French elections: Raffarin’s ‘reforms’ decisively rejected

Prospect of new wave of workers’ struggles

THE RIGHT-WING Chirac-Raffarin government in France is in political meltdown following disastrous regional election results. Its share of the vote slump to 36%.

The main beneficiary was the opposition Socialist Party (PS) which won 21 out of 22 metropolitan regions. Along with the Greens and Communist Party the PS secured 50% of the vote (an increase of 10% on its share in the first round of elections).

Prime minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin suffered the further humiliation of seeing his UMP party trounced in his home region of Poitou-Charante.

The far-right National Front (FN) got 13% of the vote – a fall of 3% in the second round. But because of an overall higher turnout, the number voting for the FN remained the same.

The election result wasn’t, however, a ringing endorsement for the pro-capitalist Socialist Party. It reflected the electorate’s anger over the government’s neo-liberal ’reforms’ ie cutting health and welfare, privatisation, deregulating the labour market, and attacking education and pensions.

It was these policies that provoked, last year, a massive strike movement of trade unionists involving teachers, healthworkers, railway workers, gas and electricity workers, civil servants, as well as some workers in the private sector.

But despite the government’s crushing defeat, UMP leader Alain Juppé, immediately after the results became known, announced that the reforms would continue. This sets the scene for a series of renewed clashes between the government and the trade unions.

Social-democracy revival?

There is some media talk about a revival of Europe’s social-democrat parties. Commentators point to PSOE’s recent victory in Spain and now the PS in France.

This argument is flawed. It does not explain the defeat of the ruling PASOK party by the conservative New Democracy in the recent Greek general election. Nor does it explain why the ruling SPD party of Chancellor Schroeder suffered a calamitous reversal in Germany’s recent regional elections.

Moreover, it fails to explain why PSOE was previously defeated by the right-wing Popular Party of José Marie Aznar in 1996 after 14 years in government and, why the French Socialist Party under prime minister Lionel Jospin was defeated by the UMP in the June 2002 general election.

Jospin also failed to qualify for the second round of the presidential election which was contested between Jaques Chirac and the Jean-Marie Le Pen of the FN.

The PS and PSOE, as the main opposition parties, simply benefited from the ruling parties’ problems. In Spain, Aznar suffered a backlash over his collaboration with Bush and Blair in the Iraq war. In France, Raffarin was beaten because his government pursued anti-working class policies at a time of economic recession and high unemployment.

Even the pro-PS newspaper Liberation said the PS victory was more the result of a protest vote against the government.

Europe’s social democratic parties, including Blair’s New Labour, have long ago abandoned any pretence of fighting for socialism and have even ditched pursuing social reforms aimed at benefiting the working class. Instead, their political agendas have been set by the demands of big business, whose drive for greater profits has meant a slashing of the welfare state combined with privatisation of the public sector and labour deregulation.

This rightward shift in the traditional workers’ parties over the last decade or two has created a political vacuum on the left.

In France, this had benefited the LO and LCR, two parties who base themselves on Trotksyism, who in the 2002 French presidential election received nearly three million votes. However, they have since proved unable to capitalise on this potential through initiating a viable, alternative new workers’ party.

They did not reproduce their previous successes in the recent election, failing to progress beyond the first round.

From The Socialist, paper of the Socialist Party, cwi in England and Wales

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April 2004