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French workers ready to fight Macron over anti-labour laws

TONY BURKE looks at the unions’ response to the new president

NEW French President Emmanuel Macron has warned unions he intends to “reform” France’s labour code before the end of this summer.

Mr Macron said during his presidential campaign that he planned to fast-track legislation through use of “executive decrees,” but unions have urged the government not to rush through the reforms handing France more neoliberal labour laws which will reduce France’s strong workers’ rights and protection.

Workers in France are protected under a powerful 3,000-page labour code and although only about 7 per cent of workers are union members, unions play a significant role in employment relations and they are normally able to mobilise mass demonstrations and strikes which are widely supported by workers.

But Prime Minister Edouard Philippe says they intend to pass the reforms during the long summer holidays when factories shut down and many workers are away.

Mr Macron has been accused of using the break to undermine the unions’ ability to organise against the legislation.

Strikes and a rebellion in parliament were two factors that stopped Francois Hollande’s government’s attempts to introduce similar reforms.

Mr Macron was a minister in that government between 2014 and 2016 before he quit to launch his presidential bid.

In a document released last week, the government broadly stuck to measures contained in Mr Macron’s campaign manifesto including the capping of compensation for unfair dismissal cases.

Two of the biggest union federations appeared willing to engage in talks with the government. “I don’t think the unions will want to make a snap judgement since we only just got this letter from the government,” Laurent Berger of the moderate CFDT union said on French TV.

And the smaller FO union said the reform plan contained both positive and negative points.

But the more powerful left-wing CGT union, which represents many transport and manufacturing workers and takes the lead in mobilisation, said it disagreed with the reforms and called on workers to protest over the coming days and weeks.

CGT leader Philippe Martinez said after meeting Mr Macron that he was looking for a “loyal” negotiation between the government and the unions, signalling that the president’s reforms might not be as quick as he would like.

A key issue is pensions: Mr Macron has said he wants to merge 37 pension systems into one, including the workers’ pensions at the state-owned EDF utility and SNCF railway companies.

• Tony Burke is Unite’s assistant general secretary and Campaign For Trade Union Freedom chairman.


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