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On Tuesday, September 12, France was embraced by mass protests and riots. Over 223 thousand Frenchmen went to the streets of Paris and other major cities to protest against the labor reform of President Emmanuel Macron, who is interested in solving the unemployment issue with her help of this reform. Protest actions turned into clashes with law enforcement agencies. Flying stones, Molotov cocktails, and tear gas... That is how part of the French society met the first steps of the new government on the way to the promised reforms. From May to September, the ratings of Macron decreased from 62% to 40%.
Macron promised to reduce unemployment in France to 7% by 2022, as well as make the country more "friendly" to the business. France has one of the highest unemployment rates in the EU – 9.5%. For comparison, unemployment in Austria is 5.4%. According to Macron, the problem of unemployment exists in France for 30 years already. One of the reasons for this trend is the labor code of France, which provides for a significant participation of trade unions in the system of labor relations between employees and employers. Trade unions are intermediaries in negotiations between the employee and the employer about the terms of the employment contract. When working for a company in France, an authorized representative from the trade union defends the interests of the employee in negotiations with the director. The employer needs to find very good reasons for dismissing or reducing the employee and avoiding pressure from the union.
Protection of workers' rights is one of the advantages of the system of labor relations in France. At the same time, it is also a serious drawback not only for business, but also for young specialists without work experience. It is profitable for trade unions to protect the interests of experienced and skilled workers, who are not easily dismissed. Because of this, France has a high competition in the labor market. Even a special culture of "work for the whole life" was formed, when an employee permanently lingers in one place, does not grow professionally and deprives the employer of the opportunity to employ a young low-paid specialist.
Macron suggested some changes to the labor code in order to reduce the role of trade unions in the system of labor relations and increase the turnover of French small and medium-sized enterprises, and to soften labor market competition for young professionals. The labor reform of centrists will allow the leadership of French firms with a staff of less than 20 people directly negotiate with workers on the conditions of their work (without interference from the trade unions). These firms will be freed from social obligations to artificially enlarge the staff and accept more workers. The government intends to reduce the size of paid bonuses to employees while maintaining a 35-hour workweek. Employees with low salaries now will not receive additional payments from the state. Macron promised to lower corporate tax for companies from 33% to 25%.
There is nothing surprising in the protests against changes in the labor code of France. The recent unrest in French cities is still a relatively "mild reaction" on the part of the French society. No any generation of politicians are able to put labor legislation of France in order. In 1995, French Prime Minister Allain Juppe tried to modify the provisions of the pension law. In response, the unions organized a general strike, which paralyzed the country. In 2016, ex-President Francois Hollande attempted to amend the labor code and carry out reforms. As a result, 400 thousand people came to the streets of French cities.
Whoever is in power in France - conservatives, centrists or socialists, - trade unions will stop the reforms that affect their interests. They do not want to lose weight in the system of labor relations of France.
Emmanuel Macron continues the policy of his predecessor-socialist and does not intend to give in. He said that he did not intend to make concessions to lazy people and radicals, he would not yield to pressure from outside. During his visit to Bucharest, he said that France was difficult to reform because the French hated reforms. It is beneficial for him to reduce state social payments to low-paid workers, in order to free money for investment in defense, the government sector. During the pre-election program, in five years, he promised to allocate 50 million euros from the budget for public investment. Macron enables small and medium-sized businesses to pursue a more flexible payroll policy and determine a working week. The new government aims to achieve the growth of the French economy, the second largest one in the Euroarea. The base of French economy is medium and small enterprises.
According to BBC, the majority of protesters are not related to private companies. In France, only 11% of employees are members of any trade unions. France's largest trade union CFDT did not come out to protest. Members of trade unions of the ultra-left orientation or those organizations that defend the interests of civil servants and state employees are the most active participants of the protests in France.
One of the strongest protests forces is CGT union (General Confederation of Labor) of Philippe Martinez, which consists of 710 thousand people. The union have organized 4 thousand strikes throughout the country. In Paris and Nice, there were distortions with traffic. This trade union has been actively striking during last year. According to Reuters, the CGT trade union is affiliated with the Communist Party of France. The protests were also attended by the ultra-left trade union Force Ouvrière (300,000 members) Jean-Claude Mailey, FSU civil service unions, Solidaires, the student organization Unef. Leftist ideas, anarchism are quite popular among the French students. State employees, who are afraid to be fired from the submission of the new government. Emmanuel Macron during his campaign advocated the reduction of the apparatus of civil servants and state employees.
The CGT trade unions, Force Ouvrière, which brought their members to striking, play into the hands of left-wing politicians who lost in the presidential and parliamentary elections. They just hype against the unpopular measures of the current government. Former presidential candidate from the Socialist Party Benoit Hamon criticized Emmanuel Macron for calling his opponents lame. Another former presidential candidate and leader of the "Unconquered France" Jean-Luc Melenchon plans to hold his protest on September 23. By weakening the role of trade unions in French society, Macron weakens the influence of his opponents from the ultra-left camp, including Eurosceptics.
According to the Deputy Director General of Ifop, Frederic Dabi, Macron does not need to take measures that would cause people to feel injustice. Otherwise, he would lose the loyalty of the moderate left, including the socialists who supported Francois Hollande. Perhaps Macron would have acted that way if he had not had enough supporters in the parliament. However, the situation is the opposite. In May, the pro-presidential party of centrists won the parliamentary elections in France. Centrists occupied the majority of seats in the parliament. The advantage of Emmanuel Macron is the ability to rely on a loyal parliament for legislative support of his initiatives. Therefore, he persistently pursues unpopular measures and reforms at the very beginning of his presidential term.