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Out of Work, Into the Streets

The struggle against France’s labor reform has united discontented youth with trade union militants.by Benjamin Birnbaum

Since February’s announcement from François Hollande and Manuel Valls’s Socialist Party (PS) government that they would “reform” the French labor code, the country’s political life has been rocked by mass protests.

paris-manif  The proposed bill would weaken workers’ bargaining power and lower wages, while extending working hours and making layoffs easier, compounding existing mass unemployment.

In the past, protests against neoliberal labor bills have come mostly from the organized labor movement. But the struggle has mobilized a much broader base — which took a radical turn in mid-May — and has led to a major political crisis.

French youth — many of whom act outside the traditional left-wing parties and unions —kicked off the February and March protests against the bill.

While they leveraged social networks and planned demonstrations, the unions — with their still enormous power to turn out people — took a hesitant stance. This despite the fact that 70 percent of the population opposes the labor bill.

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