France: Local elections – a snub for Sarkozy’s policies

The first electoral defeat for Sarkozy

This article was written by the comrades of Gauche révolutionnaire just after the first round of the local elections in France. It was first published in French on the website of Gauche révolutionnaire on 16 March.

Local elections – a snub for Sarkozy’s policies

The local elections in early March were marked by a rise in the vote for the left (PS, PCF and Greens), even when the right wing managed to hold on to its majority in certain cities. The lists of the radical left, especially those headed by the LCR, achieved good results. The results of these elections have, on different levels, confirmed the defiance and the rejection by a majority of the population of the policies of Sarkozy and his government. The extreme right Front National did not recover the votes lost in the presidential elections in these elections.

Over the last 10 months; since Sarkozy was elected as president of France, every subsequent election has seen loss of support for the government. In fact the victory of the right wing in the parliamentary elections in June 2007, one month after the presidential elections, was not as overpowering as might have been feared. On the electoral plane, the PS and even the PCF gained MPs from this.

The worsening economic situation has played an important role in these elections. With large numbers of people living on low wages or forced to try and make ends meet on small pensions, the question of falling purchasing power for millions of working class people was a key factor. People were shocked at the revelation that, while prices for food and petrol are going up and the government preaches wage moderation, the bosses of the big French corporations granted themselves wage rises of, on average, 40%. Sarkozy has repeatedly and convincingly shown that he will defend the interests of the employers with his policies of tax rebates for the bosses and his ‘bling-bling’ life style. Lots of older people, who had voted for Sarkozy in the presidential elections, had already changed their minds before the local elections.

A few months ago Sarkozy announced that these local elections would be a national test for the right wing, and therefore also for his presidency and his prime minister, Fillon. Faced with the mounting resistance to his policies and his own falling popularity, he has had to adjust the strategy and keep a low profile. A number of candidates of Sarkozy’s party, the UMP, refused his support during the campaign. Sarkozy practically disappeared from the television screens in the days leading up to the first round of the elections and he kept a very low profile in the run-up to the second round of voting.

There has been a disintegration of the electoral base that allowed Sarkozy to win the presidential elections. Last year we commented that his electoral base is very volatile. The strike movement of the railway workers last spring broke the illusion of Sarkozy’s invincibility by taking the government head on. This in itself was not enough to stop the attacks of the government. The local elections have been used by many as a way to punish the government by voting for the PS, PCF or Green party. Sometimes it has been MODEM, a centre right party around the figure of Francois Bayrou) that has been able to collect these protest votes in less working-class areas.

An important vote for the parties of the plural left

The plural left was able to restore its electoral base in the first round of the local elections by standing in as many places as possible on “united left” lists. In the first round, more than 47% of the people voted for those lists. In certain cities, like Lyon or Rouen, the left gained an absolute majority in the first round. In other cities; like Strasbourg, Toulouse, Marseille and maybe Amiens, the PS-PCF and the Greens were in a position to win in the second round.

Many workers have taken the opportunity to show their rejection of government policies in this election. However, this has not expressed itself in a landslide for the PS. In certain cities the candidates of the UMP have maintained their vote. Sometimes, the candidates of the PS are regarded as career bureaucrats or corrupt, as was the case with PS candidate Guérini against the outgoing UMP major in Marseille, and fail to make the grade. In the working-class districts, the abstention rate was sometimes as high as 50%. Thus, people did not vote for the PS with their eyes closed.

The PCF, where they presented themselves on PS lists, was invisible. Where they lead the unity lists or where they ran PCF lists they did, more often than not, find a way to their traditional electoral base in the working class cities and districts like La Ciotat, Dieppe, Le Havre and Marseille Nord.

The PS has won these elections but has not found the internal coherence to be an alternative to the Sarkozy government. The different trends inside the PS, according to the different cities and regions where they are represented, have felt vindicated by the result of these elections. In certain cities, like in Paris, Montpellier or Marseille, the PS will go into an alliance with MODEM. Some leaders inside the PS, like Ségolène Royal, are trying to have as many alliances as possible with Christian Democrat-type politicians even if MODEM is a political force that lacks cohesion. The basis of the MODEM program is a complete acceptance of capitalism. This will take the PS more and more in a direction more akin to the Democratic Party in the US. Nevertheless, it is still the case that alliances with the PCF and the Greens give a more stable electoral base for the PS.

The root of the anti-Sarkozy vote for the radical left

One of the reasons why the pink wave (the vote for the PS) failed to materialise completely was that the vote for the radical left remained important. The lists presented or headed by the LCR are those which got the best votes. On these lists, more than 70 people have been elected throughout France. The LCR lists obtained between 2% and up to 15% in some cities. The program on which these lists went to the electorate differed from city to city: some spoke about the new anti-capitalist party the LCR wants to organise, others did not. The first steps in organising this new party have only been taken in a small number of cities. The programs of the LCR lists in general spoke clearly about being anti-Sarkozy and highlighted the need to struggle. On top of this, they highlighted their political independence from the PS and its neo-liberal policies. The national popularity of Olivier Besancenot (who received 4.08% of the votes in the presidential elections) has strengthened the vote for LCR lead lists.

Lutte Ouvriére (LO) also ran candidates in the elections and got 36 of their candidates through to the second round. Only 15 of them were elected on lists of LO list. Twenty-one other LO candidates got elected standing on unity lists together with the PS, PCF and the Greens in the first round. The least one can say about this tactic is that it is astonishing. LO has made this choice whilst accepting that it will have to vote in favour of the budget, like in Clermont Ferrand, drawn up by the PS majority. Will they put this in practice and vote for budgets that will compromise social cuts and privatisations or will they refuse to do this in practice?

The radical left in France gets today between 5 and 10% of the vote and we have to take into account that it is much harder for the radical left to fight on more national themes and attract votes in local elections. The vote for the radical left rises often over 10% in some of the districts where workers and youth predominate. The youth and workers who vote for these lists do so because they want to punish Sarkozy and the policies his government is pursuing, and show that to do this we need a real opposition force based on the workers in struggle. This radical vote is rooted in the opposition of workers and youth against neo-liberalism.

And after?

The result of the local elections has shaken the confidence of the government and Sarkozy. However, this does not mean that the result has stopped low wages, meagre pensions or the slowing down of the attacks against the workers which are lined up. Sarkozy can say that he will change direction politically and will take account of the result. In reality, he and Fillon will continue with the same policies for the moment, including attacking the pensioners. In the local councils (regions, cities) the parties of the ‘plural left’ are in the majority but their policies are in no way different from the policies of privatisation of local services. They are no opposition to the policies of Sarkozy and the employers.

The different strikes for higher wages or to protect employment in Snecma, Miko, Smoby and Kléber, throughout the elections campaign, have shown that to withstand the offensive of the bosses, the workers do not have any other choice than to organise and fight. A united struggle between the private and public sector workers must be urgently constructed.

A layer of workers and youth have drawn this conclusion and is looking for a political alternative. During these elections, they voted for the radical left or for the PCF. However, it is in the trade union struggle that the lack of a fighting alternative is missed most. We need to organise against the attacks of Sarkozy and against the breaks put on the struggle by the trade union apparatus. The construction of a new party must be the principal task in coming months. As was shown in the elections, the place for a combative, independent political alternative for workers and youth is vacant. It is urgent to begin the real construction of this new party and to do this linked to the development and the unification of workers’ struggles.

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