The referendum is key -
News from the struggle in France
Mullen (LCR Montreuil)
France, in the run-up to the referendum (May 29) on the new European
constitutional treaty, there are many reasons for the Left to be cheerful.
Twenty or so opinion polls in a row show that the “No” vote will win out. After
President Chirac spoke at length on the television in favour of a Yes vote, the
polls showed that the No had gained two percentage points!
early days, it’s true. The Conservative government and the relatively loyal
opposition in the form of the leadership of the Socialist Party, will be
bringing out the big guns over the next few weeks in the hope of saving the
treaty. One Socialist party leader has already started the dirty tricks campaign
by declaring that “We don’t hear Jean Marie Le Pen much in this campaign because
others are doing his work for him”. The reality is that the “No” campaign has
been dominated by Left wing arguments about defending public services against
the obligatory market forces witchcraft embodied in the proposed constitution.
stakes are high. When British people express doubts about the construction of
the European Union, this is considered as normal, but France has been at the
centre of he “European dynamic” which aims at building a bloc strong enough to
rival the USA and Japan (at the expense of working conditions and pay). If
France votes “no”, all bets are off - it would be a major defeat for the free
market politicians who want to roll back the welfare states of Europe.
French and European mainstream rulers are so arrogant that they have not really
thought out a plan B to put into effect if the French vote “No”.
they so wrong? It was Chirac’s idea to have a referendum on the issue, as he was
really convinced they couldn’t lose. When last autumn an internal vote in the
Socialist Party gave a 58% majority for a “Yes” vote, it seemed Chirac was
laughing all the way to the European bank.
anger against the government in France is running very high. Massive strike
waves over pension rights, over neoliberal education “reforms” and over
defending the (excellent) health service have all gone down to defeat ( despite
minor concessions). The government parties suffered serious defeats in regional
elections last year and are widely considered as illegitimate. The French ruling
class, lagging behind countries like Britain in its attacks on workers, are
extremely determined, and the union leaderships here have not been prepared to
push the struggle far enough to win, but have preferred endless “Days of
campaign for a “No” vote seems to have cristallized the anger against the
government in an arena where the union leaderships don’t have an obvious power
to put the brakes on. The CGT national committee voted against its General
secretary and called for a “No” vote. On the radical left, the LCR and the
(revitalized for the occasion) Communist party are running a popular and
omnipresent campaign. The dynamic of this campaign made the Left of the
Socialist party who are for a “no” vote decide to actively campaign against the
constitution despite threats of disciplinary measures from the Socialist party
leadership. And ATTAC, a large Global Justice movement which had been losing
steam over the last couple of years has shown it still has real mobilizing power
and has brought out hundreds of thousands of excellent posters and leaflets.
campaign is wider and more popular than for many a year. In underground trains
or buses, the leaflets and stickers are stuck to the windows, markets and bus
stations are being leafletted and this is a full month before the referendum.
Meetings are packed out with hundreds or thousands attending. Over 800 “No” vote
committees are known to have been formed across the country. Naturally, the
“Yes” vote campaigners are on the streets too but in far far smaller numbers.
government is panicking. Chirac himself denounced some of the worst neoliberal
ideas in the treaty. At first, the government had hoped to win the campaign
simply by ridiculing the “No” voters as backward-looking idiots. This has
backfired, and in the last few weeks the “Yes” vote campaign leaders are full of
speeches about how intelligent (but misguided) “No” voters are.
middle of the campaign came the school students’ movement against the
governments reforms of education. More radical than such movements for several
decades, it saw dozens of high schools occupied or blockaded by school students,
and organized solidarity by teachers, and demonstrations baton charged and
teargassed by the police in several towns.
all added to the atmosphere that we have a defeated government in power. But the
key will be if we can win a “No” vote in the referendum on the 29th May, and the
Left have to pull out all the stops for this one.
for the “No” vote could re-organize in a dynamic fashion the whole of the
radical left. Some parts of the Left of the Socialist Party - much more left and
more dynamic than any wing of the British Labour Party since the early nineteen
eighties - have been saying they don’t care if they are expelled. The Communist
Party leadership, having seen their party revitalized by the No campaign, would
have tremendous difficulties going back to their traditional strategy of
governmental alliances with the right-moving Socialist party leadership. And the
“No” campaign committees, which are bringing together revolutionaries, trade
unionists, greens, members of ATTAC and other elements of the non-party left,
could be a real basis for a new movement on the radical Left in France.
ball gazing is a dangerous sport. But the situation in France - a high level of
class struggle, new populations moving into action on many different issues ,
and a real vacuum in so far as Left organizations are concerned - is extremely
promising. In other countries of Europe such organizations as the Scottish
Socialist Party, the Portuguese Left Bloc or Rifundazione comunista have in
recent years managed in different ways to renew Left activism. Something
parallel could happen in France. The reason it has not done so so far has been
because of the sectarianism of a part of the radical left (Lutte ouvričre,
anarchists) and the timidity of others (ATTAC, the LCR). The “No” campaign could
change this situation and lead to a much more promising force.