France's centrist government on Wednesday doubled down on its plans to reform the country's notoriously rigid labor market, a day after nationwide protests against the billbrought much of the country to a standstill.
"The French people asked us to transform the country, they asked us to act," Prime Minister Edouard Philippe told broadcaster France 2. "I know that the French people know perfectly well that our country is not in a healthy position."
Those remarks were echoed later on Wednesday by Work Minister Muriel Penicaud, who said the proposals designed to give employers greater flexibility over hiring and firing stem from a campaign promise made by President Emmanuel Macron.
"We are implementing the things that the French people asked us to do, so we're not going to back down," said Muriel in an interview with France's BFM television.
Much of France ground to a halt on Tuesday after at least 200,000 people heeded the Communist-backed General Confederation of Labor's (GCT) call for workers to took to the street to protest the contested reforms.
According to the CGT, Tuesday saw some 180 street protests and 4,000 strikes.
French truckers plan next round of strikes
The total number of people who turned out for the marches remains contested. Event organizers said turnout was as high as 400,000. Authorities put the number at around 200,000.
The popular protest could soon gain momentum once again, however, after truck drivers associated with France's second and third largest unions announced they would hold a rolling strike on September 25.
Jerome Verite, secretary general of the CGT trade union's transport federation on Wednesday told the Reuters news agency that the truckers' strike would "last as long as necessary."
"We're headed for a social disaster. We want the government to reverse course on its decrees," he said.
Macron inadvertently fuels worker anger
Labor unions boast a track record of thwarting attempts from both France's political left and right to water down France's labor code. Macron's coordinative approach to introducing reforms, which saw the administration carry out weeks-long negotiations with union representatives, appeared to have garnered sufficient support to push through the new bill.
However, Macron inadvertently stoked worker anger during a trip to Athens last week, when he said he "would cede no ground to slackers, cynics and hardliners."
The Elysee Palace said the president's remarks were aimed at previous leaders who had shirked away from similar reforms in the past. However, the explanation did little to stop leaders on the left to accuse the president of treating workers with contempt.
French media responds
France's newspapers stuck to the political leanings when reporting on Tuesday's protests. Left-wing newspaper L'Humanite reported the demonstrator turnout numbers to be in line with CGT's projection and described the protests as a "launch pad for what's to come."
Liberation, also a left-leaning outlet, praised the marchers but raised questions over whether it had been enough to force the government to pull back on its reforms. Its editor, Laurent Joffrin, declared neither side the victor, writing that CGT head Philippe Martinez won the battle but Macron hadn't lost the war.
Right-leaning Le Figaro, reported that the CGT's calls for mass protests had ultimately stalled, saying that the "day of action against the labor reform was nothing like the wave of protest that had been promised." Its editorial also urged Macron to end the French economy's "forced stand still."
dm/sms (AFP, Reuters)