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French presidential elections
Workers need to build a Left alternative
THE LONG build-up to the French presidential election is nearly over, with the four main candidates now battling it out in the media in the final stage of the campaign. With over 40% of voters saying they are undecided on who to vote for, it is not yet possible to predict which two will make it through to the second, final round of voting, and who will then win the presidency.
The latest CSA poll (5 April), put Nicolas Sarkozy top, on 26% for the first round on 22 April. Sarkozy is from the ruling conservative UMP (Union for a Popular Movement) and recently stood down as interior minister to focus on the election. In second place, with 23%, is Ségolène Royal for the PS (Socialist Party), a social democratic party which has long ditched any pretence of socialism.
Third is the 'third man' offering a 'third way', François Bayrou. He leads the UDF (Union for French Democracy), a small centre-right party. The fact that he figures at all is testament to disillusionment towards the two main pro-capitalist parties, the UMP and PS. He received 6.8% in the last presidential election in 2002 but is currently polling 16%. In fourth place is Jean-Marie Le Pen of the far-right, anti-immigrant FN (National Front), on 15%.
Law and order was pushed back into the headlines last month when riot police clashed with travellers and local residents at the Gare du Nord train station in Paris. The incident was triggered by an aggressive arrest of a Congolese man. The riot police moved in with customary brutality, doling out beatings and firing tear gas.
This put again in the media the issue of impoverished youth in the sprawling, destitute suburbs inhabited by predominantly Arab and black communities, an issue that came to the fore during the riots of 2005. There are reports of a marked increase in voter registration in the suburbs, mainly driven by the motive of trying to stop the hated ex-interior minister Sarkozy from becoming president.
Inevitably, Sarkozy and Le Pen moved to exploit the Gard du Nord clash. A poll, in Le Figaro, a conservative paper (30 March), said that 39% thought there would be fewer such incidents if Sarkozy was elected, 38% if Le Pen was elected, 19% if Bayrou, and 17% if Royal.
Sarkozy built his reputation as interior minister on hard-line authoritarian policing, and often boasts that he expelled 'tens of thousands of illegal immigrants'. Some people credit him with quelling the riots, but many others reject his authoritarianism and are considering which candidate would best defeat him in the second round on 6 May.
Sarkozy in the main supports neo-liberal policies and aims to launch a fierce attack on workers, including undermining the right to strike and making further attacks on the public sector. However, he mixes in promises to protect French industry against foreign competition and has taken measures of this character as a minister.
Royal's campaign is, in the main, style over substance. She has found that playing on the fact that she is a working woman has worn thin. Royal has pledged a rise in the minimum wage and some other popular measures, but does not propose to reverse the UMP government's neo-liberal education and health 'reforms'. At the end of the day, she will bow down to the dictates of big business.
Royal has even tried to ingratiate herself with right-wing voters by calling for the national anthem to be sung after party rallies and for everyone to have a French flag in their homes!
Le Pen's poll rating probably understates his eventual vote as many people do not freely admit to pollsters that they vote for him. Following the shock result in the 2002 presidential election, when Le Pen came second in the first round getting him through to a second round run-off with Jacques Chirac (UMP), many voters are trying to work out how to avoid a repeat of that situation.
After the 2002 first round result, mass demonstrations erupted against Le Pen. Chirac was backed by the establishment parties and most of the left in the name of stopping Le Pen from becoming president. This gave Chirac a massive majority in the second round which he then used to attack the public sector and the working class in general.
The key task is to bring together left organisations, anti-racist, anti-capitalist and environmental activists, trade union and student militants into an initiative to develop a credible, mass left alternative to the right and far-right agendas. However, in this 2007 presidential election, the left is disunited.
There are three candidates from nominally Trotskyist parties: Olivier Besancenot (LCR - Revolutionary Communist League), Arlette Laguiller (LO - Workers' Struggle) and Gérard Schivardi (PT - Workers' Party). José Bové, the anti-globalisation farmer-activist is also standing. The Communist Party and the Greens, both of which have participated in privatising, 'plural left' governments, are in the race, as are two candidates from the far-right and the hunting and fishing lobby.
Outside of the election campaign, a series of struggles are developing. Airbus workers walked out against plans to axe 4,300 French jobs. Telecommunications workers at Alcatel have been taking action. There has been a long-running battle in Marseille port with energy companies. One in three schools in the east of Paris shut down for a day at the end of March after an Asian man without documentation was arrested while picking up his grandson from school.
Unfortunately, the struggles remain localised. Whichever of the four main candidates wins the presidency, attacks on the working class will continue. The urgent need for a united political and industrial response from the working class and young people is clear.
In The Socialist 12 April 2007:
Environment and socialism
G8 Summit protests
International socialist news and analysis
Socialist Party news and analysis
Socialist Party workplace news
International socialist news and analysis