In France Protests on the wane against Macron's labour reforms

Thousands of French trade unionists took to the streets on Thursday to denounce President Emmanuel Macron, but low turnouts suggested the resistance is running out of steam.

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Umbrella movement: Protesters in the Loire-Atlantique region of western France leave graffiti messages during one of the nationwide rallies against the French president's labour law reforms play

Umbrella movement: Protesters in the Loire-Atlantique region of western France leave graffiti messages during one of the nationwide rallies against the French president's labour law reforms

(AFP)
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Thousands of French trade unionists took to the streets on Thursday to denounce President Emmanuel Macron, but low turnouts suggested the resistance is running out of steam.

Numbers have steadily dwindled from a peak of around a quarter of a million who took to the streets nationwide on September 12, the first major demonstration against Macron's reform agenda seen as pro-business.

"I hope people will wake up," said Johann Le Saux, a 38-year-old railway worker and activist of France's largest union, the CGT, which called the protest along with the smaller Solidaires union.

"It's not over, we're not giving up at all," Le Saux told AFP in the western city of Rennes.

The CGT estimated the turnout in Paris at around 25,000, down sharply from the 60,000 they claimed on September 12. Police estimated Thursday's crowd at 5,500.

CGT leader Philippe Martinez, leading protests in Marseille to demand the repeal of major changes to labour laws which took effect last month, insisted "we are determined to see this through."

Martinez has been one of the most vocal critics of Macron since his election in May, and the CGT has spearheaded what has so far been a largely ineffective round of strikes and demonstrations to demand that the government change tack.

As with two protest days in September, the unions failed to mount a united front, with the more moderate CFDT and FO preferring talks over demonstrations.

The CGT and Solidaires are hoping a meeting of all the unions next Tuesday will bring FO and others back into the streets.

Unions 'inaudible'

Commenting on the splintering of the union movement, analyst Jean-Marie Pernot told the daily Le Monde that the unions have become "inaudible to the workers, not to mention the government."

Macron, who fast-tracked the labour reforms using executive orders to avoid lengthy parliamentary debate, has staked his presidency on overhauling France's sluggish economy.

The president insists he has a mandate for change after handily winning election in May and seeing his centrist LREM party sweep June parliamentary polls.

But his popularity has plummeted, with only 34 percent of respondents in an Ipsos Game Changers survey out Wednesday saying they had a favourable view of the former investment banker.

The government says the reforms are necessary to rein in unemployment currently stuck at around 9.6 percent -- about twice that of Britain or Germany and well above the European average of 7.8 percent.

It has already launched the next stage of the "transformation" of the French social model promised by Macron.

He proposes major changes to France's generous unemployment benefits system, as well as large increases in state-funded training aimed at helping the unemployed back into the workplace.

A draft bill is set for completion in April.

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