Tuesday, November 20, 2007

French strikes intensify


France is amazing. I don't want to eulogize, but you really have to marvel at the capacity of French workers to resist not only neoliberal ideology but also its practical application. Only months after the triumph of the right in the elections, with the disgusting Sarkozy given a sizeable mandate, the French working class is doing the government a massive political discourtesy. The transport strike continues, and now the civil servants have come out - affecting everything from schools to postal services. Happily, it is now also reported that the students are back out. The government insists that this is not a "Thatcher moment", because they know what French workers will do to avoid that fate. However, this apparent moderation owes more to negotiation tactics than to the programme itself, which is indeed a Thatcherite attempt to liquidate not only May 1968, but also the Popular Front.

Not that this was always self-evident to everyone. As Emilie Bickerton reports, Sarkozy's election was greeted by centre-left newspapers like Le Monde as well as right-wing ones like Le Figaro as a stunning and brilliant repudiation of the decrepit old welfarist model of society. It was widely suggested that Sarkozy was no neoliberal - rather, he was supposedly a unique and vitalising figure who could embrace figures on the left, despite his clear record of bigotry, authoritarianism, corruption and polarising attacks on the country's poorest and most oppressed. Those who had any doubts that he was merely another aggressive neoliberal with stars-n-stripes infatuation had only to wait for his recent speech to Medef (the French equivalent of the CBI), in which he announced his intention to attack the pensions system, and cut health funding. Pensions are the key prize for all neoliberal reformers, making up not only the most vital lifeline for the poorest but also the largest part of any social security budget or worker protection. The first attack was launched against the transport workers, and they have hit back hard. The healthcare system that made the proud pinnacle of Moore's "Sicko" will soon be inundated by private insurance schemes. Taken together with the attack on the 35-hour week, these proposals amount to a serious front in the war on socialism. Meanwhile, the media can be expected to continue to back Sarkozy to the hilt because two thirds of all magazines and newspapers in France are owned by the country's biggest arms manufacturers - their primary customer being the government.

All of this makes the LCR's initiative of crucial importance. Plainly neither the PCF nor the Socialist Party are of any use at all in this combat. The anticapitalist left has been in some crisis for several years, because of divisions within it. The creation of a new anticapitalist party will not necessarily solve that problem, but at least it can unite the best elements of the movement. Certainly, it can help overcome the problem that saw the left slate fall apart in the run-up to the last presidential elections, and as such we have to wish them the best success. I hope they keep the same slogan: cent pour cent a gauche!