France

Sebastian Budgen sebastian at amadeobordiga.u-net.com
Thu Apr 25 13:13:59 MDT 2002


Re the French situation: here is an article by Christophe Aguiton, active in
ATTAC and the radical alternative unions SUD and a leading member of the
LCR.
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The French Situation after the First Round of the Presidential Elections

The first round of the presidential elections was a very nasty surprise: the
rise of the far right which allowed its leader, Jean Marie Le Pen, to stay
for the second round against Jacques Chirac, the outgoing President of the
Republic and candidate of the RPR, the main party of the French
parliamentary right. This result was a political earthquake and was
immediately followed by massive demonstrations all around the country:
almost 100,000 people demonstrated spontaneously against the extreme right
the very next day, Monday April 22nd, and on Tuesday there were just as many
demonstrators, mainly students from secondary schools and universities.

Before outlining some of the statements and actions planned, especially by
associations and trade unions, we need to look at the analysis of the vote
and the political lessons than can be drawn from it.

A Rejection of Neo-liberal Policies

First of all, this result is not the sign that the French political scene is
moving to the right and that democratic forces and the social movements are
losing ground. More generally, it would be quite wrong to compare the shift
to the right which has marked recent European elections (first Italy,
Denmark and Portugal, now France) to the victories of Thatcher and Reagan
which, in the early 1980¹s, were the sign of a reversal in the balance of
power, a long-term weakening of the trade union movement and the rise of
economic liberalism.

The situation in Italy gives a clearer idea of the real balance of power:
despite Berlusconi¹s victory there is a massive and wide scale uprising both
amongst the young, after Genoa, and amongst workers, as has been shown by
the demonstration on March 22nd and the general strike on April 16th.

The results in terms of numbers of votes cast in the first round of the
Presidentials paints a picture that is far from portraying a France that
could be summed up as a clash between the right and the far right. In 1995,
during the first round of the previous presidential elections the left,
including the far left, totalled 12,357,000 votes; in 2002 it is still at
around the same level with 12,220,000 votes. The right, including the far
right, loses 2 million votes, going from 18,022,000 to 16,282,000. And
that¹s counting, as part of the right, the hunting party which polled 4%
with 1,200,000 votes.

The big lesson to be learned from this election is the weakening of the
parties in power but, there too, this applies to the right as much as to the
left. The government left (socialists, communists and Greens) lost around
1.5 million votes, dropping down from 10,741,000 to 9,246,000 votes, though
that score includes the party of Jean Pierre Chevènement who resigned from
the Ministry of the Interior less than a year ago and who ran a campaign
focussed on defending the Republic, scoring 5.4% with 1,518,000 votes. The
parliamentary right lost around 4 million votes, dropping from 13,450,000 to
9,604,000 votes.

This erosion of the parties in government is a sign that people are
rejecting a system and political leaders who are considered dishonest,
starting with the head of state, Jacques Chirac. It is also, and perhaps
above all, the rejection of the neo-liberal policies which various
governments, from the left and right, have adopted in recent years.
Abstention has grown from 21% to 28% and more than a million voters (3.4%)
cast deliberately void votes. The far left (3 Trotskyite candidates) gained
1.4 million votes growing from 1,616,000 to 2,974,000 i.e. from 5.3% to
10.6% and the far right (2 candidates) gained 1 million additional voters,
going from 4,571,000 to 5,472,000 votes, i.e. from 15% to 20%.

 The far right rooted in the working classes

The growth of the far right was all the more of a shock because many thought
that it had been weakened for good: it had lost ground in the 1997 general
elections and in the 2001 local elections and had undergone a major split.
The debates during the first round of the current election provide part of
the explanation. By focussing on the issue of crime both Jacques Chirac and
Lionel Jospin lent considerable weight to an issue traditionally raised by
the far right. As for Le Pen, he ran a campaign that was more "moderate"
than usual, less focussed on immigration and more on social issues,
defending workers and the man in the street. The exit polls show how
successful this targeting proved to be. Le Pen scored 30% of the vote with
the unemployed, 23% with factory workers, versus only 16% for Chirac and 11%
for Lionel Jospin. Looking at the poll of all voters currently in
employment, Le Pen still ranks first (19%) in front of Jacques Chirac (17%)
and Lionel Jospin (16%). The success of the far right with the working
classes is clearly a particularly harsh indictment for Lionel Jospin who had
refused any significant rises in the minimum wage or basic social rights and
failed to take radical measures against redundancies and the drop in job
security. But it is also a problem for trade unions and movements which,
like ATTAC, fight against liberal globalisation and which had thought that
the increasing struggles and mobilization, from the November and December
strike in 1995 to the wide scale demonstrations following Seattle, had led
to the long-term marginalisation of the far right. For the trade unions, the
challenge will be to speak up for the claims of the weakest members of
society, including the unemployed and to marshal employees in the private
sector. And, for movements like ATTAC, to find the means to link up with the
working classes.

Mobilizing

Starting straight away on Sunday night, demonstrations took place throughout
the country and the next day the secondary school and university students
were out in the streets. This spontaneous uprising provides the starting
point for associations and left wing parties to lay out a mobilization plan.
The first point of agreement is to fight Le Pen. The second round of the
Presidential elections will take place on May 5th and, whilst there is no
doubt that Jacques Chirac will win, Le Pen¹s score will have repercussions
later. Hence slogans like "Le Pen must have as few votes as possible" or
"beat Le Pen with ideas, in the streets and in the ballot boxes" which
appear in the communiqué issued by ATTAC France and, with equivalent
wording, in most of the position statements issued by associations and trade
unions. Leading up to May 5th there will be two major united mobilizations:
on April 27th and, above all, Wednesday May 1st. But many people, including
of course ATTAC, don¹t think that it¹s enough just to mobilize against the
National Front but that we should also defend working class claims and fight
against liberal globalisation, which is the only way to attack the roots of
problem and the causes of the growth of the far right. Initial meetings have
been held between associations and trade unions and initiatives are underway
to assert these claims and create arenas which will be useful both for this
mobilization and for the discussion and debate which many militants are
calling for. The first big meeting, open to everyone, will take place in
Paris on Thursday evening.

Paris, April 23rd. Christophe Aguiton (Translated by Chris Arden) 


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