French president Emmanuel Macron’s presidency faces first major street protests

Emmanuel Macron’s presidency faces first major street protests

France’s second biggest union says more than 180 demos planned nationwide against contentious labour law reforms


Protests in Toulouse against the overhaul of French labour laws
Protests in Toulouse against the overhaul of French labour laws on Monday. On Tuesday, the CGT union is planning to lead 180 demonstrations across France. Photograph: Eric Cabanis/AFP/Getty Images

The leftwing CGT, France’s second biggest trade union, is leading scores of protests across France, with public sector workers, train staff and energy sector workers expected to join.

It is the first test of whether opposition to Macron’s pro-business plans to loosen labour rules could translate into a broader street protest movement, which the president is determined to face down.

Four thousand strikes have been called by the CGT with rail workers, students and civil servants urged to protest in cities from Paris to Marseille and Toulouse. In Paris on Tuesday morning, the transport disruption was limited to two commuter train lines. High-speed train-lines and the Eurostar were running normally. Air traffic controllers had also been urged to strike, and Irish low-cost carrier Ryanair said it had cancelled 110 flights scheduled for Tuesday.

In a separate move, funfair operators — angry over unrelated fairground reforms voted in by the previous government — blocked traffic on the outskirts of several cities on Tuesday morning.

The CGT’s secretary general, Philippe Martinez, said more than 180 demonstrations against the new labour laws were planned across the country, warning that he sensed “very strong discontent”.

The CGT’s main street march through Paris will take place on Tuesday afternoon.

Macron, a 39-year-old former investment banker and centrist who was elected in May against the far-right Marine Le Pen, is seeking to style himself as a pro-business reformer who would never give in to street protests.

A row broke out this weekend over Macron’s strong language after he said in a speech in Athens that he would “not yield anything, either to the lazy, the cynics or the extremes”.

Many on the left expressed outrage, saying the president was implying workers who opposed him were lazy. Indeed, the word “lazy” is likely to become the rallying slogan of the anti-Macron demonstrations. The CGT’s Martinez called Macron’s comments “scandalous”.

Asked on Monday whether he regretted using the word, Macron replied “absolutely not”, saying he had not been referring to workers but to previous French leaders who he said were not brave enough to make sweeping changes in France.

Macron is facing street demonstrations sooner after taking office than any other recent French leader. This is in part because his labour law changes are being fast-tracked and pushed through parliament with record speed using executive orders.


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