‘It’s just the beginning’: France sees fresh labour reform protests
Unions staged new protests Thursday against an overhaul of France's labour laws, hoping to build pressure on President Emmanuel Macron days before his flagship reforms are expected to enter into
Published: 21 September 2017 16:00 CEST
Protests in Paris on September 21st. AFP
The marches and strikes come a week after hundreds of thousands of people — 200,000 according to police, half a million according to organisers — demonstrated against the measures in the first major challenge to Macron since he was elected in May.
More rallies are expected Saturday, staged by hard-left political party France Unbowed, which will provide another measure of the resistance to 39-year-old Macron's pro-business agenda.
“This is only the beginning,” said leader of France Unbowed, Jean-Luc Melenchon, who came fourth in this year's presidential elections.
But despite Mélenchon's threat the turn-out on Thursday suggested enthusiasm for the battle against Macron was dwindling. Police said some 16,000 people protested in Paris on Thursday, compared to 24,000 the week before.
While unions put the number at 55,000 it's still too few to put any kind of pressure on the president to change his mind at this late stage.
Anti-labour reform protests in Paris on September 21st. AFP.
But Macron has insisted his government will not compromise on the reforms which make it easier for companies to hire and fire and were worked out during three months of negotiations with union leaders.
“Democracy does not happen in the street,” Macron said in New York on Wednesday, insisting he has a mandate for change after having swept the board in presidential and parliamentary elections in May and June.
Disruption at companies and to public services was limited last week.
“When the unions, when the workers are divided, that is generally when the company owners win,” Martinez acknowledged Thursday as he called again for his counterparts to join in.
The labour changes, which are being fast-tracked via executive orders, are designed to give employers more flexibility to negotiate pay and conditions with their workers while reducing the costs of firing staff.
Public opinion is divided, according to a recent BVA poll, with most saying they think the reforms will boost France's competitiveness but fail to improve employees' working conditions.
Macron insists the reforms will encourage hiring, helping to bring down stubbornly high employment of 9.5 percent.
Once his cabinet approves the measures Friday, they are expected to be published in the official gazette and enter law.
The use of executive orders is a way to pass the measures quickly and avoid a prolonged battle in the streets — as seen last year when Macron's predecessor Francois Hollande made similar changes to labour law.
While the strategy may succeed in overhauling France's complex workplace regulations, some critics see the method as reinforcing perceptions of Macron as a monarchical leader.
Criticism of him as aloof and sometimes authoritarian have contributed to sharp falls in his popularity, with his approval rating languishing at 44 percent according to an Odoxa poll out on Monday.
His office added that the president’s speech “will not touch on other matters” – Macron has only until Friday to confirm whether or not he is running for re-election.
It is widely considered to be extremely unlikely that he would not stand in the April elections, but all candidates have until Friday, March 4th, to make their declaration.
Macron’s team had previously announced a rally in Marseille on Saturday, March 5th, which was expected to be the first official campaign event, but on Tuesday this was cancelled because of the ongoing international crisis.
Macron was at the forefront of international efforts to find a diplomatic resolution to the crisis, and since Russia invaded Ukraine he has remained in close contact with Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky, and has also spoken – at the request of Zelensky – to Russian premier Vladimir Putin.
The Local will be following Macron’s speech live from 8pm HERE.
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