World Bulletin / News Desk
French President Emmanuel Macron launched round two of his ambitious domestic reform programme on Wednesday, welcoming business leaders and trade unionists for talks about a highly sensitive overhaul of unemployment benefits.
This includes major changes to France's generous unemployment benefits system, as well as large increases in state-funded training aimed at helping the unemployed back into the workplace.
Any change to social security is controversial in France and Macron is hoping to avoid an escalation in street protests against him which began in early September at the call of trade unions.
"It was polite but firm," the head of the Communist-backed CGT trade union, Philippe Martinez, told reporters after talks with Macron at the presidential palace on Thursday.
Martinez has been one of the most vocal critics of Macron since his election in May and the CGT has spearheaded what has so far been a mostly ineffective round of strikes and demonstrations to demand the government change tack.
Macron intends to deploy the same playbook used to push through the labour law reform: negotiations over the next few months culminating in a set of government's proposals.
"Objective: to invent new protections," Macron tweeted.
But whereas his opponents were previously divided -- with the more moderate CFDT and FO unions backing talks, not protests -- there are growing signs that the labour movement is preparing to push back together.
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