Around 160,000 people joined demonstrations across France on Tuesday, the interior ministry said, heeding union calls for President Emmanuel Macron to "maintain the social model", which has come under threat from his ambitious reforms.
Around 20,000 people turned out in Paris, the largest of some 100 rallies across the country.
The head of the hard-left Confederation of Labour (CGT) union Philippe Martinez estimated turnout higher at 300,000 nationwide. The CGT said about 50,000 people marched in Paris at the urging of six of the country’s labour unions.
"We’re not complaining, we’re revolting!" the students, workers and retirees chanted as they marched in the first demonstration since the end of the summer holiday, referring to President Macron’s recent suggestion that the French complain too much.
The ministry said 16 arrests were made, nine in Paris, where one marcher and a policeman were reported hurt after up to 300 hooded anarchists latched onto the rally, throwing projectiles at police, who responded with teargas.
Marchers – mainly young people – carried banners saying they had had enough of “austerity, unemployment”. Many of them said that Macron’s proposed welfare reforms will “disadvantage the weakest in society”. The elderly turned out to voice their disapproval of pension reforms.
“I’ve lost 50 euros a month – I can’t make ends meet any more,” complained François Manugal, a retired 65-year-old from the southeastern city of Lyon.
Martinez criticised Macron’s attempts to reform the economy, in particular issues regarding wages, accusing the government of erroneously believing that “reducing social contributions would be good for purchasing power”.
Pascal Pavageau, the leader of the Force Ouvrière (Workers' Force) union, urged the government to engage in dialogue "and above all, maintain the social model” as Macron battles sagging popularity on the back of sweeping reforms – notably of the labour code, designed to bring greater flexibility to the jobs market.
Unions are planning further mobilisations in the coming months on specific reforms such as changes to pensions and the unemployment insurance system, but no specific dates have been set.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP)
Date created : 2018-10-09