She said that it was "unacceptable" in cases where employees are "defending their jobs" to drag them before courts.

Clashes such as the one outside Goodyear promote the image of the French economy as being in control of unions and inflexible regulations. However, as Gerard Dussillol, an economic specialist at the pro-market Institut Thomas More think-tank, points out, unions in France represent a very small percentage of the working population. In 2009 membership stood at just 7.4 percent, compared with more than 20 percent in both Britain and Germany.

Their small numbers and their power to negotiate on behalf of non-union workers tend to make them more radical, he said, even if they aren't representative of the French population, in general. Plus, unions form a large part of Hollande's electoral power base and hold considerable sway over the fortunes of his Socialist party.

"They give a false image," he said. "But if you have a poor image, people are not very keen on investing in your country."

France's government has started to make some steps towards reform and economic discipline. Its 2013 budget held spending even and raised taxes to close the deficit. It has also sent a bill to parliament that would increase some employee benefits in exchange for offering companies in difficulty more flexibility in setting workers' hours and pay.

But many analysts say that while the measures are a step in the right direction, they fear it's a case of too little, too late â¿¿ plus the history of protest in France will make any reform difficult to implement.

"The history of labor protests in France makes me concerned that those changes would be even more costly than in Italy," said Peter Morici, an economist at the University of Maryland.

"You saw in Italy they elected a comedian to a prominent position in parliament; in France, they're liable to shut the city down for a month."

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