France braces itself for largest strike as Euro 2016 kicks off

France is bracing itself Tuesday for the largest strike to hit the country over government labor legislation in spite of the French being "no longer in favor of the strikes as [they] were in the beginning," Michel Wieviorka, president of the Fondation Maison des Sciences de l'Homme, told CNBC.

Speaking from Paris on Tuesday, Wieviorka explained, "We have a weak trade union and we have a very weak government. [French president Francois] Hollande is very low [in his ratings], maybe 15 percent of people say they love him, so a weak government and a weak trade union makes a kind of blockage."

Hollande's popularity ratings in May were the lowest they have ever been for a French president, reported Euronews – at 17 percent.

Tuesday's strike could be particularly debilitating for the country as France is five days into hosting the month-long UEFA soccer tournament, with millions of fans traveling nationwide for the various games.

French unions – led by the country's largest, the CGT (Confederation Generale de Travail), have been striking on-and-off since March, opposed to a draft bill passed by the French government.

The bill, largely seen as Hollande's last attempt at bringing the stubbornly high unemployment rate down before his presidential term expires in 2017, targets the country's notoriously inflexible workers' rights – including making changes to the 35-hour work week and making it easier for small businesses to hire and fire employees.

Currently, 90 percent of new employees in France are hired on short-term contracts because it is so costly to hire permanent staff.

"They don't know exactly what is at stake… the French love the idea of reform but they don't appreciate when it is moment of implementing reforms so we have very mixed feelings in the French population," said Wieviorka.

Due to the strikes, France has faced major disruptions in the past few months in its transport system – including its trains and airlines, as well as distribution of gasoline supplies across the country. At present, Air France pilots are in the midst of a four-day strike that started on Saturday, and air traffic controllers are due to walk out of their jobs today.

However, recent polls show that support is waning for the unions. French pollster BVA said that in its latest survey – 54 percent of French were against the strikes and 29 percent wanted the government to maintain the bill.

"The French have a revolutionary feeling… they love the idea of revolution, even if they don't want to make it, they love the idea of strikes, even if they don't want it - so there are mixed feelings," explained Wieviorka.


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