France: European Elections

National Front profits from social and economic discontent

The results of the European election in France were a stinging rebuff for president Hollande and Prime Minister Valls. The ruling Socialist Party received less than 14% of the votes and there was a fall in support for the Ecology-Green party. The 25% vote for the far right National Front was described by the prime minister as “an earthquake”.

The turnout was yet again very low, dropping to 43%, indicating a real and justified slap in the face for the EU and even a rejection of the present Europe which serves the banks and the bosses. There is no economic growth in France, unemployment continues to rise, the salaries of the top bosses are going through the roof, at the same time as several companies are moving to declare redundancies.

In the local elections in France the rejection of the PS had already made itself felt but the traditional right wing didn’t receive any real support either and wasn’t seen as a stick with which to beat Hollande. And, notwithstanding the slap in the face they received in the local elections, the ministerial re-shuffle produced a government which is even more favourable to extreme neo-liberal and austerity policies which are making workers and ordinary people pay for the crisis. The announcement of a €50 billion austerity plan, freezing the wages of millions of public sector workers, freezing pensions, attacks on the welfare state, combined with a €30 billion present to the bosses and big business, demonstrates the complete contempt of the PS – EELV majority for ordinary working people.

The forty or so PS MPs who claim to be opposed to government policy were incapable of voting against the policies Valls put forward. The Ecologists were as ambivalent as ever and only left the government because they hoped to avoid an electoral shipwreck alongside the PS. Unfortunately the Front de Gauche didn’t want to come out in decisive opposition to the government and the European Union. So when Hollande announced that he was going to further accelerate the policies he has been pursuing for two years (which from an economic and social point of view are no different from the ones Sarkozy previously carried out) it was obvious that a section of the electorate would abstain while another section would use a vote for the FN to express their rejection of this situation (and of the European Union).

The FN victory is similar to their victory two months ago in the local elections. But it was the collapse of the PS and the significant decline in the UMP that put the FN way ahead. With nearly 4.5 million votes they won 2 million votes less than when Marine le Pen stood in the presidential elections of 2012. As far as working people are concerned we are a long way from the landslide the media talk about. Actually only 14% of blue-collar and 12.5% of white collar workers on the electoral register voted FN. On the other hand two thirds of the unemployed and workers abstained. In some working class districts the abstention rate reached 80%. Overall the FN vote represents in reality a little over 10% of the electorate.

Even more than in the local elections the FN ran a campaign on social issues, around the idea of taking control of the economy, stronger state intervention and the illusion of protectionism (re-named ‘smart protectionism’ so as not to scare off big business), all the while continuing to churn out slogans about immigration. A key part of the FN campaign was their denunciation of ‘social dumping’, allowed by various EU measures in order to set workers of different countries against each other. The fact that the FN, which has historically been opposed to any collective protection for workers, now poses as the defender of workers’ rights and collective agreements, shows how this party is drifting towards right wing populism. In the final analysis this party is in no way opposed to the capitalist system, nor to the exploitation of workers or making profits out of them.

This balancing act – pretending that you can defend the interests of the workers and the bosses – can only continue while there is no mass struggle.

We have already seen at the local elections that the FN lists which were supposedly made up of ‘ordinary French people’ were in fact made up of professional politicians, just as they are with the main parties. Many of the new FN MEPs were already regional councillors. No-one should be taken in by the myth of the anti-system party: the FN is a receptacle for careerists and adventurers claiming to defend ‘the people’ in order to draw them into the political circus.

No to Hollande-Valls austerity plan! Yes to a fightback by workers and youth!

By refusing for now to organise any real struggle against austerity plans and the bosses’ attacks, the trade union leaders are allowing the Front National demagogy to take hold. It’s not possible to say at this stage whether the FN victory will bring new reactionary elements to the fore in society. In the various reactionary demonstrations in recent months the FN has acted more as a mouthpiece than as the initiator. And its success is much more the reflection of the absence of a real force for the working class and young people which could build the opposition to extreme liberal policies, political and financial shenanigans, and the employers’ attacks.

The right, the UMP and the Centre, has forfeited the chance of being considered as the opposition to Hollande, and it may well splinter under the impact of new scandals. The PS, while maintaining its claim to be ‘on the left’, is leading the attack on workers’ rights and making swingeing cuts in public services, attacking the gains workers have made through the welfare state, and continuing to deregulate employment and make it less secure. It’s all very well for the PS government and the Greens, who halved their share of the vote, to talk about the advantages offered by the EU when it is the EU, in Greece, Italy and Portugal, which is lowering wages and privatising. Valls’ statement after the announcement of the results is clear : ‘we’re going to cut budgets and carry on with the same policies. Actually their role is to carry out ‘reforms’ to protect the interests of the bosses.

The Front de Gauche, half-hearted campaign against the EU and Hollande

No left wing anti austerity opposition to the government has emerged. The lists of the serious left, New Deal, Front de Gauche and the various far left lists, add up to 10% of the votes cast. But none of them represent a real opposition to the government and the traditional right wing. Electoral support for the Front de Gauche stabilised but this wasn’t enough for it to keep all its MEPs. Their refusal to come out in genuine opposition to Hollande and the EU (and the alliance of the Communist Party with the SP in Paris and elsewhere during the recent municipal elections) means that their vote cannot act as a lever for a new wave of struggle. Even though Syriza in Greece has unfortunately begun to go back on some of the fundamental elements of its anti-austerity programme (Syriza no longer calls for the cancelling of public debt, for example), nevertheless it is because this force has been built in opposition to the Greek Socialist Party PASOK that it has gained a hearing. As long as the Front de Gauche doesn’t come out in opposition to Hollande it cannot be a tool for mass struggle by workers and youth.

Given that Valls and Hollande have announced that they will continue with the policies demanded by bosses and share-holders, the preparing and building of a generalised fightback has become urgent. For that to happen we need the trade unions to organise a one-day public and private sector strike against the government’s and the employers’ attacks, but we also need to discuss building a real force of opposition to the PS and EELV. Millions of workers and young people need a political weapon, a genuinely left opposition, as much to fight the FN as to fight austerity politics.

The crisis of capitalism will continue and so will Hollande-Valls-Gattaz’ austerity policies. What the elections have shown is that most countries of Europe face the same situation, and what the mass struggles in Brazil, Turkey and Egypt show is that the situation is fundamentally the same everywhere.

In these elections, wherever a left opposition came across as more combative and active, they achieved better results. Wherever there was a mass fightback against austerity plans (general strikes, indignados movement, a radical mood was generated and led to a certain politicisation.

The rich have got much richer, thanks to the crisis and austerity policies, while millions of people have lost their jobs, and millions of young people have no future. Capitalism knows only the law of profit and exploitation, at the expense of social and environmental needs and living conditions. We have to fight for an alternative to this system which allows a handful of share-holders to decide the fate of thousands of workers. We are fighting for socialism, a genuinely democratic society where the principal means of production, distribution and exchange are nationalised under the control and democratic management of workers and the general population, so the economy can be organised to meet the needs of everyone and not the profits of a handful.

The European ruling classes know that all the ingredients are present for a massive outburst of rage. In France in particular historically low levels of support for the PS, at a time when it controls all the institutions of state, alongside the continual deterioration in living and working conditions, will increase social tensions. It is probable that a political and social crisis will arise. Valls’ austerity plans will only add to inequality and assist the profits of the multinationals. It is time for us to rise up and say ‘enough is enough !’ Join us in that struggle!

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