Tuesday, Sep. 12, 2017

Macron's big test: France-wide protests over labor overhaul

By By ANGELA CHARLTON

PARIS (AP) — Eiffel Tower employees planned a walkout, angry carnival workers snarled traffic around Paris' Arc de Triomphe, and Paris police girded for potential violence as unions and others hold nationwide protests Tuesday against changes to labor laws they fear corrode job security.

The protests are the first big public display of discontent with President Emmanuel Macron's presidency, which kicked off in May amid enthusiasm over his promises of revving up the French economy but is now foundering amid anger over the labor decrees and other domestic troubles.

The prominent CGT union is leading Tuesday's protests, calling for strikes and organizing some 180 demonstrations against last labor decrees unveiled last month by Macron's government.

At the Eiffel Tower, CGT union representative Denis Vavassori told The Associated Press that workers plan a walkout Tuesday afternoon, but it is unclear so far whether the monument will be forced to close or will stay partially open for tourists.

Horn-tooting funfair workers held a separate protest movement Tuesday against legal changes they say favor big corporations and could wipe out their centuries-old industry.

Dozens of big rigs 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 labor demonstrations, since both movements are about workers fearing their jobs are at threat.

Bumper car worker Sam Frechon said, "everybody likes funfairs. Everybody has been to a funfair one time in his life ... Funfair is France."

Meanwhile, thousands of union activists marched Tuesday morning in the Mediterranean city of Marseille, in Le Havre on the English Channel and 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 labor 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 labor reform are "lazy." Government spokesman Christophe Castaner said on RTL radio Tuesday that Macron didn't mean workers themselves but politicians who failed to update French labor rules for a globalized age.

Macron's labor 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 finalized this month.

Critics say they dismantle hard-fought worker protections and accuse the government of being undemocratic for using a special method to push the decrees through parliament.

Companies argue that existing rules prevent them from hiring and contribute to France's high unemployment rate, currently around 10 percent.

Some unions 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 himself chose Tuesday to go to the French Caribbean to bring aid and meet with victims of Hurricane Irma.

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John Leicester contributed to this report.

2017-09-12 12:14:14 GMT

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