hollande said last week that his Socialist government would “go all the way” to enact the reforms, which are seen by critics as too pro-business and a threat to cherished workers' rights.
The bill, which is aimed at reining in unemployment by freeing up the job market, essentially makes it easier to hire and fire workers in France.
The head of the CGT worker's union Philippe Martinez. Photo: AFP
Prime Minister Manuel Valls has already signalled he is not open to further modifying the text, but met with union heads last week. 
Unions say the main sticking point is a measure giving precedence to agreements negotiated between companies and their staff over deals reached with unions across entire industrial sectors — notably on working hours.
Hollande, who faces a re-election bid next April, had hoped for a signature reform to reverse his dire approval ratings.
But pressure from the street, as well as parliament's back benches, caused the government to water down the proposals, which only angered bosses while failing to assuage critics.

The bill, which is aimed at reining in unemployment by freeing up the job market, essentially makes it easier to hire and fire workers in France.

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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.