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French Students Protest at Labor Law Changes Despite Not Being Employed

© AFP 2023 / Jean-Francois Monier Protesters invade railway tracks during a protest against the French government's planned labour law reforms on April 5, 2016, in Rennes, western France.
Protesters invade railway tracks during a protest against the French government's planned labour law reforms on April 5, 2016, in Rennes, western France. - Sputnik International
Fresh demonstrations take place today in Paris, Marseille, Lille, Nantes, Rennes, Strasbourg and many other towns and cities as students on their Easter break take to the streets in protest at proposed changes to labor reforms which are being debated in the French parliament Tuesday.

Over a million people took part in protests last week over the labor reforms that many claim will allow employers to sack people more easily. French President Francois Hollande is under fire for pressing for reforms to the highly codified French labor laws — known as the Code du Travail — in order to give employers more flexibility.

The labor reforms were largely directed at making companies take on more workers on permanent contracts, rather than temporary ones, to bring down the unemployment rate from ten percent. The proposals would give employers more scope to lay-off workers and cut costs and allow some employees to work far longer than the current 35-hour week.

It was following the 1968 riots that the Code du Travail was changed to bring the maximum working week was reduced to 44 hours. It has since been reduced, over time, to 35, which the unions want to maintain, but which Hollande believes is holding back productivity because of the lack of flexibility it leaves employers.

However, the student protests — over several weeks — have been particularly strongly backed — despite none of them being in a job and many facing unemployment the moment they leave college or university.

Student Protests

French students have a long history of political protests — going back as far as the Paris riots of 1968, when students held sit-ins in universities and clashed violently with police for several weeks over capitalism, consumerism and traditional institutions, values and order.

In 2006 — over a three-month period — French students demonstrated against the proposed controversial Equal Opportunity Law, which would have created a new job contract, known as the CPE, under which it would have been easier, during a contract's first two years, for workers under twenty-six years old to be fired.

Schools, universities, roads, railways and motorways were all blocked by students. There were violent clashes with riot police which turned sites such as the Sorbonne University into warzones, with police using tear gas. The government eventually backed down. President Jacques Chirac became a lame-duck president, and the career of his prime minister, Dominique de Villepin, never recovered.

This time round the students are once again using their political muscle to demonstrate against the introduction of labor reforms that cold see them more easily fired on a last-in-first-out basis in a downturn. Once again, they hope to weaken — if not topple — the government of the day.

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