Clashes erupt as France braces for reform storm

France's President Emmanuel Macron is facing his first major challenge to his plans to change the country's labour laws. As David Pollard reports, clashes broke out when workers from the hard-left CGT union began marching through French cities.VIDEO: REUTERS

FRANCE (REUTERS) Clashes in France as conflict rears its head again over the issue that's dogged the French economy for decades: labour reform.

French far-left member of Parliament for 'France Unbowed' party, Jean-Luc Melenchon, says: "Mr. Macron knows it's a battle, he wanted one. And now, it's our turn to pick up the gauntlet."

Amid a 9 per cent unemployment rate, its supporters call it a must-have to stir investment and free up a rigid jobs market.

They appear undeterred by unrest last year that saw - at its peak - 400,000 people on the streets.

This time too, opponents say they are planning hundreds, possibly thousands of strikes and demos.

But not all.

France's second-biggest union is spearheading the protest.

Two others - including its largest - have said they will not.

And despite the nearly six in ten against Macron's labour decrees - according to one poll - others see a time for change.

Trainee human resources manager Judith Kaba says: "I like Macron and I think he's the president who can help the young people of today blossom tomorrow ... I think that for once in France we shouldn't upset everyone with protests at every turn."

Markets are keeping an open bet on who will win the day.

CMC Markets' market analyst David Madden says: "Markets jumped on the back of the first round of the French presidential election back in May. But the French market, has been largely in decline since then. It's going to be very tricky for Mr. Macron. France is a country which has notoriously difficult unions. "

President Emmanuel Macron, meanwhile, is in Guadeloupe to visit French territories hit by Hurricane Irma. The ferocity of the storm back home - and its final direction - is yet unknown.