Strikes, demonstrations protest labor changes in France

By Allen Cone   |   Sept. 12, 2017 at 12:58 PM
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Sept. 12 (UPI) -- Union workers went on strike and several thousand demonstrated in the streets throughout France on Tuesday to protest the government's plans to overhaul the nation's labor regulations.

Newly elected President Emmanuel Macron wants to revamp the Code du Travail. He expects next month to loosen regulations for small companies, make it easier to hire and fire employees, and allow businesses to negotiate certain workplace issues rather than abide by industrywide agreements. Macron was in the Caribbean on Tuesday to visit the French islands of St. Martin and St. Barthelemy after devastation from Hurricane Irma.

Unions and left-wing parties organized the protests in cities that included Lyon, Nantes, Paris and Toulouse.

Public sector workers, train staff and energy sector workers joined in the strikes as members of the left-wing CGT, France's second biggest union. The union called for 4,000 strikes and protests in France.

The Irish low-cost carrier Ryanair canceled flights, but other airlines, high-speed trains and Eurostar trains were not disrupted. Local transportation was affected in Nice, but in Paris delays were limited to two commuter lines.

Jean-Luc Melenchon, a leftist Parlimanet minister who is founder of the France Unbowed Party, said Macron "can and must back down." His group is planning a separate demonstration against the labor overhaul on Sept. 23.

"This isn't our last stand," Melenchon told reporters at a demonstration in the southern city of Marseille. "We are organizing a relentless defense of the labor code."

More moderate unions don't support the labor changes but have not called on their members to protest.

Some groups also were protesting other changes, including budget cuts for civil servants, cuts in housing subsidies for students and overhaul of pension structure.

"If Macron passes the reforms, then he will have more powers to pass further reforms," Alain Cure, a 66-year-old elementary school principal in Paris and a union member, told The New York Times at a demonstration at the Place de la Bastille in Paris.

In the protest, police fired teargas after masked men dressed in black threw projectiles.

Last weekend in a speech in Athens, Greece, Macon said he would "not yield anything, either to the lazy, the cynics or the extremes."

"Exhausted, angry ... but not lazy," read a placard carried by Valerie, 50, a health assistant from outside Paris. She told The Guardian: "I'm not against reforms per se, but we don't want protections stripped away so people are forced into precarious, low-wage jobs like they are in Britain or Germany. My grandparents and great-grandparents fought to have social security, to get rights which are now being stripped away. This is about protecting the French social model."

Some protesters shouted: "Lazy slackers unite" in protests in different cities.

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