Several thousand of people from unions are holding protest rallies against French President Emmanuel Macron’s proposed labor reforms.
France’s main far left party, the hardline CGT trade union, and some 80 other organizations led the nationwide protests, which are expected in at least 160 places across France on Saturday.
CGT Secretary General Philippe Martinez said Macron should address the growing anger against his reform of France’s public service and some state enterprises such as the heavily indebted national railway company SNCF.
Police said some 30 people were arrested in the capital Paris before the start of the march.
Jean-Luc Melenchon, leader of the far left France Unbowed party, said, “We are going to carry a message (and) this message must be heard by the strong-headed Emmanuel Macron.”
Melenchon, who was addressing a cheering crowd before the protest set off in the southern port city of Marseille, referred to staff shortages at hospitals, limited admissions at universities, and lack of police in tough neighborhoods as some of the problems the European country is struggling with, challenging the government’s claim that it does not have the means to fund them.
“We do not believe you because you are lying,” Melenchon said, adding that Macron’s government had given a 4.5 billion-euro ($5.25 billion) tax break to the rich, which could have been invested in hospitals.
“The country is rich. The country must share,” Melenchon said.
Macron, 40, has shown little signs he may surrender to demands of the workers. His administration has held rounds of talks with union leaders and insists it will legislate on the labor reforms next year.
Since the start of the year, unions have staged several nationwide strikes, while SNCF rail workers have been carrying out rolling strikes on two of every five days of the week since April.
Key components of the reform include a gradual phase-out of the state-owned rail operator, starting with competition on high-speed lines in 2020, and an end to the hiring of SNCF staff on more protective job-for-life contracts than in other sectors.