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French Unions Protest Loosening Of Labor Rules

By SYLVIE CORBET

PARIS (AP) â¿¿ France's toughest unions are protesting a potentially landmark plan to loosen the country's famously rigid labor rules, calling it a betrayal by Socialist President Francois Hollande and a gift to capitalist bosses.

Multinationals are shutting factories around France amid Europe's economic slowdown, with many complaining about the high cost of employing French workers. The French government is trying to stem job losses and turn the stagnant economy around with a new draft labor law expected to be introduced at a Cabinet meeting Wednesday.

Three leading French unions and the leading employers' lobby signed on to the plan in January, but two leading hard-line unions oppose it â¿¿ and staged protests in cities around France on Tuesday along with small, scattered strikes.

The bill would make it easier for companies to cut salaries and working hours and negotiate with workers in times of financial difficulty. The government hopes this would encourage small businesses to hire, and encourage multinationals to keep production in France until the economy improves.

"This could really change the state of mind," Nicolas Grivel, a top aide to Labor Minister Michel Sapin, told The Associated Press. "There's a psychological aspect to all of this, in terms of the signal it could give, domestically and internationally. ... We are emerging from a schema of pure confrontation."

Opponents say the plan threatens France's hard-earned worker rights, which include powerful unions and complex benefits, and accuse Hollande of betraying his leftist ideals.

With red union flags waving above central Paris, protester Catherine Marchais said, "Some people are telling us that it is a way to preserve jobs. I think it is the contrary. That's why I think it is very dangerous."

Some marchers in Paris had their hands tied together to symbolize their argument that workers would be enslaved under the new plan.

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