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French unions protest against government’s COVID-19 response



French unions demonstrated on Thursday against the government's handling of the COVID-19 pandemic and its planned reforms to pensions.

Protesters wore face masks and were meant to practice social distancing as government coronavirus restrictions now apply to mass gatherings.

Unions called on students, bus and train drivers and healthcare workers to demonstrate as corporate restructuring plans and company layoffs multiply.

"Our social model is clearly in danger," said union representative Olivier Mateu.

"I think that the appeal we have to make to the workers is very clear: there is nothing to expect from this government. We won't get anything without mobilization. These are people who have no limits," he added.

COVID-19 restrictions mean there are limitson mass gatherings, with only a maximum of 1,000 people allowed to congregate in certain cities such as Marseille.

The strike comes as unions railed against another factory closure.

Japanese tire-maker Bridgestone is in talks to shut its site at Bethune, in northeast France because of low demand. The company says it will hold meetings with unions and try to limit the impact on the community.

"I have almost 40 years of experience in the company," said Christian Duchateau, the secretary of the CSE CGT union. "My father worked here and it’s particularly important that this company continues in this region, which has been hit hard in terms of jobs.

He added: "We have one of the highest unemployment rates. We can't let this factory leave here like that."

Union demonstrations are a familiar sight in France but they’ve been absent since the spring, with lockdown putting an end to protests.

Now the government faces a growing threat from the resurgent virus and a resurgent union movement.


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