During a visit to Greece, just days before the hardline CGT union's planned strikes on Tuesday against the president's proposed reforms to the France's enshrined labour code, Macron said that he would “not yield anything, either to the lazy, the cynics or the extremes.”
He lamented that France “is not open to reforms… We rebel, we resist, we circumvent. This is what we are like.”
The dismissal of his opponents was quickly picked up on back home, with politicians taking offence at the president's words.
Jean-Luc Melenchon, leader of the far-left party France Unbowed, who came fourth in this year's presidential election, wasted no time in using the president's words against him, calling on the “lazy” to join this month's demonstrations on September 12th and 23rd against the reforms.
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Failed Socialist presidential candidate Benoit Hamon, who also backs Tuesday's action, lambasted Macron for his “insulting” remarks in Athens, which he said were “unworthy” of a head of state.
“Lazy people are the independently wealthy, who don't need to work for a living,” he told reporters. “And a lot of independently wealthy picked Emmanuel Macron as their champion.”
For his part, Philippe Martinez, the head of the CGT union, called Macron's comments “scandalous”.
“Who was the president talking about when he said he wouldn't yield anything to the lazy? The millions of unemployed and those without stable jobs?”
Despite this criticism, Macron said on Monday that he doesn't regret using the word “lazy” and that he said it with the goal of “moving the country forward”.
Taking to the streets
Protesters will take to the streets across France in the first major challenge to Emmanuel Macron's promised labour reforms, the biggest and riskiest of his fledgling presidency, on Tuesday.
The day of protest will also gauge the ability of unions to mobilise after deep divisions have emerged between those determined to fight the reforms and those willing to compromise.
The CGT union, one of France's biggest, has asked civil servants, rail and transport workers as well as students to observe the strike.
CGT secretary general Philippe Martinez said more than 180 demonstrations were planned across the country, telling the daily newspaper Le Parisien on Sunday he sensed “very strong discontent”.
The centrist Macron, 39, is hoping to avoid a repeat of the months-long, sometimes violent protests unleashed by labour reforms pushed through last year by his Socialist predecessor Francois Hollande.
Macron's decision to use executive orders to fast-track the labour reforms has angered all the unions, including those that are not striking on Tuesday and are adopting instead a wait-and-see attitude.
The orders must be ratified by parliament but are expected to breeze through given the large majority won by the president's Republic on the Move party in June.
Eric Beynel, spokesman of the progressive Solidaires group of unions, said workers would keep up the pressure “until the orders are withdrawn”.
The Force Ouvriere (FO) union, which had been shoulder-to-shoulder with the CGT last year, has decided to keep its powder dry for battles down the road, specifically a proposed reform to unemployment insurance.
Nevertheless several FO sections and activists from other unions plan to defy orders and down tools anyway on Tuesday.
Campaign promises fulfilled
The pro-business Macron is determined to make good on campaign promises to deepen the labour reforms — the unions have dubbed his draft legislation the “XXL” version of the labour law — as a key to tackling France's stubborn unemployment rate.
Currently at 9.5 percent, joblessness in France is roughly twice that of Britain or Germany.
On the campaign trail, Macron pledged to overhaul regulations and reduce the weight of the French state to free up business activity.
Under his plan, bosses would be given more latitude to negotiate working conditions directly with their employees rather than being required to honour industry-wide agreements.
There would also be a ceiling for compensation for unfair dismissal.
The CGT plans to follow up Tuesday's actions with another protest day on September 21, to be followed by another two days later, called by Melenchon.
Recent polls showed that only around 40 percent of French voters are satisfied with his performance in office, with analysts attributing the disaffection to a mix of communication problems and political missteps.
“The feeling that the (labour) reform is unfair is beginning to take hold, which is not a good sign” for Macron, said pollster Frederic Dabi of Ifop.
Macron has to show strength and “not give in at the start of his term, so as not to give a bad signal to voters,” Dabi said.
On the other hand, discontent over the labour reforms could morph into more general dissatisfaction with Macron, he warned.