French unions, left-wing plan 10 days of action

Published 19.09.2017 00:47

President Emmanuel Macron may have won the first round of his battle to overhaul France's economy, but the coming 10 days promise to bring far more protests and unrest to the streets as labor unions and the political left step up their opposition.

Last week's demonstration by the Communist Party-linked CGT union against changes to the labor code drew many fewer protesters than expected, with police saying 220,000 people turned out nationwide, against union estimates of 400,000.

Despite opposition, the government will adopt the labor reform, which simplifies employment rules and makes hiring and firing easier, on Sept. 22.

Jean-Luc Melenchon, head of the left-wing La France Insoumise (France Unbowed) party, who sees himself as the main voice of opposition, has described Macron's proposals as a "social coup d'etat". He is calling for a mass march on Paris by the party's 530,000 mostly young members on Sept. 23.

On Monday, truck drivers belonging to the CFDT union, the largest in the country although politically more centrist, blocked some highways, including in the busy Pas-de-Calais area in the northeast, to protest the labor code changes.

On Sept. 21, the CGT union is calling for another round of nationwide protests and on Sept. 25 truck drivers belonging to CGT and Force Ouvriere, the third largest union, will begin rolling strikes, including targeting petrol stations. Keeping the pressure on, union groups are calling on retirees to demonstrate on Sept. 28 against increases to social charges, which in France are applied to a variety of income sources and used to fund health care and welfare. While Macron, 39, has seen his approval rating slump since his resounding election victory in May, he shows no sign of diluting his ambitious plans to retool the economy, including bringing down unemployment stuck above 9 percent for a decade.

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