France’s far left takes to the streets against Macron

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French far-left leader Jean-Luc Melenchon, right, along with former Socialist party presidential candidate Benoit Hamon, take part in a protest over the president’s labor reform in Paris, France, on Saturday. — AP

PARIS — Tens of thousands of supporters of French far-left opposition party leader Jean-Luc Melenchon gathered on Paris’s Bastille Square on Saturday to march against President Emmanuel Macron’s labor reforms.

Trade union protests against Macron’s plan to make hiring and firing easier and give companies more power over working conditions seem to be losing steam, but Melenchon’s “France Unbowed” party was hoping for a show of force to reinforce its credentials as Macron’s strongest political opponent.

Some recalled a campaign rally in March, weeks before the presidential election, that drew some 130,000 people.

“There is the same gaiety, the same enthusiasm as during the presidential campaign. When it starts like this, it’s already a win,” said Chantal Quillot, a 64-year-old pensioner who had come by bus from Agen in southwest France.

Macron campaigned for the presidency as someone who could bridge the divide between left and right.

But since his election, he has already alienated many, especially on the left, by saying he would be a “Jupiter-like” president, above the fray, and with his avowed determination not to tolerate “slackers.”

Some of Saturday’s protesters carried banners reading “Macron president of the wealthy” while others chanted “Resistance! Resistance!.” Party officials said about 150 buses had brought protesters from all over France.

Brigitte Gerard, a 59-year-old school teacher from Rennes, in western France, carried a banner reading: “Watch out Jupiter, the people are rumbling.”

“There is a lot of anger,” she said as the march set off for the Place de la Republique square. “I don’t think they’re aware of it. They’re cut off from reality. I oppose Macron’s ultra-liberal policy.”

The new labor rules, discussed at length in advance with unions, will among other measures cap payouts on dismissals that are judged unfair.

“Emmanuel Macron has started an arm-wrestling contest with the French people ... but I think we can stop these decrees,” France Unbowed lawmaker Adrien Quatennens said.

A string of opinion polls showing the far-left maverick Melenchon as the strongest opponent to Macron’s upstart En Marche (On The Move) party highlight the weakness of the traditional mainstream parties.

The Socialists, who ruled from 2012 to 2017, are in tatters, the conservative Republicans are divided over whether to back Macron, and the far-right National Front, whose leader Marine Le Pen reached the second round run-off against Macron, weakened by internal fighting.

Ironically, Melenchon’s strength could be a good thing for Macron, because polls also indicate that he is not seen as a credible alternative but rather as a conduit for protest.

In an Odoxa survey carried out this week, 66 percent of respondents said Melenchon would be a bad president.

Macron and his government have repeatedly said they will not bow to pressure from the street.

The centrist president formally signed the labour decrees on Friday, and they are due to enter into force by the start of next year.

The measures are only the first step of a series of reforms that will also amend the unemployment benefit and pension systems, changes that could well provoke more protests than changes to the labor code. — Reuters


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