After four years in the Elysée Palace, François Hollande has become a political puzzle: elected president after designating finance as his enemy and promising to tax the wealthy, the socialist leader is entering the final stretch of his term praised by employers and vilified by unions.
The latest cause of ire in his own camp is a planned labor reform that, if adopted, would be the boldest attempt by any postwar government to inject flexibility into France’s two-tier jobs market.
The measures, which allow for extending working hours and capping the cost of wrongful dismissals, prompted a revolt in the socialist party and full union opposition.
“Enough is enough,” thundered Martine Aubry, instigator of the 35-hour maximum working week and standard-bearer of the left.
Worse, student organisations, traditionally the shock troops of political protest, are planning to join a day of nationwide demonstrations on Wednesday that threaten to paralyse the country’s schools and public transport.
The row has left political analysts baffled about the president’s political strategy. One year out from the next presidential election and with his popularity ratings at rock bottom, he needs to rally the left behind his candidacy, or risk being easily beaten into the run-off by centre-right and far-right rivals. Yet he continues to stoke divisions within his government and the Socialist party. It is all the more surprising, given Mr Hollande built his career being a malleable character ready to compromise.