As French President Emmanuel Macron seeks to ram through pro-business labor reforms that would weaken the bargaining power of workers and make it easier for companies to fire employees, tens of thousands of workers and students took to the streets across France Tuesday to express their opposition to Macron’s agenda.
“We’re not expecting the 12th to be a tidal wave, we see it more as a starting point.” —Stéphane Enjarlan, Solidaires
Led by the General Confederation of Labor (CGT), France’s second largest trade union, demonstrators flooded Paris and other major cities chanting: “Macron you’re screwed, the slackers are in the streets.”
The “slackers” label came from Macron himself, who in a recent speech vowed to not “give any ground [on his labor reforms], not to slackers, nor cynics, nor hardliners.”
Union leaders and France’s left opposition seized upon Macron’s comments and used them to rally workers ahead of Tuesday’s planned actions, which included around 180 protests and 4,000 strikes—the first nationwide demonstrations of Macron’s young presidency.
In an interview on Monday, former Socialist Party presidential candidate Benoit Hamon slammed Macron’s “slacker” remarks as “insulting” to French workers.
“Lazy people are the independently wealthy, who don’t need to work for a living,” Hamon retorted. “And a lot of independently wealthy picked Emmanuel Macron as their champion.”
Many have criticized Macron’s “fast-track” approach to passing the deeply unpopular reforms, which are expected to be finalized later this month. As the Guardian noted on Tuesday, the labor law changes are being “pushed through parliament with record speed using executive orders.”
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Jean-Luc Mélenchon, former presidential candidate and leader of the left party La France Insoumise (France Unbowed), likened Macron’s reforms to “a social coup d’état,” and predicted Macron will ultimately “give way” to the opposition.
“My grandparents and great-grandparents fought to have social security, to get rights which are now being stripped away.” —Valérie
“France isn’t England,” Mélenchon concluded.
Protestors also called attention to other pro-business elements of Macron’s agenda, including tax cuts for the wealthy, changes to unemployment insurance, and pension reform.
“We don’t want protections stripped away so people are forced into precarious, low-wage jobs like they are in Britain or Germany,” Valérie, a health assistant from outside Paris, told the Guardian. “My grandparents and great-grandparents fought to have social security, to get rights which are now being stripped away. This is about protecting the French social model.”
Overall, the demonstrations and strikes brought as many as 100,000 people into the streets in provincial France and over 60,000 in Paris, leading the CGT to declare the day of action a success.
But as Stéphane Enjarlan, national secretary and spokesperson for Solidaires, a group of unions that backed Tuesday’s demonstrations, said in an interview with Jacobin, the protests are only the beginning of a long struggle.
“We’re not expecting the 12th to be a tidal wave, we see it more as a starting point,” Enjarlan concluded. “And we know that this needs to continue in the long-term.”
Watch a video of a protest that took place in Chambéry, France:
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