French unions go on strike over Macron’s labour law reform

Spread the love

French civil servants angered by Emmanuel Macron’s plans to freeze their pay and eliminate 120,000 public jobs go on strike Tuesday, amplifying a revolt over the president’s cost-cutting, pro-business agenda.

Nine unions representing 5.4million public workers have called for a day of nationwide strikes and demonstrations to show their ‘profound disagreement’ with Macron’s bid to transform the gargantuan public service. 

The strikes come weeks after Macron accused disgruntled workers of ‘stirring up s***’ and called critics of his labour reforms ‘slackers’.

Nine unions representing 5.4million public workers have called for a day of nationwide strikes and demonstrations to show their 'profound disagreement' with President Emmanuel Macron's labor law reform

Nine unions representing 5.4million public workers have called for a day of nationwide strikes and demonstrations to show their 'profound disagreement' with President Emmanuel Macron's labor law reform

Nine unions representing 5.4million public workers have called for a day of nationwide strikes and demonstrations to show their ‘profound disagreement’ with President Emmanuel Macron’s labor law reform

Students, surrounded by CGT labour union workers, attend a demonstration with public sector workers as part of a nationwide strike against French government reforms in Nantes, France. The slogan reads 'Study to fight, fight to study. We are young and committed'

Students, surrounded by CGT labour union workers, attend a demonstration with public sector workers as part of a nationwide strike against French government reforms in Nantes, France. The slogan reads 'Study to fight, fight to study. We are young and committed'

Students, surrounded by CGT labour union workers, attend a demonstration with public sector workers as part of a nationwide strike against French government reforms in Nantes, France. The slogan reads ‘Study to fight, fight to study. We are young and committed’

The protests are the fourth in a series of demonstrations aimed at forcing the 39-year-old president to row back on his reforms

The strikes come weeks after Macron accused disgruntled workers of 'stirring up s***' and called critics of his labour reforms 'slackers'

The strikes come weeks after Macron accused disgruntled workers of 'stirring up s***' and called critics of his labour reforms 'slackers'

The strikes come weeks after Macron accused disgruntled workers of ‘stirring up s***’ and called critics of his labour reforms ‘slackers’

The protests are the fourth in a series of demonstrations aimed at forcing the 39-year-old president to row back on his reforms.

‘The government does not seem to have taken the full measure of the deep malaise among civil servants,’ Laurent Berger, head of the CFDT, France’s second-biggest union, told Les Echos business daily.

‘They are suffering from being seen merely as a budgetary constraint and not as beneficial,’ he said. 

For the first time since 2009, hospital unions have called on medical staff to walk off the job.

Schools are also set to be affected and trains and flights are expected to be delayed.

In some cities, including Paris, demonstrations turned violent. Pictured above, a demonstration attacks the front window of an HSBC bank branch in Paris during the strike

In some cities, including Paris, demonstrations turned violent. Pictured above, a demonstration attacks the front window of an HSBC bank branch in Paris during the strike

In some cities, including Paris, demonstrations turned violent. Pictured above, a demonstration attacks the front window of an HSBC bank branch in Paris during the strike

Activists attack the front window of a Swiss bank HSBC branch on the sidelines of a demonstration on Tuesday in Paris

Activists attack the front window of a Swiss bank HSBC branch on the sidelines of a demonstration on Tuesday in Paris

Activists attack the front window of a Swiss bank HSBC branch on the sidelines of a demonstration on Tuesday in Paris

Demonstrators smash windows of an HSBC bank in Paris during nationwide labour strikes in France

Demonstrators smash windows of an HSBC bank in Paris during nationwide labour strikes in France

Demonstrators smash windows of an HSBC bank in Paris during nationwide labour strikes in France

Protesters are contained by members of trade union's security during a demonstration as part of a nation-wide action day of French civil servants against government's plans to freeze their pay and eliminate 120,000 public jobs in Reenes

Protesters are contained by members of trade union's security during a demonstration as part of a nation-wide action day of French civil servants against government's plans to freeze their pay and eliminate 120,000 public jobs in Reenes

Protesters are contained by members of trade union’s security during a demonstration as part of a nation-wide action day of French civil servants against government’s plans to freeze their pay and eliminate 120,000 public jobs in Reenes

People wear masks as they take part in nationwide demonstrations against labour law reforms in France

People wear masks as they take part in nationwide demonstrations against labour law reforms in France

People wear masks as they take part in nationwide demonstrations against labour law reforms in France

People demonstrate as part of a nation-wide action day of French civil servants against labour law reforms

People demonstrate as part of a nation-wide action day of French civil servants against labour law reforms

People demonstrate as part of a nation-wide action day of French civil servants against labour law reforms

The education ministry said about 17% of teachers across the country were on strike. Some school canteens and nurseries were closed, and several high schools in Paris shut because students were blocking the entrances in solidarity with the unions. 

Thirty percent of flights in and out of Paris and other major cities have been cancelled.

Air France said about 25 per cent of domestic flights would be cancelled due to a walkout by traffic controllers. The airline expects to run all long-haul flights to and from Paris airports. 

Jean-Claude Mailly, secretary general of the FO union, called on Mr Macron to stop ‘austerity’ policies towards public servants during a protest in the city of Lyon. 

This is the first time in a decade that all nine public-sector unions have issued a joint strike call. 

It comes as Macron – who has been painted as a ‘president of the rich’ by leftist critics – continues to take heat for a string of derogatory comments about disgruntled workers. 

A man holds a sign reading "He's the mess" (referring to the French president's use of the word 'bordel')

A man holds a sign reading "He's the mess" (referring to the French president's use of the word 'bordel')

A man holds a sign reading ‘He’s the mess’ (referring to the French president’s use of the word ‘bordel’)

People hold Force Ouvriere (FO) union flags and a banner reading "no Republic without public utility" during a nation-wide action day in Bordeaux

People hold Force Ouvriere (FO) union flags and a banner reading "no Republic without public utility" during a nation-wide action day in Bordeaux

People hold Force Ouvriere (FO) union flags and a banner reading ‘no Republic without public utility’ during a nation-wide action day in Bordeaux

People in Paris take part in a nationwide strikes and demonstrations day called by nine unions representing 5,4 million public sector workers

People in Paris take part in a nationwide strikes and demonstrations day called by nine unions representing 5,4 million public sector workers

People in Paris take part in a nationwide strikes and demonstrations day called by nine unions representing 5,4 million public sector workers

Demonstrators of the French Democratic Confederation of Labour (CFDT) attend a demonstration with public sector workers as part of a nationwide strike against French government reforms in Lyon, France. Placard (right) reads, "Hit, hit, Macron's head", wile the left placard reads 'Sick? Too bad for you! Strike day'

Demonstrators of the French Democratic Confederation of Labour (CFDT) attend a demonstration with public sector workers as part of a nationwide strike against French government reforms in Lyon, France. Placard (right) reads, "Hit, hit, Macron's head", wil
e the left placard reads 'Sick? Too bad for you! Strike day'

Demonstrators of the French Democratic Confederation of Labour (CFDT) attend a demonstration with public sector workers as part of a nationwide strike against French government reforms in Lyon, France. Placard (right) reads, ‘Hit, hit, Macron’s head’, wile the left placard reads ‘Sick? Too bad for you! Strike day’

Tuesday's strikes (one in Nantes pictured above) amplify a revolt over the president's cost-cutting, pro-business agenda

Tuesday's strikes (one in Nantes pictured above) amplify a revolt over the president's cost-cutting, pro-business agenda

Tuesday’s strikes (one in Nantes pictured above) amplify a revolt over the president’s cost-cutting, pro-business agenda

French Force Ouvriere (FO) labour union leader Jean-Claude Mailly attends a demonstration in Lyon

French Force Ouvriere (FO) labour union leader Jean-Claude Mailly attends a demonstration in Lyon

French Force Ouvriere (FO) labour union leader Jean-Claude Mailly attends a demonstration in Lyon

Last week, pro-business Macron claimed disgruntled workers were ‘stirring up s***’ in the central town of Egletons after around 150 workers and former colleagues who had been laid off clashed with police during a protest at the GM&S auto parts plant in the same region.

‘Some, instead of stirring up s***, would be better off looking for work’ at a foundry that is hiring in Ussel, Macron said to a regional official, Alain Rousset, referring to a town about 140 kilometres (85 miles) away.

In early September, just days before a union-led protest against Macron’s labour reforms, he said he would not back down ‘to slackers, cynics and extremists’.

The remark became a rallying cry, with protesters coining slogans such as ‘Slackers of the world, unite!’

But head of the CFDT Berger and other labour leaders have been divided over how to respond to Macron’s far-reaching shake-up of France’s labour code. 

This is the first time in a decade that all nine public-sector unions have issued a joint strike call. Pictured above, people demonstrate as part of a nation-wide action day of French civil servants in Nantes

This is the first time in a decade that all nine public-sector unions have issued a joint strike call. Pictured above, people demonstrate as part of a nation-wide action day of French civil servants in Nantes

This is the first time in a decade that all nine public-sector unions have issued a joint strike call. Pictured above, people demonstrate as part of a nation-wide action day of French civil servants in Nantes

People get ready to demonstrate as part of a nation-wide action day of French civil servants against government's plans to freeze their pay and eliminate 120,000 public jobs,

People get ready to demonstrate as part of a nation-wide action day of French civil servants against government's plans to freeze their pay and eliminate 120,000 public jobs,

Public sector workers attend a demonstration as part of a nationwide strike against French government reforms in Lyon, France.The slogans read 'The bloody mess destroys the public sector' and 'The bloody mess is Macron = Medef'

Public sector workers attend a demonstration as part of a nationwide strike against French government reforms in Lyon, France.The slogans read 'The bloody mess destroys the public sector' and 'The bloody mess is Macron = Medef'

Protests and strikes took place across France on Tuesday in cities including Nantes (left) and Lyon (right), where signs featured slogans such as ‘The bloody mess destroys the public sector’ and ‘The bloody mess is Macron = Medef’

Policemen from the Alliance police labour union attend a demonstration in Lyon. The slogan reads "Degraded working conditions, dilapidated police stations, abandoned police"

Policemen from the Alliance police labour union attend a demonstration in Lyon. The slogan reads "Degraded working conditions, dilapidated police stations, abandoned police"

Policemen from the Alliance police labour union attend a demonstration in Lyon. The slogan reads ‘Degraded working conditions, dilapidated police stations, abandoned police’

People demonstrate as part of a nation-wide action day in Strasbourg, eastern France. The banner reads "For the rise of purchasing power, for the defence of public service and public employment"

People demonstrate as part of a nation-wide action day in Strasbourg, eastern France. The banner reads "For the rise of purchasing power, for the defence of public service and public employment"

People demonstrate as part of a nation-wide action day in Strasbourg, eastern France. The banner reads ‘For the rise of purchasing power, for the defence of public service and public employment’

The hardline CGT union and the hard-left France Unbowed party organised three demonstrations last month over the changes, which make it easier for employers to lay off staff and do deals with workers at the company level, instead of across an industry or sector.

But the protests failed to mobilise the kind of numbers triggered by workplace reforms in 2016, with the CFDT and another large union showing a willingness to compromise.

The CGT and veteran leftist France Unbowed leader Jean-Luc Melenchon are hoping Tuesday’s strikes will inject new momentum into their revolt and spur other disgruntled groups to join the fray.

Pensioners and truck drivers are among those who have also demonstrated in the past month, and regional governments are also up in arms at having their funding from Paris cut by 450million euros ($529million).

Frederic Dabi of the Ifop polling agency said civil servants saw themselves as sacrificial lambs. 

The hardline CGT union and the hard-left France Unbowed party organised three demonstrations last month over the changes

The hardline CGT union and the hard-left France Unbowed party organised three demonstrations last month over the changes

The hardline CGT union and the hard-left France Unbowed party organised three demonstrations last month over the changes

The changes make it easier for employers to lay off staff and do deals with workers at the company level, instead of across an industry or sector

The changes make it easier for employers to lay off staff and do deals with workers at the company level, instead of across an industry or sector

The changes make it easier for employers to lay off staff and do deals with workers at the company level, instead of across an industry or sector

Public sector workers hold flags of the French Democratic Confederation of Labour union (CFDT) during a demonstration as part of a nationwide strike against French government reforms in Nantes

Public sector workers hold flags of the French Democratic Confederation of Labour union (CFDT) during a demonstration as part of a nationwide strike against French government reforms in Nantes

Public sector workers hold flags of the French Democratic Confederation of Labour union (CFDT) during a demonstration as part of a nationwide strike against French government reforms in Nantes

After giving Macron their backing in the presidential election ‘they feel they are being made to pay for the government’s policies’, Dabi told AFP.

Topping their grievances are his plans to freeze their pay, increase their taxes and cut nearly 1,600 civil service jobs in 2018 – the first swing of the axe in his plan to cut 120,000 public posts by 2022.

But unless other workers down tools, or young people angered by cuts to student housing subsidies take to the streets, Macron will continue to have free rein to implement his agenda, Dabi said.

In a sign that he has the upper hand for now, his poll numbers have recovered slightly after a dramatic slide this summer to around 30 percent.

‘What is positive for Emmanuel Macron is that he is seen as facing down the street and implementing his programme,’ Dabi said.