Thousands of marchers rallied in French big cities to protest against changes to the country’s labour laws, an important part of President Emanuel Macron agenda.
Two of the biggest unions have distanced themselves from the action. The first marches took place in Marseille, Bordeaux in the west and Le Havre and Caen in the north, with the biggest attracting several thousand demonstrators. Scuffles were reported in Lyon as police blocked the path of protesters. Police and protest organisers differed widely about the numbers involved, but it was in Paris that organisers were hoping for the biggest turnout.
Police estimated the total in the capital at 24,000. Protesters walked from Place de la Bastille to Place d’Italie and the hard-left CGT union put the numbers involved at 60,000, a substantially lower number than an anti-labour reform protest in March 2016. When projectiles were thrown at police and a glass advertising hoarding was vandalised, authorities responded with tear gas and a water cannon.
Macron came to power with a pledge to overhaul France’s enormous labour code and lower unemployment to 7% by 2022, down from its current level of 9.5%. The new laws hand companies more flexibility in negotiating wages and conditions directly with employees, and limit damages paid to workers for unfair dismissal. Macron’s team announced the plans last month after weeks of consultations with unions and employers.
Last week, the president angered opponents with a remark on a visit to Greece. “I am fully determined and I won’t cede any ground, not to slackers, nor cynics, nor hardliners,” he said. Several of Tuesday’s protest placards targeted these comments, with messages such as “too lazy to think up a slogan” and “slackers on the move”, which mocked the name of the president’s centrist LREM party (Republic on the Move).
Macron himself wasn`t in France during the protests, because he was visiting the country`s Caribbean islands that were hit by Hurricane Irma. Labour reforms are considered to be the first big test for his presidency, experts believe. Although just a few months ago he won the presidential elections with one of the biggest margins in modern French politics, his popularity has been sliding in recent polls.