DURING THE weeks between the first and second round of the French presidential elections, some on the French left called for a vote for Emmanuel Macron to stop Marine Le Pen of the Front National (FN) winning. Red Flag said this was wrong and that Macron represented as great a danger to French workers as Marine Le Pen – one that they would not recognise as easily since their parties and some trade unions too urged them to vote for him, as the lesser evil.
This breaks the principle that workers should never vote for the parties of the bosses and that they can and must fight all governments that attack their social gains and democratic rights.
At least the French far left – the Nouveau parti anticapitaliste (NPA) and Lutte Ouvriere (LO-Workers Struggle) – did call for a blank vote, and the more militant union federations the CGT and Solidaires (SUD) refused to call for a vote for Macron.
In the event, despite the hatred for the racist FN and Le Pen, the level of abstentions, 25.4 per cent, was the highest since 1969. Indeed 11.5 per cent of voters, 4.2 million people, voted blank or spoiled their ballots. Around one third of blue-collar workers, and over one third of young people between 18 and 24, and likewise among the unemployed, were in these categories.
Macron, a former investment banker and economy minister, easily won the second round of France’s presidential elections: by 66.1 per cent to Marine Le Pen’s 33.9. When he was an SP economy minister (2014-16), alongside with Prime Minister Manuel Vals (who has now joined his party), he spearheaded the attack on the social and trade union rights of the working class.
The main measure, which bore his name, the loi Macron, aimed to slash workers rights, provoking a huge movement by trade unionists and youth last Spring. The law was toned down but passed, thanks to the retreat by the union leaders.
Unabashed by his previous problems, Macron’s programme is still “the reform of the labour market” to make French capital more competitive with its European and global rivals, so it can join the leadership of the EU, largely lost to Germany. Indeed he has made it clear he will return to the harsher version of casualization and anti-union legislation he originally proposed in 2016
Macron justifies these reforms by reference to the 9.9 per cent unemployment level (over twice that of Germany and the UK) and an even more staggering rate, 23.7 per cent, for young people. He wants to solve this problem by offering them low paid and insecure jobs, like those created in Germany since Agenda 2010-Harz 4 and in Britain since Thatcher destroyed millions of better paid permanent jobs in industry.
France’s bosses, organised in the Movement of the Enterprises of France, MEDEF, have long been pressing to get rid of “jobs for life” and replace them with precarious low-paid ones. Macron has defended zero-hours contracts, including those offered by such as Uber, which do not come with employment rights, saying with all the cynicism of a neoliberal banker: “Let’s get away from this French preference for unemployment.”
Macron wants to foster good relations with Germany, the EU’s leading economy, by carrying out the reforms they have long been pressing for through the European Central Bank and the EU Commission, i.e. sticking to the Eurozone’s tight budget constraints and getting the deficit below 3 per cent of GDP. (It was 3.4 % in 2016).
Weakening France’s labour protection laws has been the goal of all the presidents over the last 20 years: Jacques Chirac, Nicolas Sarkozy and François Hollande. None of them succeeded in making a real strategic breakthrough. As a result, French history over these decades was punctuated by a series of strike waves, social struggles and youth uprisings, starting in November- December 1995 and continuing with that of May-June 2016.
Macron’s reforms centre on weakening union strength by cutting back national bargaining in favour of individual workplace based contracts where the employer’s strength will be far greater and they can pick them off one by one. They include lowering the cost of the fines that labour courts can impose on employers for illegally firing employees, reportedly to a meagre three months’ salary, making it cheap and easy for employers to sack workers.
Macron wants “flexibility” in the jobs market - i.e. to, shed better-paid jobs for life and replacing them with precarious low-paid ones. He aims to cut 120,000 public employees posts, 70,000 of them from the regional and local authorities, and 50,000 from central government.
He has a plan to cut public spending by €60 billion: €25 billion from central government, €15 billion from the government’s health insurance scheme, plus €10 billion from unemployment benefits and another €10 from local authority spending. He also talks of privatising publicly owned industries. To cap it off, he offers to cut in corporation tax from 33 per cent to 25 per cent.
His Prime Minister designate, Edouard Philippe, a member of the Republicans (conservatives), has already told the Journal de Dimanche that “the reform of the Labour Code has been well planned,” and that, though their will be “indispensible” discussions with the trade unions’ after National Assembly elections on 18 June, there will be “a vote on the enabling act that will allow the government to impose decrees”.
In short Macron is an austerity president, a worthy continuer of the work of his predecessors in the Elysée Palace. In addition he will carry on with his predecessors’ policies on state security (he says will only “evaluate” the long term state of emergency).
He has already pledged to continue French imperialism’s interventions in sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East, though he has invited Germany to join France in these gallant enterprises. He is not just the chosen representative of the MEDEF but of France’s whole imperialist bourgeoisie.
The real and present danger of Marine Le Pen and the FN lies not so much in the number of fascist cadres still within her party, but her successful detoxification of it by posing as the friend of the workers and the enemy of the political élite. She has also abandoned the old neoliberal policies of the FN from the 1980s and ’90s, in order to lure former Socialist and Communist Party voters in the run-down industrial areas of France. Now, she presents herself as the leader of an anti-globalisation and anti-neoliberal movement. Thus she declares she is totally opposed to Macron’s labour reforms. Of course, all this is still allied to a major clamp down on immigration.
Le Pen’s pledge to become the main opposition to Macron is no empty boast; it is a serious danger. If the main parties of the labour movement, the PS and the PCF, extend their “lesser evil” vote for Macron into downplaying resistance to his “reforms”, that will open the field for the FN to pose as the real enemy of the establishment.
The June election
The next month will witness a struggle by Macron to win a majority in the National Assembly, without which he could end up as a lame duck president. His new party, La République En Marche!, Forward the Republic!, will stand a full list on candidates in an alliance with François Bayrou of the centre ground Democratic Movement. He could also win significant figures from the right wing of the Socialist Party.
In the first round of the legislative elections, on 11 June, the working class, young people and France’s citizens of immigrant origin should vote for candidates who are completely independent of Macron and call for a post-election all-out battle: a fight against both him and Le Pen.
This means voting for the far left candidates of the NPA or, where they are not standing, LO. In the second round (where these are unlikely to get through) it means a critical vote for candidates of the reformist workers’ parties, that is, the PCF, the PS or France Insoumise, Unsubmissive France, if they stand independently of all bourgeois parties or personalities.
The most important task now is to use the legislative elections to raise the call for building a workers’ united front against Macron’s reforms, the continued state of emergency, and racist harassment of the youth of the banlieues, as well as against the FN’s agitation against Muslim communities, the Roma and other minorities.
The huge abstention and blank vote indicates that millions are not fooled by Macron or Le Pen, and that resistance can be militant and immediate. The action should start as soon as Macron brings his Enabling Act before the National Assembly.
It will not be defeated there, or rather not unless it is first defeated on the streets, in the workplaces, in the schools and colleges. If French workers and young people, including those from immigrant family backgrounds, act all together – tous ensemble – then Macron can go the way of Sarkozy into the trash can of history.
But to stop this constant round of attacks on French workers social gains and workplace rights, to prevent the Front National developing into a real fascist threat, however, a new militant political party of the working class is necessary. Car worker Philippe Poutou, presidential candidate of the NPA, has already called for the building of a new anti-capitalist party of the French working class and the socially and racially oppressed. We agree with him. The NPA’s latest statement on Macron’s victory concludes:
“To prepare for this confrontation [against Macron’s reforms], we need a political force to represent us, to organise our social camp, opposed to the bosses and the owners. A fighting party, anchored in daily struggles, one that is not afraid of attacking capitalist private property, which defends a break with both national and European state institutions. A feminist, ecologist, internationalist party for the revolutionary transformation of society. It’s an urgent task.”
This call needs to be addressed to all the forces fighting against Macron and Le Pen and to be focused on an action programme for this battle. With French reformism in deep crisis, there is a real opening for building a programmatically defined, centralised and disciplined party, rooted in the class struggle. That is, indeed, an urgent task.