Truckers blocked roads across France while radical groups brawled with the police, kicking off the week of protests against government’s labor reform. President Hollande said he would “not back down” on the bill.
French police used tear gas and water cannons to disperse protests across the country on Tuesday.
A peaceful march in Paris was disrupted when a radical leftist fringe turned up at tourist-heavy Montparnasse. The group of 100 to 150 ultra-leftists threw stones, broken café chairs, and other projectiles at the police, authorities said.
The day ended with 87 protesters arrested and 11 police officers injured nationwide, Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said. Around 68,000 people took part in the rallies, according to the officials.
Youth left without jobs
French unions have called for a week of protests against the government’s plan to reform the labor market.
A new draft bill would change the rules on overtime compensation, holiday pay, and the firing and hiring of workers. The government insists that the reform would also reduce unemployment, which currently hovers at around 10 percent. Among young people, unemployment numbers reach almost 25 percent.
However, many politicians and workers have spoken out against changing one of Europe’s most protective labor laws.
Police complain about hostility
Truck driver John Bosco says the reform could cost him between 1,000 and 1,500 euros ($1,130 to $1,700) every year, by allowing his company to cut back on overtime pay.
On Tuesday, truckers blocked access roads to fuel and food supply hubs in various French cities. France’s SNCF railway operator also joined the strike, predicting sharp cuts in train traffic to last until Friday.
Strikes at the country’s airports and sea ports are scheduled for Thursday.
The crisis has also prompted the police to stage a protest of their own. On Wednesday, officers would use their lunch breaks to protest the public hostility against them.
Paris police chief Michel Cadot said 200 officers have been injured in some 60 demonstrations since mid-March.
Hollande to soldier on
France’s president Francois Hollande said he would not change his mind about the bill, which is set to be debated in the upper house of parliament.
“I will not back down,” he told Europe-1 radio, “There are too many governments that have backed down, which is why I found the country in such a state in 2012,” he added.
The draft law is “is going to go through because it has been debated, agreed on and amended,” according to Hollande.
The controversial reform is likely to be the last major legislation for Hollande, as the country starts counting down the last 12 months before the next presidential elections.
With Hollande’s approval numbers slipping below 15 percent, the labor reform could prove crucial for his eventual second term bid.