Lorry drivers have blocked motorways in France as the country braces for a wave of strikes and protests this week over a controversial labour law, which President François Hollande insists will be enacted regardless.
After two months of protests, some of them violent, the fresh action against the law, which will make it slightly easier to hire and fire workers, has been billed as make or break as demonstrations have appeared to be losing steam in recent days.
Transport including France’s ports, trains, and airports will be affected by the general strikes, notably on Tuesday and Thursday.
Rail workers said last week that they plan to stage rolling strikes every Wednesday and Thursday from this week onward, right up until the Euro 2016 championships in July.
The Socialist government last week forced through the labour market reform bill by using the so-called “nuclear” option of bypassing a parliamentary vote.
However, the draft law must now be debated in the Senate, the upper house of parliament.
Ahead of the disruption, Mr Hollande said there could be no turning back now.
“I will not give in because too many (previous) governments have backed down,” he told Europe 1 radio.
The law, he added, “is going to go through because it has been debated, agreed on and amended”.
He pledged tougher action against troublemakers who have damaged property and clashed with riot police leading to 1,000 arrests and 350 officers being injured. One teenager was placed under formal investigation over the weekend for attempted murder of a policeman, while one young protester lost an eye after being hit by a flash ball.
“Demonstrating is a right, but smashing things up is a crime,” said Mr Hollande.
The main leftist unions and student groups are adamant the reform will not help redress France’s jobless rate, which has been stuck at 10 percent overall, and nearly 25 percent for young people.
With less than a year to go until the presidential election, Mr Hollande reasserted claims month that France is “doing better”.
“It’s not a campaign slogan, it’s reality,” he claimed.
Hollande, who commands the lowest poll ratings of any post-war French president, has said he will decide by the end of the year whether to stand for re-election next May.
Truckers had managed to block strategic points in the north and south, notably Bordeaux, stopping deliveries to a supermarket hub and fuel depots.
Marches in Paris and other French cities are scheduled for later in the day. The hardline CGT labour union has also called for rolling strikes by dockers and airport staff.
Both of Paris’s airports – Orly and Roissy Charles de Gaulle – will be disrupted from Tuesday onwards, due to a strike by technicians, engineers and air traffic controllers.
Two thirds of fast TGV trains were running Tuesday, with less trains at regional and local level. However, the Eurostar rail service was running normally.