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French presidential election
Preparing for a "third round" on the streets
THE PRESIDENTIAL victory of France's right wing Nicholas Sarkozy - with 53% in the second round - raises the question of why this result happened in a country renowned for regular working-class struggles and anti-market consciousness.
It can't be said that voter participation was low. On the contrary, it was the highest for 26 years at 85% (in comparison to 38% in England last week). Neither can it be said that there was little political interest in the election.
There was widespread discussion and an incredible total of 20 million people watched a two hour forty minute television debate between second round candidates Royal and Sarkozy. So does Sarkozy's nearly 19 million votes signify a turn towards the right in France? On the surface it was a victory for the right, but an election result is a temporary victory and French trade unionists have already indicated they are preparing for a 'third round' on the streets.
Youth unemployment in France is 22% and up to 50% in the city suburbs. Government debt is high at 64%, economic growth is low and there have been a number of government attacks on workers' pensions and living standards in recent years. A TNS-Sofres poll on 26 April revealed that 75% of people think that things are getting worse for France and the French.
In his election campaign, Sarkozy promised a "rupture" with the past, particularly to encourage work. He intends to do this by a package of measures that will benefit big business, including 'reform' of the 35-hour week law (not daring to say its abolition); tax cuts; and attacks on trade union rights, unemployment benefit, university education, public services and public sector workers. He has been described as a French Thatcher.
A large number of workers detest him following his recent record as government interior minister and know well how anti-working class he will be. However, there was also a significant layer of people who - not seeing any viable alternative - responded at this stage to his populist demagogic election campaign.
This included a majority of small businessmen and farmers, but also sections of the working class and immigrant population, who decided that his promises to protect French industry and stimulate employment should be tested.
Although a pro-big business neo-liberalist, Sarkozy hypocritically posed as pro-worker by taking swipes at failed company bosses who receive massive 'golden parachutes' and by playing up nationalist and protectionist sentiment. He unashamedly took votes from the far-right National Front through pronouncements on law and order, immigration and national identity that led the NF leader, Le Pen to say that it was "above all the campaign of Sarkozy that was fatal" for the NF vote.
French Socialist Party
THE MOST decisive factor though was the failure of the other main French capitalist party, the Socialist Party. This was its third consecutive defeat. The French Socialist Party (PS) is not socialist or even anti-capitalist. Lionel Jospin's 1997 to 2002 PS-led government privatised more than all the previous right-wing governments combined.
The PS presidential candidate, Ségolène Royal, has Blairite views and tried to occupy in Blairite fashion the normal territory of the right. She was not Blairite enough for Blair himself however, as he enthusiastically welcomed Sarkozy's victory!
Royal's policies were presented differently to Sarkozy's and included promises like an increased minimum wage, but they were not very dissimilar to Sarkozy's on issues like the economy, pensions and immigration.
She said that young offenders should be sent to military camps and she lauded the French flag and national anthem. She also made an overture to François Bayrou, the centre-right candidate who came third in the first round of the election, 75% of whose members of parliament supported Sarkozy in the second!
Her lack of left-wing substance and appeal led her to resort to playing on being a woman and a mother, which didn't even sway a majority of female voters - a larger proportion of whom voted for Sarkozy. Even a Financial Times editorial felt driven to say: "In the final run-off, Ms Royal looked like the more conservative candidate".
Faced with two pro-capitalist candidates in the second round of the election who were promoting 'law and order', profit-making businesses and French nationalism, the more coherent one won. Many of the 17 million votes for Royal were simply to try to stop Sarkozy rather than being in favour of her, and eight million people either abstained or voted blank.
Although Royal and the PS's lack of appeal were the decisive factors in Sarkozy's victory, there were also lesser factors, such as Sarkozy's influence on the mass media, for example his friend Bouygues effectively controls the most watched television channel, TV1.
Sarkozy now needs victory for his party in the June legislative elections to consolidate his position. But what of the real views of a majority of the French population and their likely reaction to further privatisation and attacks on public services?
A large majority want public services to be defended and improved and have supported large strikes and demonstrations on this and on other issues, such as against an attack on youth employment rights - the CPE law - that was defeated in 2006.
Unfortunately the movement that defeated the CPE was not further built on, to develop a mass anti-capitalist alternative. Two million people voted for the Trotskyist parties, the LCR and LO, in the first round of the election. This number of votes shows the potential basis of support for a much needed new workers' party in France.
Demonstrations and violent clashes erupted in Toulouse, Paris and elsewhere when Sarkozy was declared president and the TNS-Sofres poll cited above showed that 57% of people think there will be social conflicts in the two to three months to come.
Across France there were 250 May Day marches, including of 60,000 in Paris and 20,000 in Marseille.
The rail workers' unions are already discussing preparation for a day of strike action, which could draw in other sectors. The coming battles will reveal far more about the views of the French working class than the arena of capitalist politics is at present.
Sarkozy argued during his campaign that the workers' and students' struggles of 1968 - which included a ten million-strong strike - had sapped the moral fibre of society ever since. Yet he could now create as president precisely what he fears most - another movement on the scale of 1968.
In The Socialist 10 May 2007:
Socialist Party election analysis
Campaign for a New Workers Party
Socialist Party NHS campaign
Socialist Party news and analysis
International socialist news and analysis
Socialist Party election campaign
Socialist Party workplace news