On Tuesday 12 September, the General Confederation of Labour (CGT) — one of France’s major trade unions — led a mass demonstration through the streets in response to French president Emmanuel Macron’s newly announced labour reforms.
This was the first of many demonstrations by various trade unions that are set to rock the country in coming weeks, disrupting transport, public institutions, healthcare and schools across the country.
This Saturday, Jean Luc Mechelon, the socialist head of La France Insoumise and former presidential hopeful, has called for more protests throughout the country from early afternoon.
What’s triggered the protests?
Macron’s new labour laws are being pushed through parliament at great speed using executive orders.
As a result of his parliamentary majority and a divided opposition, Macron has been able to convince legislators to make changes by decree.
Decrees are a constitutional device that allows government to implement changes without parliamentary debate or vote.
Despite the fact they are infrequently used, Macron has issued five in his relatively short time in office, all containing “concrete and major measures to simplify the so-called code du travail — the country’s labour code.
The new laws include a cap on payouts for unfair dismissals and greater freedom for employers to hire and fire.
The labour rules will affect all private sector workers in France. However, state sector employees made up the largest number of CGT demonstrators at last Tuesday’s march.
Macron is facing street protests sooner than any other recent French leader.
Opinion polls show that nearly six in 10 people dislike the labour reforms overall, however individuals back many of its separate measures.
Prime minister Edouarde Philippe has thrown his support behind Macron, saying the five decrees had to be seen as a whole and not “individual measures that might be considered curious when examined alone”.
Further statistics show that 43 percent of French people believe the policies are right-wing policies and 53 percent think that the economic policies benefit the wealthiest.
Is the the protests a reflection on Macron’s popularity?
The protests come after Macron’s popularity took a nose dive this summer, with polls revealing around only 40 percent of French voters are satisfied with his performance in office.
However, Macron argues the new labour laws were spelled out to voters before the elections to drive down unemployment, currently at 9.5 percent, twice the rate in the UK or Germany.
Despite Macrons falling popularity ratings, the trade unions are not out in full force, as much as they would like to believe.
The CGT estimated an attendance of around 60,000 people on Tuesday whereas the police claimed it was closer to 24,000.
Leader of the trade union, Philippe Martinez, claims the protest was a success however according to polls, 68 percent believe the demonstration to be a failure.
The CFDT, France’s biggest trade union, did not attend at all, which was viewed as a small victory for Macron, who is hoping to avoid protests spreading to other areas of proposed changes, such as unemployment benefits and pension schemes.
Macron on a mission
Numerous left and right wing French governments have previously attempted to streamline the country’s 3,000 page labour code, however in the face of street protests, many changed their plans.
Macron is determined to follow through with his, referring to past leaders as “slackers” during a speech given recently in Athens.
The name has now been adopted as by both sides, with the anti-Macron demonstrators using it as rallying slogan — bringing to mind US Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton’s branding of Donald Trump supporters as a so-called basket of deplorables.
A cabinet meeting is being held tomorrow to adopt the changes to the labour laws. They will then have to be ratified by parliament.