French prime-minister Dominique de Villepin faced renewed pressure on Monday night to retreat from plans to introduce controversial labour market reforms after trade unions and students called for a day of strikes next week.
The threat of strike action came as it emerged that a trade unionist had been hospitalised in a coma after clashing with police during weekend demonstrations.
The injury to the 39-year-old trade unionist, described by the hospital as a “severe cranial traumatism”, triggered comparisons with the death of Malik Oussekine, a student who died during protests over French niversity reform in 1986, forcing the then prime minister Jacques Chirac to withdraw the controversial law.
The injury was described as having “an extremely serious consequences” for the government by François Bayrou, leader of the centrist opposition UDF party, who predicted it would force Mr de Villepin to back down. “This is game over for the government,” he said.
Mr Chirac, French president, has until now supported Mr de Villepin in his tussle with demonstrating students and workers over his push to introduce a “first job contract”, allowing employers to dismiss staff under the age of 26 more easily during a two-year trial period
However, the pressure on the government to withdraw the unpopular law increased on Monday after unions representing workers, schools and universities voted to hold a day of action and partial strikes on March 28.
The vote by the unions, which follows a demonstration by between 500,000 and 1.5m people on Saturday against the “first job contract”, marks a stepping up of their campaign.
However it is a step below the general strike they had threatened to call if the government refused to back down.
Mr Bayrou said the government’s refusal to withdraw the labour reform was a “creation of the war of succession” in the ruling UMP party between Mr de Villepin and Nicolas Sarkozy, his interior minister and biggest rival on the right for next year’s presidential elections.
“Mr de Villepin has tried to overtake Mr Sarkozy on the right, leading to a hardening of his position, which has put him in this dead-end position,” the UDF leader said in an interview with the Financial Times.
The Sud-PTT union, of which the injured man was a full member, said he was “violently stamped on during a charge by the forces of order” while demonstrating at Place de la Nation to the south of the academic ‘left bank’ area of the French capital where two week’s of protests have been concentrated.