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French unions plan more protests on eve of public-sector strike

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Philippe Martinez of the CGT (L) and FO'sJean-Claude Mailly (R) at a press conference last year Reuters/Baz Ratner

As France prepared for Tuesday's one-day public-sector strike, all the countries trade union leaders met to discuss launching united protests against President Emmanuel Macron's government.


In a rare show of unity, French public-sector unions have called nationwide strikes and demonstrations against the government's plan to axe 120,000 state-sector jobs and reduce the right to paid sick leave.

Even the usually conciliatory CFDT and CFTC union federations have backed the protests at the government's treatment of public employees, accusing it of making them scapegoats in their effort to cut public spending and calling for pay rises rather than the wage freeze imposed for 2018.

Meeting discusses joint action

Hoping to build on that unity, the CGT federation, which led September's protests against Macron's labour reform, has called a meeting to discuss organising a joint day of action to "bring together all the discontent".

And all the country's trade unions have agreed to attend.

Although the executive orders to enforce Macron's flagship labour reforms have now become law, the CGT wants to continue fighting them.

And it wants to unite that battle with ongoing actions on pensions and changes to railworkers' conditions, as well as the public-sector protests.

Several CGT sections have also appealed to the Council of State to strike down the government's imposition of a limit on compensation for unfair dismissal, claiming it is in breach of the European Social Charter.

Rank-and-file pressure

Under pressure from his rank and file, Jean-Claude Mailly, who leads another major union, FO, has promised to back joint action, while trying to limit its scope to specific issues such as the compensation question.

Several of FO's local branches joined the CGT-led protests in September, despite the national leadership's refusal to do so, but Mailly, who came under fire at a recent national delegates' meeting for his stance, still insists that he has no mandate to call for the executive orders to be scrapped in their totality.

For their part, the leaders of the CFDT and the CFTC are reluctant to join street protests, for fear of being "marginalised" in forthcoming negotiations on training, apprenticeships and unemployment insurance.

At the weekend, Prime Minister Edouard Philippe held a seminar of ministers to mobilise them to defend their programme against the increasingly widespread accusation that they are a government of the rich, out of touch with ordinary people.