French unions launched a day of strikes and protests on Tuesday against Emmanuel Macron’s flagship labour reforms, a key test as he stakes his presidency on overhauling the sluggish economy.
More than 180 street protests are planned nationwide against the reforms, which are intended to tackle stubbornly high unemployment by loosening the rules that govern how businesses hire and fire people.
Some 4,000 strikes have been called under the action led by France’s biggest trade union, the CGT, with rail workers, students and civil servants urged to protest in cities from Paris to Marseille and Toulouse.
But the turnout will serve as a yardstick for unions’ ability to mobilise, as deep splits have emerged in the labour movement between those determined to fight the reforms and those prepared to compromise.
The business-friendly Macron sparked a backlash last week by describing opponents of the shake-up as “slackers” and cynics, in comments blasted as “scandalous” by CGT chief Philippe Martinez.
Bruno Cautres of the Cevipof political research institute said Macron had “thrown oil on the fire” with his choice of words.
“With the ‘slackers’ comment, there are all the ingredients for this to heat up,” he said.
In Paris, traffic was operating at between 50 and 80 per cent of normal on suburban lines of the SNCF rail network, while two lines of the suburban RER metro system were hit.
Rail traffic is “in line with expectations” and the “majority of the lines are functioning normally”, an SNCF spokesman said.
Air traffic controllers have also been urged to strike, and Irish low-cost carrier Ryanair said on Monday that it had cancelled 110 flights scheduled for Tuesday.
The airline called on Macron’s government and the European Commission “to take immediate action to prevent the skies over Europe being closed yet again” during the stoppage.
Fairground operators caused traffic jams on Tuesday on a major motorway into Paris.