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France at crossroads

posted 29 Mar 2010, 21:43 by Admin uk   [ updated 29 Mar 2010, 21:58 ]

France at crossroads 

Jean-Jacques Chavigné

The 21st of march, the left has clearly won the second turn of regional elections with 56% of the votes. The rest was obtained by the right in government (UMP) as well as the extreme right FN which received an average of 17,5% in the 12 regions where they could maintain their presence at the second round (note).The participation rate to elections was very low. More than 47% of the people registered on electoral lists did not vote. The refusal to vote was also important among the right wing voters. The UMP is for the first time in minority in its stronghold Hauts de Seine, due to non voting of their own political basis. 

These elections make some issues very clear

First of all, Sarkozy’s policy is rejected massively. The fact that he is in office for the interest of 1% of the population is becoming obvious for large sections of the population. Second, the new centre-party lead by François Bayrou (of christian-democrat inspiration) is reduced to almost nothing (4% of the votes). Third, social democracy (PS) is not dead at all, contrary to the prognoses some on the right or the left stated since quite while. The PS is even the first party of the left with 30% of the votes in the first round. He leads 2 cities up to 3 (with more than 100.000 inhabitants) , 61 ‘departments’ (subregions) up to 100 and 23 regions up to 26. Possibily, the left will have a majority in the senate next year and the Ps will be its first political force. 

On the left side of the political spectrum, the aspiration for unity has made the difference. The socialist party is still an organic left party, although it contain a social liberal right wing. The greens made an alliance and obtained more than 12% of the votes, although this alliance is somehow disparate with leading figures such as José Bové and Daniel Cohn-bendit. The anti-capitalist party (NPA) of Olivier Besancenot decided to go to the elections on its own and received 3% in the first round whereas they reached the 5% in previous elections. The Front de Gauche (or ‘Left Front’, an electoral alliance between French communist party PCF and the Parti de Gauche led by former socialist MP Jean-Luc Mélenchon) obtained almost 7%. In the region of Limousin (centre of France), the Front de Gauche also made a unity with the NPA and obtained 13% in the first round. Sectarism of the PS made a large left unity for the second round impossible. But the united list with social-democrats and greens won easily from the right with 48% to 33%. Still the unity between Front de gauche and NPA reached 19% of the votes in that region.

The battle for the presidential elections of 2012 is now launched


The loss of legitimacy of the right and of its leader, Nicolas Sarkozy, makes a victory of the left possible in 2012. This possibility is even more present since the dominant class prepares a change of leadership in case of Sarkozy loosing more credibility. His political style as well as his policies are now rejected both by a section of the right wing electorate as well as large sections of the people. Alain Juppé, former first minister and leader of the UMP made public statement critical to the goverment policies. The media are bringing to the forefront opinion polls showing that actual prime minister François Fillon could be a better candidate for the next presidential elections. And, former prime Minister of Chirac government, Dominique de Villepin, just announced his will to set up a new political party.  

But the possible victory of the left remains problematic as long as two conditions are not rassembled : first, the unity of the whole left, from the PS up to the NPA, integrating PCF, the greens and left party. Second a political program that satisfies the expectations of large sections of the population and specially the working class. Unfortunately, the unity of the whole left is hurted by the sectarism of the socialist leadership that refuses to adress also the radical left which symmetrically refuse alliance with social-democracy to chase the right from office. The NPA is against any alliance and the left party consider that balance of forces should changes inside the left.   Also, the political orientation of the PS has not changed yet. It still accept the neoliberal policies of the EU and carry on with the invert distribution of wealth from labour to capital. Still, a left wing inside the social democracy represent 25%. 

In the present situation, the victory of the left at the next elections in 2012 is determined by the social confrontations. In case of important struggles, the left will be forced to unity and the program will also shift to the left and meet much more the aspirations of the working class.

Sarkozy prepare for a major social confrontation

Whereas the regional elections clearly show the will of political change (will shown as well in different surveys), Nicolas Sarkozy restates his determination to continue its “reforms”, particularly the pension reform. 

The clash that is coming will be harsh. One the one side we have Nicolas Sarkozy that don’t have any other solution that to attack if he wants to be the right-wing candidate in 2012.  He is supported by the MEDEF [the French employers confederation] for which he makes policy with all major media that are in the hands of financiers, manufacturers and other big business… But if he loses, the bourgeois, will get rid of him as they did with de Gaulle in 1969. On the other side we have the wage-earners, the unions and the left parties in the defence of the retirement at 60 years (but not all the parties are very firm on this issue unfortunately) and against the extension of the time of contribution.  

In 2003, despite many days of strike and mass mobilisation that ended up in a demonstration in Paris with more than 1 million people, François Fillon did manage to win against the social movement and he imposed its law that dumb down the private sector pensions’ with those of the public sector. However the situation today is different. Firstly, in 2003, the right-wing had just won a large Presidential election and the legislative election of 2002. Today, the same right-wing has just had one of its worst defeats during the Fifth Republic. 

The right-wing was at the time united, unconditionally, behind Fillon. Today it is behind Sarkozy to achieve this reform. But this unity has nothing of unconditional and if the hand of iron starts to weaken against the trade unions, the temptation of Sarkozy’s competitors will put them in the running race for the leadership. In 1993, the right wing managed to divide the workers and defeating the private sector workers with longer working career to be entitled to a full pension. In 1995, shortly after the victory of Chirac, Alain Juppé faced a severe defeat in reforming pension schemes of public sector. For this reason they announced, in 2003, that they wont attack the public pensions. Today, it is to the whole of the wage-earners section that they are launching the attack (private and public sectors and civil servants) with a threat of 67 retirement age. 

In 2003, the leadership of the CFDT [socialist trade union] had left the unity trade union front and had supported the Fillon-reform on pensions. In the two years that followed, this trade union lost around 10% of its members and more than 4% in the shop stewards elections. It will now think twice before abandoning, again, trade union unity. 

On March 23, two days after the second round of the regional elections, despite the low profile adopted by the PS ( "The most importantly: no complacency!") we have had demonstrations organised by all six main trade union confederations with around 800 000 people across France. A success for what was a trial run because nobody aknowlegded the extent of the collapse of Sarkozy’s vote nor the what he wants to impose as his austerity plan. The demonstrators were mostly public employees. But for several months there have been numerous strikes, often hard, of the employees of the private sector. In this context, the mobilization for pensions could crystallize the anxiety and anger of millions of employees and force Sarkozy to concede defeat or to give up his role right wing leader. 

If Sarkozy wins the coming social confrontation, many activists will me demoralised could endanger a possible victory of the Left in 2012. Especially since social pressure could then be insufficient for the main component of the Left, the Socialist Party, to adopt a program to break with the current neoliberal policies. 

If the trade unions win the social confrontation, the right-wing will need to find another candidate while at the same time the pressure from below will force the left into unity with a program that answers the aspirations of the popular masse. This programme should include a massive reduction of the working hours to end unemployment and casual work, the increase of wages up to 1600 euro at minima, the rebuilding of the public sector and the abolition of the laws that cut health insurances and make working career longer… 

Jean-Jacques Chavigné

Démocratie & Socialisme, left current of the Parti Socialiste