The Guardian • Issue #2011

French legislative vote

With united left can the right be defeated?

Jean-Luc Mélenchon. Photo: Cancillería del Ecuador (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Jean-Luc Mélenchon and his party France Insoumise (France unbowed (to the neoliberal turn)), the socialists, communists, and others have pulled off the electoral stunner of this 2022 presidential campaign by uniting the various parties of the left to oppose the French president Emmanuel Macron. In so doing, they have instilled hope that five more years of giveaways to the wealthiest and increasing misery for the average and poorest can be reversed, avoided, or at least tempered.

Mélenchon came in third in the first round of the presidential elections behind Macron and Marine Le Pen of the far-right National Rally Party. Macron had tacked right during the campaign, then tilted left during the second round and squeaked in, earning less than twenty-five per cent of the total of eligible votes, with almost thirty-five per cent of voters either abstaining or registering a protest vote.

Many of those who voted for Macron and his LREM party did so not because they supported his policies – which have thrown many workers into precarious short-term contracts, favoured government privatising of profitable public companies, and returned tax money to the wealthiest corporations and to private fortunes – but because they opposed Le Pen’s racist and anti-immigration platform.

In light of this underwhelming showing for the president, Mélenchon then made three bold moves immediately after the election as the legislative or General Assembly election, held every five years, loomed. First, he declared the next round to be the “third round of the presidential election,” hoping to instil new vigour into a round where the French tendency, once they have elected a president, is to then give that official what they need in the legislature to enact their program. He next claimed that if his party won the next round he should be appointed Prime Minister and share power with Macron.

The most audacious move though was to hold a series of successful meetings with, as he called it, a “balkanised” left. The result was to form a new coalition of four parties, his own, the Communists, the Greens, and the Socialists bearing the name of NUPES, a national unity party for environmental and social justice – to challenge Macron’s right-wing and Le Pen’s far-right parties.

The first round of the legislatives is Sunday with the top two challengers in each circumscription then standing in the second round. Mélenchon’s NUPES Party platform calls for a winding back of the pension age to sixty which Macron wants to increase to sixty-five, a raising of the welfare benefit in line with inflation to 1,500 euros a month, and hiring full-time 800,000 state workers now subject to Macron’s short-term contracts which have in the field of health care, for example, devastated the hospital system to the point where emergency services are on life support this summer.

To win, NUPES must win over and draw back to the polls the disenchanted voters who now regularly abstain or vote for the far right. This is especially true in the North, in former mining, now somewhat abandoned towns, in the poorest part of the country where one area has Socialists and Communists and another Greens and Socialists running under the same banner.

Besides pocketbook issues, Macron’s delaying tactics in acting on the environment have also been challenged by NUPES’ candidates. In France, the effects of global warming will have a huge impact on agriculture this summer as by the end of May one-half of farming communities are facing a drought.

The corporate poisoning of the rivers and soil has also continued unabated as the European Parliament just delayed for another year a decision on the banning of the potentially cancer-causing pesticide glyphosate, which Mélenchon in a recent speech claimed now pollutes 90 per cent of the rivers in France.

Macron’s minister of the newly created Agriculture and Food Sovereignty Department had as his ex-chief of staff a member who left the government and joined the pesticide lobbying group Phyteis, one of the most powerful and influential lobbying groups in the European Parliament, which contributed mightily to the delay in the banning of the glyphosate.

Most thoroughly though, rather than any single reform measure, NUPES is a challenge to the neoliberal ethos and to its values of corporate and bureaucratic efficiency and privatised wealth for the few. Mélenchon rebukes the ‘free market as God” doctrine that supposedly leads to innovation by explaining that while industry profits have increased seventy per cent under Macron, investments have shrunk by 5 percent and that the 250 billion euros for which the state is now in debt exactly corresponds to the sum of credits given to the biggest companies. Instead of just returning money to companies which hoard it, he proposes the state invest 250 billion in French growth which he claims will produce 275 billion and he challenges liberal economists to a debate on this policy.

Some of the fiercest opposition to the NUPES platform and Mélenchon’s candidacy for Prime Minister comes from sources in society once associated only with the left. “Dissident” Socialist former leaders, veterans of the disastrous, do-nothing Hollande regime, have struck out on their own.

The press has been openly hostile. Billionaire media mogul Patrick Drahi’s Liberation ran a far-fetched hit piece on Mélenchon claiming that he and Macron are very much alike, one a “liberal populist” and the other a “left populist.” How the technocrat Macron who practically refuses to appear in public could in any sense be called a populist is beyond anyone’s grasp.

Elsewhere, an interview with the Syriza former Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis has the interviewer compare France’s situation to that of a Greece on the edge of bankruptcy. Varoufakis had to remind the interviewer that his paper was supposed to stand, as its name implies, for liberation.

NUPES may not take the majority in this election but, as this later stage of neo-liberalism hardens, the repressive nature of Macronie is becoming clearer to the French people. The Interior Minister, or Top Cop, this week was defending police use of tear gas and excessive force on British soccer fans, something the world could now experience in the way that French protestors in the streets have felt since the president’s first term.

Macron is even now turning on his own civil servants, threatening to continue huge cuts in the diplomatic corps which recently prompted a strike. And under the guise of returning 38 centimes a day to the citizenry to “fight inflation,” Macron is demanding an end to the French tax to support one of its main cultural assets, its public radio and television outlets.

Five times in the last century the left has risen up and united enough to take control of the Assembly and pass significant reforms, the most notable of which may still be the enactment of paid leave for workers in the 1936 Popular Front. With candidates such as Rachel Kéké, who led a successful strike for hotel maids, many of them women of colour, against the Ibis chain, NUPES has at least a fighting chance to begin to roll back the tide of an oppressive regime which threatens to leave nothing in the wake of its corporate tide.

People’s World

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