More than 200,000 French public sector workers angered by President Emmanuel Macron's plans to freeze their pay and slash jobs went on strike Tuesday, amplifying opposition to his cost-cutting, pro-business agenda.
The protests were the fourth round of demonstrations in France since September aimed at forcing the 39-year-old president to row back on his reforms, with the government's response being closely watched by European allies and investors.
Around 209,000 people took to the streets in Paris, Lyon, Strasbourg, Nice and other cities on Tuesday, according to the interior ministry - though the hard-left CGT union estimated turnout nationally at double that in what it termed the biggest protests in a decade.
"I hope the government will hear the message and make new proposals" for the economy, CGT secretary general Jean-Marc Canon told AFP.
In the western city of Rennes, 38-year-old Marion Gilbert said the public sector was already "bled dry", adding: "The salary freeze and public servant-bashing are also hard to swallow."
Staff are tired of being squeezed, said Isabelle Rochat, a 57-year-old social worker in Lyon. "A lot of people are going off sick and no one wonders why."
There appeared to be relatively limited disruption to the national railways or schools and only a minority of flights were cancelled.
Macron's opponents have fiercely criticised his policies, but analysts say the protest movement has so far not reached the scale seen as necessary to force the government into major U-turns.
Prime Minister Edouard Philippe signalled Monday that the government had no plans to change course, while assuring public sector workers they were "not at all unappreciated".
'Look at your Rolex'
Tuesday's day of action was the first joint strike call by all nine public sector unions since 2007 and the first time since 2009 that hospital unions called on their members to walk off the job.
Among teachers, however, the strike rate was limited to 17.5 percent, according to the education ministry. Trade unions put the figure at 35 to 50 percent.
Around 30 percent of flights in and out of Paris and other major cities were cancelled as a precaution.
The government has announced plans to cut spending by 16 billion euros ($18 billion) next year by, among other things, freezing public sector pay and cutting nearly 1,600 jobs - the first swing of the axe in his plan to cut 120,000 posts by 2022.
Karine Jouglas, a police officer demonstrating in Nice, said spending cuts had left officers with "rust buckets for squad cars".
Philippe Martinez, head of France's biggest union CGT, said it was unfair to portray public sector workers as "slackers and profiteers."
"There are too few employees and they want to cut more," he complained.
The demonstrations come as Macron - painted as a "president of the rich" by leftist critics - has been taking heat for a string of comments seen as derogatory towards discontented workers.
"Macron, look at your Rolex, it's time for revolt," some protesters chanted.
Macron has also alienated regional governments, who are seeing their funding from Paris cut by 450 million euros.
The CGT union and radical leftist leader Jean-Luc Melenchon hope Tuesday's strikes will give new momentum to their protest movement and spur other disgruntled groups to join the fray.
Frederic Dabi of the Ifop polling agency said that unless other workers down tools, or young people angered by cuts to student housing subsidies take to the streets, Macron will continue to have free rein to implement his agenda.
"What is positive for Emmanuel Macron is that he is seen as facing down the street and implementing his programme," he added.
Date created : 2017-10-10