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"We are ungovernable." Mass demonstrations are sweeping across France this week as citizens protest President Hollande's unpopular labor reforms. (Photo: Twitter/Takethesquare)

France Rises Up Against Anti-Labor Reforms

Union members joined pro-democracy activists in widespread protests against new law that makes it easier to fire workers and move jobs offshore

Nika Knight

France erupted with nationwide demonstrations and strikes on Tuesday, as union members and a burgeoning pro-democracy movement began a series of planned actions to protest President François Hollande's controversial set of employer-friendly labor reforms.

Truckers blocked motorways across France and massive marches took place in Paris, Lille, and Montpellier, among other cities. Government forces sought to quell the actions: protesters were met with tear gas in Paris and water cannons and tear gas in Nantes, and police vans circled a public square in Lille.

Hollande has galled the nation by forcing the new set of reforms through the National Assembly without the law being subject to a parliamentary vote, a move the Telegraph described as "the 'nuclear' option."

Hollande's severely unpopular proposals allow employers to more easily fire workers and create precarious, poorly paid positions in place of permanent contracts. Critics also charge that the reforms are designed to make it easier for corporations to move jobs offshore and increase workers' hours without overtime pay.

The reforms provoked the nation's Nuit Debout ("Up All Night") protest movement to form in March, and the country has seen widespread demonstrations and mass rallies since then.

The pro-labor movement has occupied public spaces and demonstrated in cities across the country to protest the labor reforms as well as bigger-picture issues such as austerity, globalization, increasing inequality, privatization, and the continent's severe anti-migrant policies, as Common Dreams reported.

Rabble.ca's Duncan Cameron explained the context surrounding Hollande's labor reforms and why they have so galvanized the nation:

Rather than forcing trade unions to win concessions from companies, the French state has legislated employment protection for labor.  Resenting this, employer associations work continuously to reverse constraints on business.

[...] French citizens expect legally protected job security. Employers' rights to dismiss employees are strictly curtailed by laws approved by Gaullist and Socialist governments. The workweek is limited to 35 hours. Overtime pay and workplace benefits are legislated, not subject to negotiation.

Saying it wants to reduce unemployment, the French Socialist government drew up legislation to weaken employment protection. The governments wants to make reforms that would see hours worked go up, make job termination simpler, and facilitate creation of insecure jobs for young workers. About 70 per cent of the population is opposed to these reforms.

[...] The French Socialist government argues that employers need to know they can fire workers in order to hire them.

"Making the world conform to supply and demand diagrams is at odds with the French Enlightenment tradition," Cameron wrote, echoing French workers' arguments. "People need to work to live and fluctuating prices for work are incompatible with meeting human needs in a sustainable fashion."

Continuing to hold Hollande's feet to the fire, union members' new wave of strikes are planned across a range of industries: "Transport including France's ports, trains, and airports will be affected by the general strikes, notably on Tuesday and Thursday," the Telegraph reports.

"Rail workers said last week that they plan to stage rolling strikes every Wednesday and Thursday from this week onward," the newspaper writes, "right up until the Euro 2016 championships in July."

Hollande has sworn not to back down, despite the rising unrest. "I will not give way because too many [previous] governments have backed down," the French president told the Europe 1 radio station.

Meanwhile, Nuit Debout demonstrations—which socialist magazine Jacobin recently characterized as "the most promising challenge to French elites in years"—are taking place all week around the country.

These latest series of actions were off to a powerful start on Tuesday, which organizers and supporters documented on Twitter:


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