France: President Macron’s isolation grows

President Macron (Photo: Flickr/CC)

The local elections in France reveal that Macron and his LREM party are more isolated than ever, holding only 10,000 of the 500,000 elected local councillors in the whole country (or 2%).

The government was already very weakened by its counter-reform of the pension system, which was ‘disapproved of’ by more than 70% of the population, and millions of strikers and demonstrators mobilised for its withdrawal.

Macron never had big public support but in the recent elections he failed in his main objective: to have a party capable of overtaking the very much misnamed “Socialist” Party (PS) and its allies, on the one side, and the right-wing UDI (Union of Democrats and Independents) and LR (The Republicans), on the other side. In fact, Macron is holding a very precarious balance in a political landscape devastated by the discrediting of all these parties that have carried out, each in turn, the same policies of destroying public services and the rights and living conditions of workers, as well as the future of the youth.

The coming period offers enormous opportunities for the anger that exists amongst the majority of the population to be transformed into a real political force. If structured, this can oust Macron and all the other politicians who are at the service of the ultra-rich and the capitalist class.

All are losers and the Macronites are last

Abstention in the municipal elections was massive. Even if Covid-19 had something to do with it, this is far from the only explanation. The average abstention rate of 58.4% (20% more than in 2014) was even more marked in working-class and poorer areas, where it reached and often exceeded 70% to 75% (including in Créteil, Mulhouse, Vénissieux, and the northern districts of Marseille).

Many mayors have, in fact, been elected with 15% or less of those registered – in Amiens, Strasbourg and Avignon and more than 120 other cities. It is therefore difficult to speak of any wave of support, even where there was a change in who had a majority. The failure of LaRem (Macron’s Party) and the ‘Macronists’ is, therefore, all the more striking: everyone scored badly, but they did worst!

It has also been a real setback for the far-right party of Le Pen – the Rassemblement National (RN). They won the city of Perpignan but without putting their logo on their election literature. They still have ten mayors (out of a total of 10,000 towns of more than 1,000 inhabitants) but they have lost half of their municipal councillors. They now have 550 after having held 1,500 in 2014 and were only able to present 388 full lists (575 in 2014). They have been affected by the pandemic situation but it also reflects their incapacity to build a real layer of activists.

And is there any good news for Macron? The mayor’s position in Le Havre was comfortably held by Édouard Philippe, then Prime Minister, who was well ahead of Macron in the polls in terms of popularity. It is a pity that a city as symbolic of workers’ struggles as Le Havre could not be reconquered by the slate led by Lecoq of the Communist Party-France Insoumise. The refusal of some of the EELV (the Green Party) leaders to support it certainly had something to do with the result. But it is also because the workers’ and working class neighbourhoods did not vote much at all, even though the Lecoq slate came out on top in that kind of area.

Generally speaking, these elections were a new set-back for the Communist Party of France (PCF), which lost many town councils – Saint-Denis, Arles, Gardanne, and Givors, for example. It only managed to keep many of its councillors because it participated in alliances with the PS or the Greens. The new leadership, which had been elected on the approach of exercising greater independence of the PC from the PS, was quite incapable of putting this into practice. The PCF will continue to participate in the cuts policies of the PS in large cities, such as Lille, Rouen and, of course, Paris.

Little Green wave

The small surprise in the vote obviously came in the form of the many victories in the big cities of slates led by militant collectives, long-time local Green figures or more traditional combinations of PS-PCF and EELV alliances. Strasbourg, Bordeaux, and Lyon represent no small defeats for the often long-established figures. The right lost its historic bastion of Bordeaux (after a 73-year reign) and Marseille, after 25 years of Gaudin’s reign, which left the city in a state of social decay.

But these victories were achieved without a huge voter turnout. The will to get rid of the current administrations was the main factor behind the results.

The forces to the left of the PS, and its EELV/PCF allies, have rarely been able to offer a real alternative. The left France Insoumise (FI) of Melanchon initially imagined dissolving its identity for these elections and proposing a “citizens’ lists”. But in the end everyone did the same thing, even the Macronists. As a result, the FI found itself, in different places, on lists where it could even rub shoulders with members of the PS, as in Archipel citoyen in Toulouse. In other places, such as Bordeaux, it had a combative and anti-capitalist slate that was led by Philippe Poutou of the NPA (New Anti-capitalist Party), in alliance with the FI.

Very often, local situations impose different tactics, but it is clear that the FI had difficulty anticipating the different changes in the situation over the last three years. It has paid a price for its refusal to build a solid and structured force, like a genuinely democratic party that it could become. This is what many workers and members of the working classes expect of it.

Macron stakes everything on 2022

The covid 19 crisis shows Macron defending the interests of capitalists and multinationals, not changing the policy he has been pursuing for years. His criminal policy deprived the majority of the population of masks and covid-tests. This was accompanied by the distribution of hundreds of billions of euros to support the multinationals but also to take responsibility, on their behalf, for a series of social compensations, such as for shorter-time working time, which has been paid by the state to more than 12 million workers. This is the “welfare state” for the big bosses, even if temporarily it meant a few crumbs for workers and ordinary people.

Nothing came of it. Macron appeared just as he is: arrogant and a friend of the super-rich. His prime minister, Edouard Philippe, was becoming much more popular than Macron. He had more than 50% popularity against about 35% for Macron and, did not suffering a defeat in Le Havre. It was time for Macron to find a more docile government. Édouard Philippe will nevertheless remain a possible option for an alliance of the right and the centre, if Macron were to be too unpopular at the time of the presidential election in 2022.

A government under control but fragile

Jean Castex, the new Prime Minister, comes from a family of right-wing politicians and is himself a specialist in the stubborn application of government decisions. He was in charge of the hospital counter-reform in 2005 (“Hospital 2007”), which led to the financial strangulation of public hospitals and the loss of thousands of hospital beds through the introduction of ‘activity-based’ pricing.

This destruction of the health system by the application of the profitability of an activity – care itself, which precisely cannot be provided on the basis of commercial criteria – is one of the main causes of the health disaster we are experiencing with the disappearance of thousands of intensive care and hospitalisation beds over the last 15 years. Castex was, at that time, director of ministerial cabinets under Sarkozy and then a member of the latter’s cabinet until his defeat in the 2012 presidential election.

And just as criminals always return to the scene of their crime, Castex has been appointed responsible for the isolation regime (and the health ‘putsch’ that accompanied it, such as 135 euros fines, orders to force employees to go to work, sometimes for more than 48 hours etc.) and for the lifting of the isolation (which took place chaotically, for example, by imposing the massive resumption of classes in schools without any systematic testing).

Macron’s manœuvre, in fact, consists of recruiting, once again, from within the right-wing party, Les Républicains (LR). (Castex has, in fact, left the LR to join LaRem). He aims to continue to take advantage of the right-wing crisis with an eye on the 2022 elections. His government is made only up of docile ministers and with no ability to really broaden its base towards figures coming from the so-called environmentalist EELV (apart from Barbara Pompili, one of the new ministers in Macron’s second government, who has moved from support for the PS’ Hollande to support for Macron).

Macron Mark 2: support redundancies and scrap public services and social welfare

But Macron’s tightrope walker act will not stand up to reality. All the measures taken have been taken without touching the interests of the multinationals, for a single second (and the same goes for him as for all capitalist governments). Worse, the multi-billion euro support plans, such as for Renault or the SNCF (railways), are accompanied by the obligation to cut jobs (under the slogan of regaining greater profitability): it is almost like subsidising redundancies.

The government’s plan for the hospitals, announced at €7 billion, with a lot of media noise, is presented as a step forward, as caregivers and non-executive staff would receive, in two stages, an increase of €180. It is, therefore, far from the €300 asked for (including by the CFDT union) and it does not compensate for the wage freeze of the last ten years. In fact, the government has bought the silence of the CFDT which signed the agreement.

Only 7,500 new hirings have taken place, while tens of thousands are needed. This does not take account of the complete absence of measures to assist retirement homes and care workers (‘home helps’ have often been the only people continuing to look after the elderly and the frail, without any health protection). There will be an end to the one hour’s rest between shifts (from 12 to 11 hours) – a measure which will simply increase the exhaustion of care staff and reduce the number of new recruits.

Announcements were made about the postponement of the new unemployment system and the counter-reforms in the pension system. But with an announced 11% drop in GDP for 2019, due to the lockdown and the coming economic crisis, Macron is going to take billions of euros out of workers’ pockets. As in the 2007-2008 crisis, it is precisely these social protections that have saved millions of workers from going into poverty but every government “reform” is always used by the bosses as an opportunity to undermine workers’ interests.

The crisis has obviously not affected the profits or fortunes of the ultra-rich. For example, the top 40 French companies paid out more than 49 billion euros in dividends to their shareholders in 2019 – the highest amount, ever. And while many small and medium-sized companies are already in trouble, multinationals in the retail sector and banking continue to make profits.

Prepare for mass struggles

It is really hard to know how things are going to go. Fear of widespread social anger led Macron to announce a series of measures in his July 14th speech. They resembled the short-lived announcements we had become accustomed to during Hollande’s presidency (under which, Macron was a minister and inspirer of the hated “labour” law). In reality, nothing is certain. It is difficult to see how this government can hope to find €500bn (the amount of the announcements since the beginning of the lockdown, according to Macron) when the world economy will remain in crisis and the contribution of the richest and the multinationals is never considered.

Local struggles, the expressions of anger and the hostility to Macron encountered during campaign activities all suggest that anger is fermenting and can at any moment be expressed in mass revolt.

A programme for workers and the majority of the population

The economic crisis risks blowing up Macron’s plans. He is hoping for some passivity from the trade union leaderships, especially of the biggest federation, the CGT. While CGT activists are involved in many local strikes, and in many hospitals and the CGT and Solidaires have refused to sign the “Ségur” agreements regarding hospital cuts, the national leadership is much quieter, and the other unions have shown little opposition. Nevertheless, the proposal of the CGT to organise the first day of struggle and to strike on 17 September could serve as a starting point for challenging the catastrophic and criminal policy of the government.

Macron is more isolated than ever. He can only hold on because there is no real political opposition to him. As well as the mass struggles of workers and youth, it is a fundamental task today to raise the question of a mass political force against Macron and capitalism – a new democratic workers’ party that would be able to fight for a different government programme that challenges the dictatorship of profit over society.

Even if the far-right RN is not able to play a role in the situation and has failed to become the “real opposition”, they maintain good electoral results when it is their national leader, Marine Le Pen, at the forefront.

Macron will hope for a remake of 2017, with a second-round having him up against a far-right candidate.
Despite all the attacks and manoeuvres by the powers-that-be against the FI and Mélenchon, the latter is still third in the polls in the event of his candidacy for the 2022 presidential elections, behind the far-right RN and Macron, but ahead of the traditional Right and the ‘Socialist’ Party. So the potential for building a mass party is there.

A large majority of workers and the general public fully support a programme that would fight for, among other things, wage increases, the defence of public services and so many other social measures, such as free health care. But this programme must be taken up by a political force to show Macron and the other parties at the service of capitalism that they are not the masters of the game. All the time, from the PS to Macron to the far right, the same ideas of not attacking capitalists and multinationals dominate.

There should not be a separation of the resistance struggles of the workers and working-class neighbourhoods from election campaigns. What is needed is a mass political force, which discusses and proposes collectively, with all its activists intervening in all fields of struggle. The France Insoumise could be one of the main instruments for this.

But many can play a role in preparing the next mobilisations and supporting the current strikes. This needs to carried out with a programme that links the struggle to defend the interests of workers, young people and the working classes, with the struggle against capitalism and for socialism.

At any moment, a situation of crisis and struggle can develop and hundreds of thousands of people can join in, so fed up are they with this system that destroys everything – our public services, our living conditions, our environment and even the future of young people.

A revolutionary socialist programme must take up the immediate struggles and link them with the fight for socialism. In this period, which is linking up the health crisis, the economic crisis and the isolation of the forces defending capitalism, the task is to put forward such a programme and build a revolutionary party to fight for it. This is what inspires the enthusiasm of Gauche Révolutionnaire and its international organisation, the Committee for a Workers’ International. Join us to fight with us!

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July 2020