May Day rally in Paris turns violent as pressure against labour reform grows

A hooded youth throws a bottle during a clash with French riot police to protest against the French labour law. Paris, 1 May. [Reuters]

Police fired tear gas after protesters hurled bottles and other projectiles during a May Day rally in Paris yesterday (1 May), where controversial labour reforms were the main focus of demonstrations.

Pressure is building on French President François Hollande, who faces the threat of a more broad-based protest movement coalescing against planned labor reforms, while the government insisted it would not withdraw the bill, which is due to be debated in parliament later this week.

Police, who said they clashed with a group of about 300 youths and detained three of them, responded with tear gas.

The reforms would give employers more flexibility to agree in-house deals with employees on working time, a move the government says is needed to bring down unemployment now above 10%.

Critics say the reforms will lead to poorer working conditions and more sackings.

“The draft bill is fair and necessary for the country,” Labor Minister Myriam El Khomri told Europe 1 radio, Le Monde and iTELE in an interview.

More than 80,000 people marched throughout France on Sunday, including up to 17,000 in Paris, police said. That is far fewer than in the first rallies against the reform which started two months ago.

The CGT labor union said there were 70,000 protesters in Paris alone.

Three days ago, over 100 protesters were detained country-wide in another series of marches against the reform.

France’s powerful CGT union says the legislation, due to be debated in parliament next week, will let employers bypass regulations on basic worker rights by giving bosses greater freedom to set rates of pay and working conditions.

“We want it withdrawn as long as the goal means the law is no longer the rule, and that every company can opt out on work time or overtime rates. That’s unacceptable,” CGT chief Philippe Martinez said.

Deeply unpopular, Hollande faces a testing few months against a backdrop of protests and sluggish economic growth, before he announces whether he will contest next year’s presidential election or not.

Labour Minister Myriam El Khomri has already diluted the text to drop reforms such as a cap on financial settlements in cases of unfair dismissal.

An opinion poll published by BFM TV showed close to 80% of French people fear an escalation, despite news this week of a significant drop in the monthly jobless count.

France’s Labour Ministry reported the steepest fall since the economic boom days of 2000, in a rare boost for Hollande.

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