Thousands of people are expected to protest against labour reforms across France on Tuesday, the first widespread demonstrations of Emmanuel Macron’s presidency. Some 180 protests are expected to take place in cities nationwide.
The protests are the first big public display of discontent with Macron’s presidency, which began in May amid enthusiasm over his promises to reboot the French economy but is now foundering amid anger over the labour reforms and other domestic troubles.
The prominent CGT union is leading Tuesday’s protests, calling for strikes and organising some 180 demonstrations against last labour reform plans unveiled last month by Macron’s government.
Eiffel Tower employees planned a walkout, angry carnival workers halted traffic around Paris’s famed Arc de Triomphe and Paris police braced for potential violence. At the Eiffel Tower, CGT union representative Denis Vavassori told The Associated Press that workers plan a walkout Tuesday afternoon, but it is unclear whether the monument will be forced to close or will stay partially open for tourists.
Dozens of big trucks drove at a snail’s pace around the Arc de Triomphe, causing rush-hour traffic snarls as protesters danced and waved flags on a flat-bed truck with a severed plastic head from a funfair ride.
The workers said they timed their protest to coincide with Tuesday’s broader labour demonstrations since both movements are about workers fearing their jobs are at threat.
Meanwhile, thousands of union activists marched Tuesday morning in the Mediterranean city of Marseille, Le Havre on the English Channel, Rennes and in other cities.
An afternoon march is planned in Paris, where police announced extra deployments. While union marches are usually peaceful, troublemakers on the margins often clash with police. A broad movement against similar labour reforms last year saw several weeks of scattered violence.
The protests come amid anger at a comment last week by Macron suggesting that opponents of labour reform are “lazy”. Government spokesman Christophe Castaner said on RTL radio Tuesday that Macron didn’t mean to refer to the workers themselves but to the politicians who failed repeatedly to update French labour rules for a globalised age.
Macron’s labour decrees – which reduce the power of unions and give companies more authority to fire workers and influence workplace rules – are the first step in what he hopes are deep economic changes. The decrees are to be finalised this month.
Critics say they dismantle hard-fought worker protections and accuse the government of being undemocratic for pushing the decrees through Parliament.
Companies argue that existing rules make hiring and firing needlessly difficult, and contribute to France’s high unemployment rate, currently around 10 percent.
Some unions have refused to join the protests, preferring to negotiate with the government over upcoming changes to unemployment and retirement rules instead of taking their grievances to the street.
Macron arrived in the French Caribbean on Tuesday to bring aid and meet with victims of Hurricane Irma.