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French leftists protest President Emmanuel Macron's labor reforms in Paris

The protesters oppose sweeping changes to France's labor code, which make it easier to lay off workers. But Macron defends his reforms, saying they're needed to bring down France's stubbornly high unemployment rate.

Several thousand demonstrators answered a call from far-left opposition party leader Jean-Luc Melenchon on Saturday to march in Paris against President Emmanuel Macron's labor reforms.

The crowd shouted "resistance, resistance" and no to "a social coup d'etat."

The rally came a day after Macron signed his sweeping reforms into law, using a fast-track procedure to bypass a protracted parliamentary debate.

The changes to France's complicated labor codes increase flexibility for small businesses to negotiate pay and other working conditions with their employees. Previously these details were bound by national agreements.

Watch video 03:02

French business owners hope for breakthrough on Macron's reforms

Macron's 36 reform measures across five separate decrees aim to ensure greater flexibility in negotiating working conditions, allow businesses with fewer than 20 employees to negotiate directly with staff and bypass union agreements, enable employers to hire and fire with greater ease and limit redundancy payouts for unfair dismissals.

The president said the reforms would increase entrepreneurship which, in turn, would help reduce France's stubbornly high unemployment rate of 9.6 percent.

Melenchon's France Unbowed party has accused Macron of destroying decades of hard-fought social gains. 

In a strong speech, Melenchon referred to France's revolutionary history and the street demonstrations of the past: "It was on the streets that kings, Nazis, the Juppe plan were beaten," he said. 

French President Macron signs labor reform measures Friday at the Elysee Palace, flanked by his Minister of Labour Muriel Penicaud and government spokesman Christophe Castaner.

Macron signs labor reform bills Friday, flanked by Labor Minister Muriel Penicaud and spokesman Christophe Castaner

The new labor rules

Macron, France's youngest ever president, has vowed to not be swayed

by street protests and offended some after he said he would not "yield anything – neither to the lazy, the cynics nor the extremists."

Melenchon, 66, who finished fourth in this year's presidential election, called Macron's reforms an attack "on the last country in Europe that is holding out on its post-war social gains."

"The battle of France has begun," he said.

Further demonstrations called by leaders of the various trade union federations are scheduled for the coming weeks.

bik/rc (AFP, Reuters)

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