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French unions march separately on International Workers’ Day

Reuters/Jean-Paul Pelissier

French unions are planning major rallies today to mark International Workers’ Day. But for the first time in five years, they will march separately because of discord over a recent labour reform law.

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This year’s marches will be the first under François Hollande’s presidency. In the past, the country’s five largest trade unions, including the two largest – the CGT and the CFDT – marched together in opposition to president Nicolas Sarkozy.

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However, the leftwing CGT union – the largest union in terms of voting power – have organised 279 separate marches with other left-wing unions.

The CGT opposed the National Interprofessional Accord (ANI), a law recently adopted by the French parliament aimed at giving more flexibility to the labour market.

The more moderate CFDT union, which has the largest membership, supported the law. Hence it will hold its own marches.

Theirry Dedieu from the CFDT told RFI that the unions have different views on protecting workers’ rights in the face of record unemployment.

“We have some trade unions who believe that the people who have been elected should be the ones taking all the decisions, and then after that the trade unions should just monitor or check that everything has been implemented properly. Some of the unions [like] mine think we should be at the origins of the compromises…we shouldn’t expect everything coming from various governments.”

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Although the unions don’t see eye to eye on the labour law, he said they still have a lot in common.

“On the one hand, you’ve got the so-called reformist trade union…and on the other hand, you’ve got [unions] opposed to any kind of agreement on reforming the labour market. So that’s where we are, and we are not, unfortunately, able this year to march altogether in the same direction I would say,” he explained.

The CGT’s march in Paris will begin at Place de la Bastille, led by its leader, Thierry Lepaon, and Jean-Luc Mélenchon, the founder of the Left Party.

The CFDT’s leader, Laurent Berger, will head its major march in the city of Reims north-east of Paris.

International Workers’ Day is also being marked around the world:

• In Bangladesh, at least 10,000 workers protested in Dhaka against low wages and poor working conditions after more than 400 workers died in a garment factory collapse last week.

• Police fired tear gas and water cannon at angry protesters in Istanbul, Turkey.

Greece’s two main unions called for a 24-hour general strike against austerity measures.

• Unions in Spain have called for more than 80 rallies across the country, where the unemployment rate surged past 27 percent last week.

• Police in the Indonesian capital Jakarta said around 55,000 workers took to the streets, making it the biggest May Day rally in recent years.

• In Senegal, the major unions gathered at a major stadium in the capital Dakar, the first time in the country’s history.

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