The day of protest, the fourth in a month, has been billed by
local media as a make-or-break test of strength for President
Francois Hollande, plagued by low popularity and a jobless rate
stuck stubbornly above 10 percent as mid-2017 elections loom.
The three protests to date have been low-key by the standards of
past French strikes, but organizers hope to mobilize more people
France's SNCF state railway company said stoppages among its staff
had cut some services by 40 to 50 percent. About one in five flights
were canceled at Orly airport south of Paris, the DGAC air transport
Under rainy skies, secondary-level school pupils mobilized in Paris
and dozens of other cities for protest marches alongside those
called by labor unions.
At issue is a proposed overhaul of France's labor code, a set of
regulations bosses claim deters recruitment. Critics say the reforms
will lead to worse working conditions and more sackings.
The reforms, due to be debated in parliament next week, would give
employers more flexibility to agree in-house deals with employees on
The protests come a day after Hollande, who has said he will not run
for re-election if he fails to make a dent in the jobless rate,
abandoned another piece of legislation - plans to strip convicted
terrorists of French citizenship.
That climbdown was forced on him by other lawmakers, many of them in
his own camp.
"When you admit you got it wrong once, it's possible to say you got
it wrong twice ... we're optimistic. The government needs to say it
got it wrong," said Philippe Martinez, head of the large CGT union.
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Video footage relayed on social media showed some hooded youths
jumping on cars and taunting police.
CGT chief Martinez played down reports of a dozen arrests, saying
there was often a bit of trouble caused by "some people who have
nothing to do with the issue".
Hollande's government, desperate to deliver on his so far elusive
commitment to reduce high unemployment, watered down its reform
proposal shortly before it was unveiled this month by ditching a
clause that would have capped severance pay awards.
Economists fault the French system for creating a divide between
people with open-ended work contracts and first-timers condemned to
move from one short-term job to another because of employer
reluctance to commit to long-term contracts.
(Reporting by Brian Love; Editing by Gareth Jones)
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