September 2017 witnessed several waves of strikes of workers in France against changes to the country’s labour laws. The changes, which are being fast-tracked via executive orders, are designed to give employers more flexibility to negotiate pay and conditions with their workers while reducing the costs of firing staff. More specifically, the “reform” will make employee dismissal rules more flexible by reducing severance costs and loosening the country’s legal procedures around dismissal. The second area where businesses will be allowed more freedom is the regulation of hours of work.
|Views of massive demonstrations in France|
The French President, Emmanuel Macron, is attempting to paint these reforms as being in the interest of workers. He claims that this will help to bring down unemployment as employers will more easily hire workers on permanent contracts knowing that they can fire them without any constraint of law. But the working class and their unions do not accept this and have come out on the streets in large numbers.
On 12th September, strike actions took place in cities across the country. More than 400,000 workers participated in these strikes. The first marches took place in Marseille, Perpignan and Nice in the south, Bordeaux in the west and Le Havre and Caen in the north, with the biggest attracting several thousand demonstrators. Strikers confronted the police militantly as police blocked the path of protesters.
The General Confederation of Labor Union (CGT) – one of the largest organization of workers and a number of smaller unions including the public sector union FSU, Solidaires, and student organisation Unef, joined the strike.
After the first strike action, the unions announced further actions on 18th, 21st, 23rd and 25th September. Unions representing road and maritime transportation employees and the CGT that includes transportation services, public institutions, and the health and education sectors vowed to participate in the actions.
As planned, thousands marched on 18th, 21st 22nd and 25th September. Entertainment Industry Workers outlined Macron’s changes at 22nd September demonstration:
A French Entertainment Industry worker explains what the workers are opposing: “We are here because the new President and the government are trying to, through executive order, break down the labor code, a labor code which since the 19th century has protected workers against the abuses of employers. It says that instead of having sectoral collective bargaining, for example over the entire entertainment industry, or over the entire theatre industry, each company, each troupe, each theatre, each network will be able to have its own collective bargaining agreement, which leads to fragmentation even within an industry."