Thursday 19 July 2018

Fury as Macron tells workers to stop 'wreaking f***ing havoc'

Emmanuel Macron speaks at the Élysée Palace in Paris, yesterday. Photo: Getty Images
Emmanuel Macron speaks at the Élysée Palace in Paris, yesterday. Photo: Getty Images

Henry Samuel

French President Emmanuel Macron has sparked a political furore by suggesting unionists and workers at a factory protesting against job losses stop "wreaking f***ing havoc" and look for work elsewhere.

The opposition - from far-left to far-right - slammed the president for "arrogance" and "contempt" from someone born with a "golden spoon in his mouth".

But commentators said the apparently off-the-cuff aside - reminiscent of Norman Tebbit's famous 1981 call to the British unemployed to get "on [their] bike" and "look for work" - was in fact the latest in a string of carefully choreographed outbursts to show he is getting France moving.

His spokesman said his expression merely reflected "what many French people think".

Mr Macron's remark was aimed at unionists and workers at the threatened GM&S car parts plant, more than half of whose employees face losing their jobs in a takeover.

As he was making a visit to a training centre in the Creuse department of central France, a local Socialist official informed him that another local factory, some 150km away from the threatened GM&S plant, was having problems hiring workers.

Mr Macron responded: "There are some who, rather than wreaking f***ing havoc, would be better off seeking if they could get a job there because some of them have the right qualifications."

As he spoke, a group of GM&S workers were staging a noisy protest outside, which descended into scuffles with riot police.

Earlier this year, furious GM&S employees booby trapped their factory and threatened to blow it up. They also damaged machinery in protest at car makers Renault and Peugeot who they accused of blocking a takeover of their factory and deliberately cutting orders.

Last month, a local court authorised a takeover bid that aims to maintain just 120 of the site's current 276 jobs.

Mr Macron, who the left has branded "the president of the rich" for pushing through tax cuts for France's most wealthy, came under instant fire from opposition politicians and unions.

Several pointed out that the president now has a burgeoning list of outbursts displaying "contempt" for the working classes. These include telling a man who had mocked his well-cut suit that the best way to afford his own suit was to work.

Previous comments about "illiterate" workers at an abattoir and poor people who travel by bus were blasted as contemptuous.

He sparked ire when opening a new start-up hub in a converted railway depot by saying: "A station is a place where we meet people who succeed and people who are nothing."

Most recently the former investment banker riled street protesters by vowing not to yield to "slackers" in his drive to push through labour reforms.

But Christophe Barbier, political analyst for BFM TV, insisted the words were part of a choreographed political strategy to appeal to conservatives and offer ammunition to the far left of Jean-Luc Mélenchon - seen as his most convenient enemy.

"Macron is not an idiot," said Mr Barbier. "If he did it once he would correct himself... but if he does it repeatedly it's because he has a political objective."

Macron spokesman Christophe Castaner defended his choice of language. "I think one can be cultured and speak like the French," he said, adding that the president was right to "use words we all use in everyday life."

Besides, he added: "Isn't this what many French people think?"

Irish Independent

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