Paralyzed by the ‘War of the Lefts’
May 29, 2016 "Information
- Paris burns as Hollande fiddles. Take it as
shorthand for nationwide protests in France against
a proposed labor “reform” while the President poses
at the G-7 in Japan as if he’s one of the Masters of
semi-paralyzed - from dockworkers in the port of
Le Havre (a key trade hub) to workers in
refineries, oil depots, nuclear power stations
(accounting for 75 percent of the national
electricity supply), airports, and the
metropolitan Paris rail system. This has
translated into panic at myriad petrol stations
– with much of the French transportation system
brought to a standstill.
because the cataclysmically unpopular, nominally
“socialist” Hollande administration has
introduced a draft law that drastically modifies
the French labor code and essentially adopts
Anglo-Saxon neoliberal “hire and fire”
in a deeply regulated, regimented nation where
workers’ rights and protections are taken
extremely seriously. Hollande and his
astonishingly mediocre Prime Minister Manuel
Valls defend it as the best way to fight chronic
Scrap the bill
to unblock the nation
2016 in France is certainly no May 1968 remix.
It features a vortex of complicating factors,
such as the “terra terra terra”
psychosis (Paris is in a semi-disguised state of
siege); the ongoing Nuit Debout movement at the
Place de la Republique – the French version of
Occupy Wall Street; and police with their nerves
on edge complaining, and even demonstrating,
that they are not getting all the love they need
from the general population.
2016 is essentially configured as a battle
between the socialist government and French
unions. It’s bound to get nastier. Police
figures suggest 153,000 strikers/demonstrators
this past Thursday – a huge mobilization day
that touched public services and air transport;
unions claim there were almost 300,000. The
executive is beginning to use force to unblock
key refineries. Panic at empty petrol stations
is becoming the norm.
Hollande-Valls duo has gone hardcore; the labor
reform bill must be approved, otherwise that’s the
end of the government. Valls’ red line is that if
the bill goes, he also goes. Yet he’s already been
forced to (slightly) backtrack; he’s now allowing
“modifications” and “improvements”
to the bill.
So this is
essentially a battle of the French Lefts – a
radical, working-class branch against a nominally
social-democratic one in power, actually neoliberal.
It’s also a dialogue of the deaf. The Prime Minister
is not exactly a participant of social dialogue. For
him these two Lefts are irreconcilable. You don't
need to be a reader of Barthes or Deleuze to infer
that France is running the risk of reaching degree
zero of social democracy.
the eighth day of demonstrations, the
secretary-general of the powerful CGT union,
Philippe Martinez, is now demanding to be received
by the President and the President only – actually
throwing Valls into the dustbin. From Japan,
Hollande emitted a laconic
“I’m being briefed.”
A case can
be made that the Hollande-Valls duo is so
disconnected from the street pulse that they had no
idea this bill would be met with so much hostility.
They should have gone for a wider reach – and should
have previously invested in a lot of dialogue, not
to mention semantic niceties, with the unions.
does the French public think about this mess?
Essentially, three-quarters of the population is
against the bill. And you can’t “modernize”
France without the French. Yet this being France,
subtle nuances matter. According to one of the
latest polls, 69 percent are in favor of the bill
being scrapped, to avoid the nation being
paralyzed. Another poll shows that 62 percent
consider the strikes “justified” despite
parts the country being paralyzed. So a sound
cross-pollination of these polls tells us that
social movements are legitimate even as most people
don’t want to see the nation paralyzed.
lighter vein, Paris café talk now rules that the
Socialist Party better not even try to stage an
upcoming presidential campaign; what’s going on is
proof that the working class hates their guts. It’s
a fact that the current état d’urgence – as in the
French version of the US Patriot Act – plus the
neoliberal drive made the Socialist Party (PS) lose
the votes of artists and intellectuals as well as
‘bobos’ (bourgeois bohemians) which used to
be the mainstay of their electoral base. And all
this while CEOs so much courted by the PS will
continue to vote for the right.
Time to be an
‘indignado’ with a cause
next? The sound money is on some sort of compromise;
the text of the bill will be amended by the Senate
next month, before coming back to the Assembly. This
means it will be “retouched” – as even the
government is now admitting; and that will mean a
victory for social movements. Whatever happens the
War of the Lefts won’t be over. And the final result
may even come up in the form of a collective suicide
– to the benefit of the Right.
growth in France remains feeble at best. Euro 2016
starts in only two weeks, on June 10. France may
expect to receive as many as 1.5 million foreign
tourists and profit to the tune of €1.3 billion. The
fan zone under construction in front of the Eiffel
Tower will attract at least 100,000 people daily.
If there is
no solution in the coming days, the Hollande-Valls
duo will have to back down. The French security
system won’t be able to cope, simultaneously, with a
high terrorist alert and policing myriad
demonstrations (a huge one is already scheduled for
June 14). A lot is riding on the success of the Euro
football, not the currency. Football, in this case,
is far from politically neutral; if the whole show
is a major success, it’s Hollande who will reap the
in France, meanwhile, could do worse than take a
look at neighboring Spain.
In Spain under Franco, communists and socialists
were at the vanguard of democratic resistance,
incorporating in their struggle those who created
Workers’ Commissions and some of the best
intellectuals of the times.
came the recent neoliberal drift of the European
socialist parties – which led them to lose their
historical hegemony. They have not adapted to being
able to defend their social base - and the welfare
state - and at the same time satisfy the harsh
requirements of the financial casino system as well
as a European Commission economic policy of fiscal
austerity as demanded by Germany and
financialization as influenced by Britain.
Franco and the Cold War, it was common to use
“communist” and “socialist” as a
disqualification of any political argument. What
reigned was the politics of fear. France, for its
part, was way more sophisticated politically (and
not under a fascist regime.)
for the ‘Lefts’ in Europe is to pay close
attention to the emerging path opened by social
movements, bent on rebuilding the welfare state and
creating worthy forms of employment; all that has
been denied by market fundamentalism and the
austerity TINA (There Is No Alternative) mindset.
Spanish ‘indignados’ one finds anarchists,
communists, socialists – a microcosm of modern
history in Spain rooted in the indignation against
dictatorship and social injustice, all trying to
reinvent themselves while neoliberalism flounders.
If only the French Lefts would pay attention.
Escobar is an independent geopolitical analyst. He
writes for RT, Sputnik and TomDispatch, and is a
frequent contributor to websites and radio and TV
shows ranging from the US to East Asia. He is the
former roving correspondent for Asia Times Online.
Born in Brazil, he's been a foreign correspondent
since 1985, and has lived in London, Paris, Milan,
Los Angeles, Washington, Bangkok and Hong Kong. Even
before 9/11 he specialized in covering the arc from
the Middle East to Central and East Asia, with an
emphasis on Big Power geopolitics and energy wars.
He is the author of "Globalistan" (2007), "Red Zone
Blues" (2007), "Obama does Globalistan" (2009) and
"Empire of Chaos" (2014), all published by Nimble
Books. His latest book is "2030", also by Nimble
Books, out in December 2015.