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5 Jul, 2016 15:06

Fresh protests in France as govt bypasses parliament again to push through labor law

France’s Socialist government once again used its emergency constitutional powers to force through a second reading of a controversial labor reform law, which has provoked months of street protests in the country.

"This country is too used to mass unemployment," Prime Minister Manuel Valls told parliament, as he invoked Article 49 of the French constitution, which allows laws to be approved without a parliamentary vote. "This is not posturing, it's not intransigence.”

Valls said that 800 amendments had been made to the legislation – aimed at cutting down the country’s 10 percent unemployment rate – since the first version of the law was driven through the lower chamber, the National Assembly, in May.

The prime minister, on the centrist wing of his party, labeled those who opposed the law, “the coalition of immobility,” and said he was acting “in the general interests of the nation.”

The National Assembly now has 24 hours to stage a no-confidence vote in the government, but it is unlikely to pass, as most of the Socialist party, and the center-right opposition, have already said that they will not attempt to topple Valls.

Over 30 members of the Socialist Party are still likely to put on a symbolic show of defiance, after behind-the-scenes talks with the government failed. Several jeered as Valls spoke, before walking out of the chamber.

"This is sad, compromise was possible. Valls seems to have refused out of customary intransigence," said deputy Laurent Baumel.

Anticipating the government’s decision, grassroots activist organizations, such as Nuit Debout, and unions have flooded Paris and other large cities in a well-organized series of protests.

Union organizers said that over 45,000 people attended a march in Paris, though authorities put the figure at a more modest 7,500.

"This is a counterproductive law socially and economically," said Marie-Jose Kotlicki, a member of the key CGT union. "The government is making a mistake in underestimating the level of discontent over this law."

A newspaper-funded opinion poll published last week showed that 73 percent of French people would be “shocked” if the government relied on Article 49 to implement its legislation.

But with over 3.5 million people out of work, Valls is hoping the new law – which makes it easier to fire and hire staff, introduces a more flexible working week, and cuts the need for union arbitration over redundancies – will prove a winner for the flagging government. With elections looming next year, the Socialists remain behind in the parliamentary polls, and President Francois Hollande is in third place in the race to choose the next head of state.

Yet with the law having met such resistance, after being watered down repeatedly, political analyst Alex Korbel says it is now a largely "symbolic" step, proving the government's strength to its electorate and Brussels.

"This labor law is only political signalling - the country is trying to show to the EU that it is trying to reform the country, but the substance of the law is unlikely to achieve anything," he told RT from Paris.