Demonstrators in the city of Lille hold a sign reading 'The slackers (faineants) are in the street'
PARIS - 12 Sep 2017: French President Emmanuel Macron has sparked a backlash by calling opponents of his labour reforms "slackers" -- and the word became a rallying cry Tuesday for thousands taking to the streets against the overhaul.
"Macron you're screwed, the 'faineants' (slackers) are in the street," chanted crowds marching in Paris as part of a nationwide day of strikes and protests against Macron's flagship reforms.
Others held banners that read "Slackers of the world unite" and "Proud to be slackers", while a tiny old lady brandished a home-made sign reading "Retired slacker".
Macron, a 39-year-old centrist, came to power in May vowing to simplify France's notoriously complicated labour rules as part of a pledge to reinvigorate the sluggish economy.
He lashed out last week at critics who say the changes will erode job security and hard-fought workers' rights, blasting his opponents as "slackers, cynics and extremists".
Rivals across the political spectrum seized on the implication that some of his critics were simply lazy, with far-left firebrand Jean-Luc Melenchon concluding: "Macron doesn't like French people."
Marine Le Pen, the far-right leader who fought Macron for the presidency, chipped in sarcastically: "Macron's declarations of love to the French people just keep piling up."
Mehdi, a protester in Paris whose friend held a sign saying "Come and see how the slackers work!!!", said the comment had infuriated people who might not have joined the demonstrations otherwise.
"I think that it led lots of people to come out today," the accountant said.
Bruno Cautres of the Cevipof political research institute said Macron had "thrown oil on the fire" with his choice of words.
"With the 'slackers' comment, there are all the ingredients for this to heat up," he said.
Macron's approval ratings have slid sharply to around 40 percent since he came into office in May, with analysts attributing the drop to a combination of communication gaffes and political missteps.
The "slackers" comment has handed ammunition to critics who accuse Macron, a former investment banker, of being out of touch with ordinary people.
He had already drawn fire for comparing his role as president to that of Jupiter, king of the Roman gods and for drawing a distinction between "people who succeed and people who are nothing."