Spain and Italy have already made their labor markets more flexible and cut through excessive regulation to kick start their economies and recover from Europe's financial crisis.

The fear is that as they start to reap the benefits of their reforms, Spain and Italy could attract business away from France. And France can't afford to lose any business: The unemployment rate is already 10.6 percent and the country is on the brink of falling back into recession, having contracted 0.3 percent in the final quarter of 2012.

There are near-daily reminders of how difficult relations between labor and management are in France as company after company announces layoffs and unions vow to block them at any cost.

Last week, there were violent clashes in northern France as Goodyear tire workers demonstrated against their plant's closure by burning tires, setting off firecrackers and fighting with riot police. At one point, a protester grabbed a policeman's shield out of his hands, while another set upon the officer, punching him in the head.

Police say several officers were injured, including one seriously. Interior Minister Manuel Valls has promised that charges will be brought against those responsible.

But CGT union representative Mickael Wamen, who noted six protesters were also injured, was defiant.

"I will never condemn the workers, I condemn the management of Goodyear," he told RTL radio. "If there's a confrontation between Goodyear and the security forces, there is only one person responsible: That's first of all the employer, Goodyear, which wants to close our factory, and then the government that pretends to be on the left."

And it wasn't only union members defending the Goodyear protesters. Some politicians said the anger was understandable and pointed to it as a justification for the amnesty.

"Of course we have to condemn violence, but we have to understand also that these men, these women are exasperated," said Marie-George Buffet, a Communist representative in the National Assembly. "Sometimes, you lose your cool. You're so angry that you lose your cool. I'm not going to condemn them."

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