Major French union vows more anti-reforms rallies next week
The head of a major French union has vowed more street marches against a set of controversial labor reforms next week in defiance of threats by President Francois Hollande and his premier to ban anti-Paris protest rallies.
Philippe Martinez, leader of the General Confederation of Labor (CGT) union, which has been organizing demonstrations across France, accused the Hollande government of attempting to discredit legitimate protest.
“It’s as if the CGT is to blame for everything going on in this country,” said Martinez, adding, “The government must stop throwing oil on the fire.”
Martinez added that the scenes of violence during weeks-long protests in the country involved people defending themselves against a police charge aimed at the peaceful demonstrators.
“When that kind of thing happens everybody does what he can to defend himself. That kind of charge is often fairly violent,” he said.
Elsewhere in his remarks, Martinez noted that attempts by Prime Minister Manuel Valls to blame CGT for violence could exacerbate tensions.
The union’s leaders have called for fresh anti-reforms protests on June 23 and June 28.
The remarks came after Hollande and his premier told CGT on Wednesday that it would be denied permission for further street rallies unless the union provided better security guarantees.
“At a time when France is hosting the Euro [2016 soccer tournament], when it is faced with terrorism, demonstrations can no longer be authorized if property and people and public property cannot be safeguarded,” Hollande’s spokesman, Stephane Le Foll, said at a cabinet meeting on Wednesday.
Prime Minister Valls also accused the CGT of doing little to rein in hundreds of rioters.
“Enough is enough,” Valls said, adding, “I am calling on the CGT to hold no further demonstrations in Paris.”
Valls also pledged to stand firm on the labor reforms despite public discontent, saying that “the government will not change a text, which is already the outcome of a compromise sealed several months ago with reform-minded unions.”
The developments come after several hundred masked protesters on Tuesday in Paris hurled projectiles at police, who fired dozens of rounds of tear gas and used water cannons to disperse the crowd.
France’s embattled Socialist government says the proposed labor reforms focus on maximum working hours, holidays and breaks, and are aimed at curbing the unemployment rate.
Protesters and trade unions, however, say the government wants to make it easier and less costly for employers to lay off workers.
The draft labor bill was recently forced through the lower house of parliament, but it must be debated in the Senate for final approval.