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Far left rallies protesters in Paris against Macron labour reforms

Christophe Archambault, AFP | Demonstrators hold a banner reading, "Against the social coup d'état" during a protest over the president's labour reforms in Paris on September 23.

French far-left leader Jean-Luc Mélenchon rallied thousands on Saturday to protest against labour reforms signed into law by President Emmanuel Macron a day earlier.


Thousands of Mélenchon supporters, environmental activists, anti-capitalism campaigners and others gathered first at the iconic Place de la Bastille, the starting point for a march through eastern Paris to Place de la République.

Mélenchon's France Insoumise (Unsubmissive France) party said it had also bused in protesters from more than 150 French towns.

A huge balloon on top of a truck read "Macron, Resign!" Protest banners denounced the reforms as a "social coup d'état".

Police estimated the crowds at 30,000 protesters by midday. Mélenchon, for his part, estimated the number of demonstrators at closer to 150,000.

"The battle is not over, it is only starting," Mélenchon, 66, told demonstrators after they had arrived at Place de la République.

Mélenchon: 'The struggle is just beginning'

"Today we are sending an extraordinarily strong message to the workers, that they are not alone," Mélenchon added.

The reforms are aimed at introducing more flexibility into the labour market as France struggles with an unemployment rate persistently hovering near 10 percent.

Mélenchon and many French unions argue that the law goes too far in weakening worker protections. He accused Macron on Saturday of fuelling a "race to the bottom" by giving businesses too much latitude. "The work contract will no longer be a safeguard but a sort of paper rag," he warned.

Macron says that change is needed so France can compete in the global economy. He signed the reform, contained in five executive orders, before television cameras in a US-inspired novelty for a French president. Macron said during the signing ceremony that the first labour measures will start being applied next week and the rest will be implemented by the end of the year.

The reform measures are designed to give employers more freedom to negotiate pay and conditions directly with their workers while making it easier and less costly to shed staff. Small businesses, in particular, will have more options to negotiate pay and work conditions directly with their staff, instead of being bound by industry-wide collective agreements concluded by trade unions or the limits imposed by the national labour code.

Claire Paccalin reports from the street protests

A cap has also been set on the amount of compensation awarded by courts in cases of unfair dismissal – a key demand of bosses who complain that lengthy and costly court cases discourage them from hiring staff in the first place. Another measure eases regulations governing when and why companies can dismiss workers.

Macron lauded the "unprecedented wave of changes" to France's often rigid social model, along with changes to unemployment benefits and a training plan for jobless people that will be set up next year.

The protesters are also angry at what Mélenchon has called the "authoritarian" way Macron imposed the reforms. He used a special procedure allowing the government to change the labour law by executive order instead of going through a lengthy debate to pass the bill in parliament.

(FRANCE 24 with AP and AFP)

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