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Posts tagged ‘Land of the French Oppression’

French President Macron launches step 2 of labor reforms

October 12, 2017

PARIS (AP) — French President Emmanuel Macron is launching step two of his campaign to rethink French labor law, focusing on unemployment benefits and job training. Macron meets Thursday with France’s main workers and employers unions to start negotiations that will last for months. The discussions come as workers are still protesting a first set of labor measures Macron signed last month, aimed at making it easier for firms to hire and fire.

The government now wants to extend unemployment benefits to independent entrepreneurs, farmers and merchants who go bankrupt. Employees who voluntarily quit would also be entitled to unemployment benefits under strict conditions, to encourage workers to change jobs more easily.

The government also wants to reform the way the benefits are financed and help unemployed people acquire new skills needed in a rapidly changing global economy.


French public sector strike disrupt schools, hospitals

October 10, 2017

PARIS (AP) — A nationwide strike Tuesday disrupted schools, hospitals and air traffic across France, and nearly a quarter million civil servants took to the streets around the country to protest President Emmanuel Macron’s economic policies.

They’re expressing anger at wage freezes, the axing of 120,000 jobs in public services over the next five years and a succession of spending cuts and labor reforms that Macron argues will boost the economy.

In Paris, the police said they counted 26,000 demonstrators, while the CGT, the main trade union, counted twice that number in the capital alone and hundreds of thousands across the country. The Interior ministry said 209,000 took part in protests nationwide.

It was the first time in ten years that all public service unions had called for strike action. Philippe Martinez, the CGT leader, told reporters in the Paris demonstration that the participation in this strike day was “very significant” and praised the union unity.

Among the protesters marching in Paris, Beatrice Vieval, a 49-year-old nurse, says her Paris public hospital has seen three recent suicides among staff, and she fears that Macron’s plans “will make the situation worse.”

Alongside teachers, hospital workers made up many of the protesters. Vieval, who works at the Saint-Louis Hospital in Paris, told The Associated Press she already feels squeezed by increasing cutbacks — “wages are frozen, hospital conditions are deteriorated, staff is depleted by reorganizing services.”

Amado Lebaube, a 20-year-old philosophy student in the Sorbonne university, said degraded working conditions are already hurting consumers of public services, and could threaten his ability to stay in school. He expressed thanks for state-paid teachers, student housing aid and government scholarships, adding, “I can study today because there are public services in this country.”

Flagship carrier Air France said about 25 percent of domestic flights were cancelled due to a walkout by some traffic controllers. The airline maintained long-haul flights to and from Paris airports. The education ministry said in a statement about 17 percent of teachers across the country were on strike Tuesday. Some school canteens and nurseries were closed, and several high schools in Paris were closed because students were blocking the entrances in solidarity with the union action.

“They unravel all the social protections supposed to protect the weakest and the workers,” said Sandrine Amoud, a teacher on strike in Paris to protest against Macron’s policies. Jean-Claude Mailly, secretary general of the FO union, called on Macron to stop “austerity” policies toward public servants during a protest in the city of Lyon.

While demonstrations were largely peaceful across the country, a small group of protesters skirmished with police at the end of a march to the Place de la Nation in eastern Paris. Tuesday’s industrial action comes after several other street protests in recent weeks against Macron’s proposed changes to labor laws, which apply to employees of the private sector. Unions fear Macron’s economic policies would weaken France’s hard-won worker protections.

The hard-left CGT union called for new protests and strikes against Macron’s labor reforms on Oct. 19.

Paris is for walkers and cyclists as city bans cars for day

October 01, 2017

PARIS (AP) — Parisians and tourists were encouraged to stroll through the City of Light on Sunday as officials banned cars from its streets for a day. Paris has experimented with car-free days in the past, but Sunday marked the first time the entire city was handed over to ramblers, cyclists and roller-bladers.

Only emergency vehicles, buses and taxis were allowed on the streets from 11 a.m. until 6 p.m. Paris time. “It’s nice for the air quality, for enjoying the city, walking around without any noise, without any risk to be run over by a car,” Maxime Denis said as he strolled near Place de la Republique in the city center. “But it should be a real no car day. There are still a few so we are careful.”

Another resident, Francois Boillat, noted that “as a Parisian, I only use public transport all the time, even though I have a car buried in a sixth basement car park and I barely use it. It is a bit stupid. I should sell it.”

Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo was elected on a promise to curb air pollution and reduce car traffic in the French capital, where vehicle emissions are often high. The car-free day created a potential headache for the organizers of Paris fashion week, who rely on trucks to install and remove lavish, sky’s-the-limit shows. Worried fashion houses like Valentino sent out numerous email reminders to guests who planned to arrive by car, reminding them to organize alternative transport.

The Paris couture federation, which supports the initiative, spent months working with police and local authorities to ensure events ran smoothly.

Macron: Europe is too slow, blind to dangers of nationalism

September 26, 2017

PARIS (AP) — Calling Europe slow, weak and ineffective, French President Emmanuel Macron on Tuesday said the EU should embrace a joint budget, shared military force and harmonized taxes to stay globally relevant.

With Brexit looming, Macron warned the rest of Europe against the dangers of anti-immigrant nationalism and fragmentation, saying it goes against the principles of a shared Europe born from the tragedy of world wars.

“We thought the past would not come back … we thought we had learned the lessons,” Macron told a crowd of European students at the Sorbonne university Tuesday. After a far-right party entered the German parliament for the first time in 60 years, Macron said this isolationist attitude has resurfaced “because of blindness … because we forgot to defend Europe.”

“The Europe that we know is too slow, too weak, too ineffective,” he said. To change that, he proposed a joint budget for European countries sharing the euro currency that would allow investment in European projects and help stabilize the eurozone in case of economic crisis. This budget would at some point need to come from national budgets of countries sharing the euro currency, for instance using domestic taxes on businesses.

Macron said the only way to make Europe strong in a globalized world is to reshape “a sovereign, united and democratic Europe.” While re-elected German Chancellor Angela Merkel has signaled openness to some of Macron’s ideas, one potential ally in her new government is deeply skeptical about a eurozone budget. Macron’s office says he wants his Europe strategy to play a role in Germany’s coalition-building talks.

To reduce inequalities across the EU, Macron also suggested greater harmonization of EU tax policies — notably on corporate taxes, and taxing internet giants where they make money and not where they are registered.

Macron is also proposing that every EU country guarantee a minimum wage and payroll charges. Macron said, “I believe deeply in this innovation economy,” but insisted that “we must have this debate” about making taxation more fair.

Macron also proposed a shared European military intervention force and defense budget. He suggested the creation of a European intelligence academy to better fight terrorism, and a joint civil protection force.

He wants to open the French military to European soldiers and proposed other EU member states do the same on a voluntary basis. To deal with Europe’s migration flux, Macron wants a European asylum agency and standard EU identity documents.

Macron’s policies have met resistance at home, and riot police held back a few dozen protesters outside the Sorbonne. Macron doesn’t want to wait for Britain to leave the EU in 2019 to tie European economies closer together.

He’s well-placed to kickstart those efforts: at just 39, he came of age under the EU, and won a strong electoral mandate this year. And he’s already held one-on-one meetings with 22 of the union’s 27 other leaders to market his EU strategy.

Macron recalled he won the presidential election on a pro-European platform, against anti-European, anti-immigration far-right candidate Marine Le Pen. His biggest challenge may be the German political calendar. The outgoing government there goes into caretaker status in a few weeks and is not going to be taking any major decisions on the future of Europe, and it may take months for Merkel to form a viable coalition.

The pro-business Free Democrats, a key potential partner for Merkel, is against a joint budget because the party says that would result in automatic, uncontrolled money transfers from Germany to struggling eurozone partners.

Answering a question about Germany’s potential reluctance to a joint budget, Macron said he is open to discussion and insisted this budget would not be based on an automatic, uncontrolled transfer of money, but rather on common projects that would be democratically approved and financed.

Merkel herself said Monday she wouldn’t rule anything out and that she is in touch with Macron about his plans. “What is important to me above all is that we could use more Europe, but that must lead to more competitiveness, more jobs, simply more clout for the European Union,” she told reporters in Berlin.

Macron plans to discuss his proposals with all leaders of EU member states that are interested in the integration process by the end of the year. He then wants “transparent, free” debates involving all citizens to be organized in all EU countries early next year, with the aim of combating euroskepticism by giving a voice to Europeans, instead of imposing decisions.

He said EU leaders should be ready to propose a detailed, agreed roadmap to reform Europe by 2019, when elections for the European parliament are to be held.

Angela Charlton in Paris and Geir Moulson in Berlin contributed.

French truck drivers block roads, reject labor reforms

September 25, 2017

PARIS (AP) — French truck drivers have organized road blockades on highways and near fuel depots across the country to protest against President Emmanuel Macron’s changes to labor laws. Two major unions, CGT and FO, have called on a nationwide protest action Monday.

Protesters fear the new rules Macron formally signed last week will lead to a deterioration in working conditions and ease the firing of workers. Government spokesman Christophe Castaner called on French drivers not to rush to gas stations, to avoid fuel shortages.

The government has started unblocking roads through police intervention in order to allow access to fuel depots. Macron says labor reforms are essential to reviving the French and European economies.

France: Macron’s party faces likely blow in Senate elections

September 24, 2017

PARIS (AP) — French President Emmanuel Macron’s unconventional political party is fighting to make its mark on the Senate in elections Sunday for half the seats in the upper house — but the results are likely to reflect mounting disenchantment with Macron’s leadership.

His centrist Republic on the Move! party, created just last year, won a large majority in the lower house of parliament in June elections, but is unlikely to do the same in the Senate. Polls suggest the conservative Republicans party will consolidate its dominance of the chamber’s 348 seats instead. Macron’s party is likely to seek alliances in the Senate with other centrists and moderate Republicans and Socialists to approve his business-friendly economic reforms.

The senators are not chosen by the public but by some 75,000 elected officials — mayors, legislators, regional and local councilors — casting ballots in town halls across the country. Results are expected Sunday night. Nearly 2,000 candidates are running for 171 Senate seats.

It’s the first time Macron’s party is competing in Senate elections since he created it to shake up French politics and attract voters tired of the status quo. The party is hoping to win 50 seats. The Senate voting system tends to give an advantage to locally rooted politicians from traditional parties, instead of candidates of Macron’s party, many of whom are political newcomers. Also, many local elected officials are upset by Macron’s plan to slash budgets of local authorities, and that could see the president’s allies getting fewer votes than might have been the case a few months ago.

The election also comes as Macron’s popularity is on the wane, just four months into his presidency. Tens of thousands of people massed in Paris on Saturday to protest changes to labor law that they fear are dismantling the French way of life — and more protests and strikes are ahead. Truckers plan blockades of streets and fuel blockades Monday.

Macron insists the changes — which reduce union powers and hand companies more freedom to lay off workers — are need to create jobs and compete globally. The lower house of parliament, the National Assembly, has the final say in French lawmaking, but Macron also needs broad support in the Senate to follow through on other major changes he has promised, notably to unemployment benefits, the pension system and the French Constitution.

French marchers fill Paris streets to protest new work rules

September 23, 2017

PARIS (AP) — French far-left firebrand Jean-Luc Melenchon urged protesters Saturday to take to the streets and mount strikes to force President Emmanuel Macron to withdraw the labor law changes that are key to his business-friendly economic vision.

Speaking to tens of thousands in Paris, Melenchon assailed the president’s new labor decrees as a gift to greedy corporations and the financial markets that have both fueled income inequality. Macron, for his part, says the decrees are crucial to creating jobs and tackling France’s chronic high unemployment.

“The battle isn’t over — it is beginning,” Melenchon told the crowd packed onto the Place de la Republique in eastern Paris. Earlier, marchers stretched along Paris boulevards waving French tricolor flags, union banners and signs reading “Macron, Resign!”

“It’s the street that brought down the kings. It’s the street that brought down the Nazis,” said Melenchon, who is trying to position himself as France’s main opposition figure. The labor decrees that Macron signed Friday reduce French unions’ influence over workplace rules and make it easier for companies to fire workers — but Saturday’s demonstration reflected wider frustration with the new French president’s leadership.

“Everything that’s done in terms of fiscal policies is in favor of the rich, the wealthy and big companies,” complained marcher Cedric Moulinier, 26. “We’re asking for things to start going the right way, a more social, humanist and environmentalist way.”

Many were angry at a reference Macron made to the “lazy” people who opposed the changes. While the president has already signed the decrees and they are expected to be ratified by parliament soon, Melenchon still insisted it is not too late to overturn them.

He said he would reach out to unions to join forces against the labor decrees, which he said threaten the French way of life. “All of Europe is watching us. …. What is happening is the battle for France,” he said.

The crowd, which police estimated at 30,000 and organizers estimated at 150,000, repeatedly broke into chants of “Resistance!” or “Get out!” The protesters are also angry that Macron used a special procedure allowing the government to change labor law by executive order instead going through a lengthy debate to pass a bill in parliament.

Macron lauded the “unprecedented wave of changes” to France’s social model, along with changes to unemployment benefits and a training plan for jobless people that will be set up next year. While Macron shone at the U.N. General Assembly in New York last week and has made a strong mark on the international stage, he has struggled with myriad critics at home. Farmers, riot police and carnival workers have held protests in recent weeks over work policy changes under Macron, and truckers plan road blockades on Monday.

Among Melenchon’s suggestions to pressure the government to withdraw the reforms is a “pots and pans party.” “Grab your pots next Saturday to make as much noise as possible,” he said. “This is what our message will be: You make our lives miserable. You prevent us from dreaming so we will prevent you from sleeping.”

Alex Turnbull and Oleg Cetinic contributed in Paris.

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