In Brief

Nationwide strikes bring France to standstill

Police fire teargas as protesters challenge Macron’s economic reforms

Thousands of French public sector workers took to the streets yesterday as part of a nationwide strike in protest at Emmanuel Macron’s planned public sector reforms.

Train drivers, teachers, nurses and air traffic controllers held more than 150 marches in towns and cities across France. Most were peaceful, although there were reports of police scuffling with protesters in Paris and firing tear gas and water cannon at demonstrators in the western city of Nantes.

The walk-out meant 60% of fast trains, 75% of intercity trains and 30% of flights to and from Paris airports had to be cancelled. Around 13% of teachers walked off the job, forcing the closure of a large number of primary schools.

There are two different sets of grievances behind the strike day, “both of which have the potential to cause a headache for the French government”, says The Guardian.

France’s 5.4 million state workers are angry over plans to cut the public sector by 120,000 workers by 2022, with unions accusing Macron of seeking to dismantle the state sector, and about the introduction of merit-based pay.

The coordinated day of action is the first widespread strike seen in France since President Macron came to power just under a year ago, on a promise to reform the country’s bloated public sector and shake up its antiquated labour laws.

However, “opinion polls show a paradox” says Reuters: a majority of voters back the strike but an even bigger majority back the reforms, including cutting the number of public sector workers and introducing merit-based pay.

“That has led the government, which overhauled labour laws last year and is crafting a series of other reforms to unemployment insurance and training, to say it will stand by its plans, while keeping a close eye on protests,” reports the news agency.

The danger, says CNN, “will come in the longer term if unions are able to persuade their members to stay home for longer, which could lead to wider economic repercussions”.

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