Hollande Braces for French Union Protest Over Labor-Law Changes

  • Truckers, rail workers, airport staff striking or planning to
  • Union leader calls on government to ‘open its eyes and ears’

President Francois Hollande will try to head off strikes set for this week after he forced reforms to French labor law through the lower house of parliament.

As he seeks to convince voters of the benefits of the proposed law, the Socialist president will address the nation in an hourlong radio interview Tuesday amid protests by truck and train drivers and Paris metro workers. Air-traffic control staff will walk out Thursday and some refinery workers also plan to join the movement.

Hollande has provoked the wrath of the labor movement with plans to reduce the amount of extra pay required for overtime and make it easier to fire staff in some cases. While the government watered down its reform proposals after they were first floated in February, unions are calling for the legislation to be dropped altogether.

“What we want is for the government to open its eyes and ears,” Jean-Claude Mailly, head of the Force Ouvriere union, said on RTL radio. There is still a chance for them to “return to reason.”

With an unemployment rate of more than 10 percent -- roughly double the level of Germany and the U.K. -- Hollande is caught between demands from France’s European partners to modernize the French economy and his own electoral base.

His government survived a confidence vote linked to the labor law Thursday, though the president’s recourse to emergency powers to bypass parliament for the second time in a year underlines his lack of authority as he gears up for a fresh presidential election less than a year from now. Multiple polls show Hollande wouldn’t even win enough votes to make it to the second round if the vote were held now, and his approval rating is hovering near record lows.

Hollande knows “this sequence of events is costing him dearly,” Yves-Marie Cann, a pollster at Elabe in Paris said Thursday. For him and Prime Minister Manuel Valls, “the main risk is that they are just digging themselves deeper into their hole.”

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