Valls’ comments were aimed particularly against the hard-line CGT union, which has been at the forefront of protests against a law aimed at boosting France’s economy.
The law seeks to make hiring and firing easier, and crucially would allow large companies to negotiate working conditions directly with their employees, sidelining unions.
Tuesday’s rally was, by all estimations, huge. Police estimated a turnout of up to 80,000 in Paris alone for the event (The CGT claimed a million people turned out for the demonstration), which was organized by the CGT and smaller militant unions.
Dozens of French police, dressed in full riot gear, keep watch over boozing and singing England fans in the centre of Lille — French police watching EURO 2016 football fans
But on the sidelines of the protest, which was sea of red CGT banners and angry but well-behaved demonstrators, masked youths fought running battles with police while laying waste to shopfronts and banks.
Valls, who has vowed not to back down on pushing through the employment law, which has the support of another leading national union, the CFDT, told the CGT in no uncertain terms on Wednesday that it was to blame for the breakdown in order.
“When you cannot organise a demo and take responsibility, leaving thugs in the middle of the march … then you just don’t organise a demonstration that is going to degenerate,” Valls said on France Inter radio before visiting the Necker children’s hospital whose windows had been methodically smashed by “casseurs” (“breakers”, or “smashers”, a term for violent anarchist protesters).
The CGT responded in a strongly-worded statement that the city’s police authorities, which had authorized the demonstration, were ultimately responsible for security “in the same way that it is not the responsibility of football supporters to police security at Euro 2016 games”.
The statement added, paradoxically, that union members responsible for maintaining order at the demonstration had done their job with “calmness and assurance”, despite the outbreaks of violence.
The right to protest in France, and the power of unions in large businesses, is enshrined in law. Forbidding demonstrations in the French capital would therefore be an unpopular and provocative step for the French government.
Technically, according to a clause of 1789 law that has survived on the statute books, the government can forbid a demonstration “if it threatens public order”.
This clause was used in 2014 to forbid a demonstration in support of the people of Gaza after episodes of violence. The protest took place anyway, but degenerated into a running battle between angry youths and police.
The CGT’s conundrum
The CGT’s continued protests against the proposed law, which has included strikes by public transport and municipal services such as rubbish collection, as well as the violence that erupted on Tuesday, has come at a bad time for France.
The Euro 2016 football championship, which was supposed to showcase France but has been the focus instead of media attention on violent scenes of hooliganism, has been a policing headache and bad PR for a country trying to lift itself from the economic doldrums.
France is also facing an unprecedented security threat, with the mass killing of November 13, 2015 casting a long shadow over the collective mood, made worse by the murder Tuesday of a French police commander and his wife at the hands of a terrorist who claimed allegiance to the Islamic State group.
Violent anarchist protests which have little or nothing to do with the proposed employment law – police made 58 arrests on Tuesday and said many of those detained were not French – have tested the government’s patience and threaten to tip public opinion away from the CGT (which has been enjoying 70% support, according to some polls).
“This is a conundrum being faced by CGT leader Philippe Martinez,” Jean-Christophe Cambadélis, who first secretary of the ruling Socialist Party, told French news magazine Le Point on Wednesday. “He needs to wake up to the fact that more protests are not going to make his movement any more popular, quite the opposite.”
“The CGT also needs to wake up to the fact that it is being used and exploited by the violent anarchists” causing trouble on the sidelines of anti-government protests, he added. “This is the tenth CGT protest that has degenerated into violence.”
Date created : 2016-06-15
Credit: Charles Platiau/REUTERS
PARIS, June 15 (Reuters) – French leaders told the hardline CGT labour union on Wednesday it would be denied permission for further street rallies unless it rooted out troublemakers, a day after violent battles between masked youths and police during protest marches in Paris.
Prime Minister Manual Valls accused the CGT of doing little to rein in hundreds of rioters who ransacked shopfronts, tore up street paving and smashed the windows of a children’s hospital during running battles on Tuesday. The police responded with teargas and water cannon and dozens were hurt on both sides.
President Francois Hollande told ministers street rallies that the CGT has been organising in protest against a labour law reform would not be permitted unless the union provided better security guarantees, a government spokesman said.
In a grim assessment of the broader climate in France, Valls said terrorists would inevitably strike again, that police were also working overtime to avert fan violence during a month-long European soccer championship and that the anti-reform protests had now degenerated into “unbearable violence”.
He was speaking two days after a police officer and his wife were knifed to death by a Frenchman pledging allegiance to the Islamic State militant group.
“Enough is enough,” Valls said. “I am calling on the CGT to hold no further demonstrations in Paris,” he told public radio.
He accused the union of maintaining an “ambiguous” attitude towards some 700 ultra-violent youths.
The CGT hit back in a statement, saying it was up to the state to guarantee order.
Previous street rallies over the planned labour reform have been marked by violence too, but Valls said Tuesday had reached a new peak. “These are people who want to take out a police officer, to kill a police officer,” he said.
Police arrested more than 60. Many of the troublemakers are clad in black, with scarves and goggles to repel tear gas and helmets in case of baton charges. While they belong to no single identifiable group, experts say they appear to be mostly a mix of disillusioned youths, anarchists and anti-capitalists.
About 75,000-80,000 people took part in the Paris march in all, according to police estimates.
Valls reiterated that his government would not back down on a labour reform that will make hiring and firing easier and devolve the setting of work conditions to company level. He wants it adopted by July.
His government forced the bill through the lower house of parliament by decree to bypass rebels within ruling Socialist Party ranks and it is now being debated in the Senate.
France has allowed the street marches so far despite the emergency rule imposed after Islamist militants killed 130 people in attacks in Paris last November.
Police are also striving to keep the peace during a soccer contest that runs till July 10. They stepped in at the weekend to break up violence between Russian and English fans and are on alert for potential trouble again during upcoming matches.
Valls said this came on top of a permanent terror threat.
“More innocents will lose their lives,” he said. “We need to tighten the net and give police and intelligence services all the means they need, but we will witness further attacks.” (Additional reporting by Emmanuel Jarry; Writing by Brian Love; Editing by Andrew Callus and Gareth Jones)
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