French Labor Law Disputes Have Led to Riots, Tear Gas and Mounting Trash

J’adore la France. I have loved French since I first studied it at age ten. French was my major at university; I lived in Avignon for nine months as a student, then later for three months in Paris. My fondest memory of France is taking my 15-year-old son to Paris and introducing him to my favorite spots: a bateau-mouche on the Seine, the stained glass of Notre Dame, the amazing modern art of the Centre Pompidou.

So I have been dismayed in the past few months to see images of teargas in the streets of France, rows of Vélib (cycles for hire) on fire in Paris, violent clashes in the street between the police and protestors, unending demonstrations and work stoppages, and now piles of trash lining the streets of Paris, as a result of a days-old garbage strike. 

Violence On The Streets Of Paris

On June 14, things turned especially nasty in Paris, when around 75,000 demonstrators gathered in Paris. At least 40 people were injured, including 29 police officers, and 58 people were arrested.

In my experience, many French seem passionate about their politics; I remember on my last visit to France getting into a heated debate with my taxi driver about whether allowing free movement of labor within the European Union was a good idea.

The BBC reports:

One of the city’s best-known attractions, the Eiffel Tower, was closed due to strike action by staff.

Police said the clashes in Paris involved “several hundred masked people,” who threw chunks of paving, set bins ablaze and smashed some shop windows. Police responded with tear gas and water cannon.

In the evening two “Autolib” electric cars were set ablaze, as were four other vehicles elsewhere in Paris, police said.

Demonstrators had gathered outside the government building where the Senate was debating changes to the labor law. The people of France are protesting over these proposed changes, which they say will destroy hard-earned worker’s rights. Here are the key points:

* The 35-hour work week remains in place in theory, but firms can also negotiate with local trade unions on more or fewer hours, up to a maximum of 46 hours;

* Companies have greater freedom to reduce pay;

* It’s easier for companies to lay off workers. The idea is that firms will take on more employees if they know they can easily lose them in case of a downturn;

* Employers also have more flexibility to approve or deny holidays or special leave, such as maternity leave. These are currently heavily regulated.

Anger Takes To The Streets

Workers are furious at this attack on their rights. Demonstrations against the bill began on March 9 and led to a massive demonstration on March 31, when nearly 400,000 people came out in protest across France. The country has now been under a state of emergency for six months, and everyone is exhausted.


Photo Credit: Screenshot from online Mirror video

France has seen many strikes, but there has not been anything like this disruption since May 1968, when student-led demonstrations shut down the entire country for six weeks.

This is also different because the Socialist Party is divided amongst itself. When the Socialist Prime Minister, Manuel Valls, decided to reform the labor code by removing a few layers of worker protection, many of the Party members considered his move a heresy.

It is the Conféderation Générale du Travail (CGT), France’s oldest and biggest union, which is leading the way. With the goal of having the reformed law thrown out entirely, the union has organized strikes by train drivers, the picketing of ports, power stations and fuel depots, and national days of action.

All this on top of two terrorist attacks in 2015, another one on June 14, and recent rains that have caused havoc across central Europe, including in France, where the river Seine burst its banks and Le Louvre shut down so that its employees could move artwork to a place of safety.

Can Soccer Save The Day?

Euro 2016, the European Soccer Championship, kicked off on June 10 and will bring an expected 2.5 million visitors to France. It was hoped that this would lift some of the malaise gripping the country, and that the police might get some relief.

It’s not turning out that way.

The long-awaited event is bringing its own problems. On June 15, UEFA, the governing body of soccer in Europe, announced that Russia will be thrown out of Euro 2016 if their fans cause further trouble.

The Russians have also been fined 150,000 euros ($168,000) following the game against England in Marseille on June 11, when large numbers of Russia supporters, some wearing balaclavas, went on the rampage, charging against English fans after the game had ended at 1-1. The Russians grabbed flags as they stampeded, throwing projectiles and forcing England fans to clamber over fencing and walls to escape.

As Agnès Poirier writes in the guardian, France has lost its “joie de vivre.” The new law will eventually pass in some form, but first there will be grappling between the two houses of the government. Next year will bring a presidential election and François Hollande’s chances of winning a second term are almost non-existent; elected on a left-wing program, saying he didn’t like the world of finance, he has instead embraced the bosses. This will be the end of the Socialist Party’s run in power, at least for a while.

It is a dark time in French history.

Poirier echoes the simple hopes of the French today:

“So we all keep our fingers crossed that Russia loses as soon as possible, that English fans behave themselves, that French strikes are put on hold – at least until the end of Euro 2016 – and that this tournament goes without a glitch, brings us some respite, and perhaps even some joy. And if our friends in Britain voted to remain with us, this would perhaps lift our spirits a little more.”


I would add that turning to nature at times of unrest is important. I always recall the vibrant fields of lavender, here seen at Valensole, in Provence. Vive La France!


Photo Credit: Screenshot from online Mirror video


Siyus Copetallus
Siyus Copetallus2 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

Elaine W.
Past Member 2 years ago


Marie W.
Marie W2 years ago

French workers have more courage than USA- they will get angry.

Celine Russo
Celine Russo2 years ago

From what I see they seem totally negative laws and with such negativity I wonder who even thought of proposing them. What makes me mad about these laws is that no one in the French news talks about them properly and concretely. You can't think well of a law if you don't have proper description and consequences of it.

Frances M.
Frances M2 years ago


RICKY SLOAN2 years ago


Danuta Watola
Danuta Watola2 years ago

thanks for sharing

Sofia E.
Sofia E2 years ago

Confrontations involving the Brits and Russians were to be expected. I don't care at all about sports but a friend was watching the game on tv and I jokingly asked if football had turned to boxing already. Brits are known for causing trouble. Russians too. A game between the 2 could only end with violence. The police should have kept a keen eye on both groups.
As for the political turmoil... Marx was right, it's a never ending fight between those who would have you working for a bowl of soup and those who think they deserve to be more than slaves. When you stop fighting for your rights, they'll be taken from you. We are living in dangerous times, the middle class is vanishing. I hope French workers can stop the further deregulation of their work conditions.

Margaret Goodman
Margaret G2 years ago

I remember a line from the Michael Moore film "Sicko". It went something like this. "In the United States the people fear the government. In France the government fears the people!" I'm with C Bradley, Randy Q. Will Rogers, Louise, D., Drusilla P., and Amgev Geridoni.

Cela V.
Cela V2 years ago