Socialism Today           Socialist Party magazine

French election battle

AT THE European summit in Barcelona, journalists commented that conservative French president, Jacques Chirac, and Parti Socialiste prime minister, Lionel Jospin, spoke with ‘the same voice to defend the interests of France’. This shows how close are these two presidential candidates and their programmes. Even the bosses’ association, Medef, has not specified a preference for the elections, the first round of which takes place in April. In a recent poll, 74% said that they think there are no fundamental differences between the two.

As president, Jospin would continue to be a zealous servant of the ruling class. Over five years, Jospin’s gauche pluriel (plural left) government coalition has carried through more privatisation than the two previous conservative governments of Edouard Balladur and Alain Juppé between 1993-97. Under Jean-Claude Gayssot, the transport minister from the Parti Communiste Français (PCF), Air France and Air Inter have been privatised, and the national rail company, SNCF, is being dismantled. Big corporate groups, such as Vivendi-Universal, now control more than 27% of the local bus companies, and a private subsidiary company of SNCF – which is still officially ‘publicly owned’ – controls another 40%. They all have the same aim – to make a profit.

The measures taken in the interests of the bosses and large shareholders are too numerous to mention. And they have been introduced in a cynical fashion, very well suited to the situation. Each time, the Jospin government has taken up the demands of the workers’ movement to disguise the real intentions. For example, the Aubry law was claimed to deliver the 35-hour week, an old demand of the workers’ movement in the fight against unemployment and to improve the quality of life.

Yet there is no requirement to employ more workers, and national agreements between unions and management have been undermined in favour of individual plant deals. Because of the weakness of the workers’ movement, these agreements have, in the main, resulted in a worsening of working conditions. In many cases, wages have been frozen for four years, effectively cutting pay by nearly 10% in the transition from 39 to 35 hours. The bosses have applied the biggest pressure in the industrial sectors, provoking numerous strikes which show the level of anger among the workforce. Casual jobs have been introduced into all the public services, with the energy sector next on the list. Pensions are under attack.

Compared with that ‘efficiency’, the perspective of a right-wing government and the certainty that similar measures would be followed by strikes, as in 1995, means that the bosses actually prefer Jospin. The plural left coalition has been able to keep the union movement in place, especially the PCF-controlled CGT, the biggest and the most radical union federation. The other parties in the coalition, PCF and les Verts (the greens), face a stark choice: either participate in the government, holding a few ministerial positions, or oppose it from outside, adopting a more anti-capitalist approach. Given the composition of the parties, the latter is impossible. For instance, less than 10% of PCF members are industrial workers, compared with more than 30% 20 years ago.

The PCF is currently backed by less than 5% of the population, and its support is falling further. Five years in the coalition have achieved no real gains for the workers. The hated Gayssot, who has done his best to privatise the whole public transport sector, recently declared that ‘we have to end the idea that it is only through struggle that gains are made’. The PCF is going to be overtaken in the presidential election by Lutte Ouvrière (Workers’ Struggle – a party from a Trotskyist tradition) and its spokesperson, Arlette Laguiller. Even on 4%, however, the PCF would still be very useful to the Jospin coalition, mainly because of the links it has with the CGT.

Les Verts, like the PCF, try to claim that people should vote for them ‘to force the government more to the left’. Their 6% support, however, shows that only a few people believe that. The presence of green activists in many of the social movements – the Sans Papiers immigration rights campaign, Attac, etc – stops them getting a really disastrous score. Their problems will intensify, however, in the next government.

Another candidate, Jean-Pierre Chevènement, was the interior minister from 1997-2000 and heads the small Mouvement des Citoyens. His old republican, ‘left nationalism’ and protectionist programme has attracted the votes of teachers, white-collar workers and small business people. But the total absence of social policies for working people means that his support is stagnating around 8-9%.

Jean-Marie Le Pen, leader of the far-right Front National (FN), still retains around 10%. This is because the social reasons why many poor people backed him have not disappeared during the so-called economic growth. They have, in fact, worsened. The launch of the national campaign began on one of FN’s favourite themes – insecurity – which gave Le Pen a higher profile than he enjoyed a few months ago when there was a spate of redundancies, a question on which the FN has no real proposals.

For a lot of unemployed, young people and workers, only the ‘Trotskyists’ represent a real protest vote. A recent poll said that for 32% the vote for Laguiller was a revolutionary vote. She is expected to receive 7-8% in the election. The candidate from the Ligue Communiste Révolutionnaire (LCR), Olivier Besancenot, is a 27-year-old postal worker who should receive 1-2%. Another left candidate will get less than this, but added together the anti-capitalist left could get around 10% of the vote, maybe more. Laguiller has said that the LO vote could be seen as a ‘real encouragement for the workers, showing them that they are not isolated. That could reinforce the struggle of the working class necessary to overthrow capitalism’.

LO meetings have been big, with families and young people attending for the first time both to discover the party and support it. What is not clear is what LO will propose to their supporters. The LCR is organising supporting committees – called 100% à gauche – and will prepare for the parliamentary elections in June with these structures. LO will contest all 577 constituencies, calling on former PCF supporters to work with them. But it seems that the two organisations are more interested in building their own parties than in moving towards the formation of a viable alternative to the plural left coalition. An upsurge in working-class action, however, or initiatives by PCF left currents – inside and out of the party – could force them to have a more open approach.

Alex Rouillard



Home | Issue 64 | About Us | Back Issues | Reviews | Links | Contact Us | Subscribe | Search | Top of page