Protesters throwing planks of wood and Molotov cocktails clashed with Paris police firing tear gas and dispersion grenades on Thursday, as unions staged a last-ditch bid to dismantle a labour law that weakens their powers.
While thousands of union activists marched peacefully through the French capital chanting about workers’ rights and capitalist abuses, sporadic violence broke out between helmeted riot police and small groups of protesters.
At least six people were injured and five arrested, according to the Paris police headquarters.
Reporters for The Associated Press saw one protester with his face covered in blood and several people hit by police grenade pellets. One officer suffered leg burns after protesters tossed bottles containing flammable liquid at a cluster of riot police.
The protest was part of a day of nationwide labour actions against a law adopted this summer that allows employers more freedom to extend workweeks and lay off staff.
A series of strikes and huge protests against the law earlier this year frustrated tourists, stained France’s image and reflected poorly on President Francois Hollande’s government.
The government hopes the measures will make France more competitive by encouraging hiring and investment. Unions say it damages hard-won worker rights.
Conservative critics, meanwhile, say the changes are too modest to invigorate the French economy, which has lagged behind those of Germany and other European nations over the past few years.
So far, the strikes have caused only minimal disruption to schools, transportation and other public services. The civil aviation authority said 15% of flights were cancelled Thursday at Paris-area airports.
In the capital, riot police charged repeatedly at scattered groups, some of whom lit a bonfire in the middle of a street off the plaza at Place de la Republique. Some demonstrators wore masks or scarves to conceal their faces and protect themselves from tear gas and pepper spray.
The protests earlier this year failed to stop the government from abandoning the law, and it was forced through parliament without a vote because of opposition on the left and right.
Now that the law has been adopted, union leaders told demonstrators that they would find other ways to defeat it, such as through lawsuits targeting specific measures.