French unions eye million-strong protest against labour reform
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As public sector strikes lose steam, France's CGT labour union is planning a show of strength at a demonstration in Paris on Tuesday to confound detractors and show the government that opposition to labour law reform remains potent.
Two things are at stake – the survival of a protest movement that has for months been demanding that a planned easing of labour rules be scrapped, and the reputation of a hardline union vying for top dog status with a pro-reform rival that has more members.
Transport strikes have largely fizzled as the Euro 2016 football tournament has added pressure to the hardline CGT union to end disruptions.
Philippe Martinez, leader of the Communist-founded CGT, accused the Socialist government of ignoring public unease over a reform that would make hiring and firing simpler and further devolve setting of pay and work terms towards company level.
Opinion polls have suggested as many as four in five people are unhappy with the plan but they also show waning sympathy for the strikes and street protests that have been marred by fringe violence since they began in March.
On the strike front, the CGT and smaller unions spearheaded pickets and work stoppages at oil refineries, railways and more recently rubbish treatment depots, but initial petrol station shortages have been overcome and rail disruption has lessened.
Just 4.5 percent of employees of the state-owned SNCF rail company were still on strike on Monday, halting 10 percent of high-speed TGV connectipms. That was a shadow of the disruption and strike participation rate of about 36 percent in late March.
Martinez said ahead of Tuesday's rally in Paris that he was counting on a "bigger turnout than at any time in the past four months".
The Eiffel Tower will be closed on Tuesday because of the protest, which a number of the monument’s staff will take part in.
The union has focused its effort on bringing out a big crowd in the capital, rather than holding regional demonstrations around the country. Police estimated 390,000 took to the streets at the peak of the protests, while the CGT, which often claims two or three times more, put the record at 1.2 million.
Tuesday's protest is timed to coincide with examination of the reform plan by the Senate, the upper house of parliament dominated by the conservative opposition, which says the watered down reform is far too timid.
Labour Minister Myriam El Khomri, due to meet Martinez on Friday, restated the government's strategy ahead of the protest, saying the law could be tweaked in detail but there was no question of gutting it of the essentials or dropping it.
(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS)
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