Macron faces first major street protests: Thousands to rally against labor reforms

Industrial action in different sectors is also expected to disrupt public transport, the energy sector and education as students and teachers' unions join the protests

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Demonstrators, holding CGT labour union flags, attend a national strike and protest against the government's labour reforms in Marseille, France, September 12, 2017. REUTERS/Jean-Paul Pelissier

Hundreds of thousands of people are taking to the streets of more than 200 towns and cities across France on Tuesday as the country’s largest labor union, the CGT, leads protests against reforms backed by President Emmanuel Macron.

Industrial action in different sectors is also expected to disrupt public transport, the energy sector and education as students and teachers’ unions join the protests. However, other major unions, such as the CFDT and FO, are not taking part in the mobilization.

Prime Minister Edouard Philippe revealed last month the 36 reform measures which will be presented in the form of five decrees.

A demonstrator holds a placard as he attends a national strike and protest against the government’s labour reforms in Marseille, France, September 12, 2017. REUTERS/Jean-Paul Pelissier

They give more flexibility to employers to set pay and working conditions; allow small businesses with less than 20 employees to negotiate directly with staff without union intervention; give greater freedom to companies to hire and fire; and limit payouts for unfair dismissals.

For Macron and Philippe, the reforms aim to modernize the country’s 3,500-page labor code. Philippe Martinez, the head of the Communist Party-linked CGT, branded the reforms a “social coup d‘etat”.

France has an unemployment rate of 9.5 percent, double that of the other big European economies such as Germany. Macron has vowed to cut it to seven percent by 2022.

The reform decrees are set to be adopted by the National Assembly, where Macron has a majority, on Sept. 22

An opinion poll published on Monday showed 57 percent supporting Tuesday’s day of protest, a majority but lower than the 65 percent who backed the first demonstrations against the previous government’s labor reforms.

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