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France’s main CGT union estimated that 40,000 people had turned out to protest in Paris by mid-afternoon. Police, however, put the figure much lower, saying between 12,500 and 13,500 turned out for the demonstration.
Unions said 170,000 were protesting across France. The interior ministry put the number of demonstrators at between 77,500 and 78,500, close to police estimates of 78,000.
“It’s begun, there are clashes going on between young demonstrators and CRS riot police,” FRANCE 24 journalist Julie Dungelhoeff reported from the Paris demonstration.
AFP reported that 15 police officers have been injured in the violence. Some 32 people have so far been arrested, according to the interior ministry.
At their peak in March 2016, labour reform protests brought close to 400,000 people into the streets. However, turnout has steadily fallen as the public appetite to fight the law has waned, possibly as a result of the violence and vandalism that have characterised previous demonstrations.
Union leaders said this may be the last street protest against the law, which was forced through parliament in July, but say they are determined to keep fighting the reform.
“We won’t give up the fight. We’re not going to have another wave of demonstrations but there are other ways of fighting the labour law,” Jean-Claude Mailly, head of the Force Ouvrière union, told French public TV channel France 2.
Mailly and Philippe Martinez, head of the CGT union, said they hoped legal challenges would force the withdrawal of the new law. They said they intended to challenge its application decrees, the documents that specify exactly how the law will be applied.
A more flexible labour market
The new law is designed to make France’s rigid labour market more flexible, in part by allowing firms to tailor pay and work terms to their needs more easily.
Seven months before the first round of a wide open presidential election, President François Hollande is still plagued by near double-digit unemployment and hopes the new legislation will help lower the jobless rate.
Although Hollande has hinted clearly his intent to run, the president has previously said he would only enter the race if he could claim to have made inroads against unemployment.
The unions say the law will undermine high standards of labour protection as well as their ability to represent workers, notably in small firms where the law will allow employers and employees to negotiate deals on issues like overtime pay without union input.
A decade ago, then-president Jacques Chirac’s centre-right government scrapped legislation to reform the labour market after it had been approved by parliament. It was pulled after weeks of violent youth protests.