France Labor Protests

Truckers block French roads but president firm on reforms

PARIS : Truckers blocked French highways and workers marched through city streets Tuesday to protest longer working hours, but President Francois Hollande is insisting he won’t abandon the labor reforms that sparked their anger.France is facing a tense week of strikes and other union action against the bill, which has met fierce resistance in Parliament and in the streets.

Truck drivers joined in the protests Tuesday, blocking roads around Marseille and the western cities of Nantes and Le Mans. They fear a drop in income because the bill cuts overtime pay.Marseille union leader Laurent Casanova said the goal “is to paralyze traffic … and block the economy.” Truck driver John Bosco in Vitrolles, near Marseille, said the law could cut 1,000 to 1,500 euros ($1,130 to $1,700) from his annual income.

“I will not back down” on the bill, Hollande said Tuesday on Europe-1 radio, arguing that the new law is necessary to boost hiring and investment.”There are too many governments that have backed down, which is why I found the country in such a state in 2012,” he said.France’s economy has stagnated for years after successive governments tried reforms but failed or ceded to street protests.

A crowd of protesters followed Hollande to a pharmaceutical laboratory he was visiting Tuesday, demanding the law be abandoned.Unions and leftist groups led peaceful protests in Lyon and Nantes under heavy police presence.Protests against the bill have often turned violent as police clash with scattered troublemakers hurling projectiles and damaging storefronts. Hollande said those who come to protests just “to break things” would be punished, saying that 350 police officers have been injured in recent weeks and 60 people convicted.

Paris police banned some people from taking part in Tuesday’s march through the capital, prompting some to file an emergency complaint for the alleged violation of their fundamental right to demonstrate.Hollande insisted he supports the right to demonstrate despite a state of emergency still in place after last year’s deadly extremist attacks in Paris.”That’s part of freedom,” he said.

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