Monday 21 May 2018
News ID: 44109
Publish Date: 12 September 2017 - 21:42

PARIS (Dispatches) -- Tens of thousands of French protesters marched against President Emmanuel Macron's flagship economic reforms on Tuesday in the first major demonstrations against his pro-business agenda.
The day of strikes and rallies are seen as a key test for the young French leader as he stakes his presidency on overhauling the sluggish economy, while protesters are eager to show they are able to mobilize in large numbers.
Some 4,000 strikes and 180 protests were called by France's biggest trade union, the CGT, with rail workers, students and civil servants urged to join the protests against proposed changes to labor law.
"It's a first one and it looks like it's a success," the head of the CGT, Philippe Martinez, said at the start of a rally in Paris, claiming that 100,000 people had answered his union's call country-wide.
As well as Paris, crowds of a few thousand people gathered in the cities of Nice, Marseille, Saint Nazaire, Toulouse and Caen.
The disruption to rail networks, air traffic control and public services appeared limited, however.
The 39-year-old president antagonized his opponents with outspoken comments last week when he described critics of his government's efforts as "slackers" and "cynics".
A separate protest movement on Tuesday by fairground operators swelled the numbers on the streets and their trucks, some towing merry-go-rounds on trailers, blocked roads in Paris and some regional cities.
Macron -- whose approval ratings have slumped sharply since he came into office -- was in the Caribbean on Tuesday visiting French islands hit by hurricane Irma last week.
"What is going to be a surprise is when he ends up giving ground," hard-left leader Jean-Luc Melenchon told reporters as he joined a protest in the southern port of Marseille on Tuesday.
"This country doesn't want the liberal world... France isn't Britain," he added.
The CGT plans to follow Tuesday's actions with a second protest day on September 21, with another two days later called by far-left firebrand Melenchon.
The centrist president, who swept to power in May on promises to reinvigorate the economy, has used executive orders to fast-track the changes.
They are to take effect later this month even before being ratified by parliament, where Macron's Republic on the Move party has a large majority.
The new law will give small company bosses in particular more freedom to negotiate working conditions directly with their employees rather than being subject to industry-wide agreements.
Compensation for unfair dismissal will be capped, a move that has particularly angered unions, along with steps to make it easier for foreign-based companies to lay off staff in struggling French operations.

* Comment: