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Interview with Alternative Libertaire on the recent elections in France
france / belgium / luxemburg | the left | feature Tuesday June 26, 2007 00:31 by Pepe - WSM interviews Alternative Libertaire
In late May, the Workers' Solidarity Movement in Ireland had the chance to interview Edith Soboul, of the Federal Secretariat of Altrernative Libertaire, our sister organisation in France.
The interview deals with the recent presidential election of former leader of the UMP right wing party, Nicolas Sarkozy, the shift to the right in Europe and its impact on workers' and immigrants' rights, the tasks of the libertarians in France and AL proposals for the moment.
Interview with Alternative Libertaire on the recent elections in France
There are two dimensions to Sarkosy’s victory: first, it is the victory of a man, which is always rather important in Presidential elections in France. And maybe even more in this case: Sarkosy’s personality and ambition, his relationship to power and his conception of the presidential charge meet a progressive “show business” way of making politic in France. This leads to a dangerous personification or focus on personality in the political area.
But let’s not forget he’s not ruling things alone, and that his victory is the victory of an ultra-liberal, in socio-economical terms, and reactionary, in political terms, current in UMP, the main right-wing party which he belongs to. For the first time since May 1968, a right-wing candidate won by making a real right-wing campaign and not one to the “centre”. Sarkosy thinks he has an historical charge: break the workers social conquests made since 1945 and break the trade-unions. So, his political aim is like that of Margaret Thatcher.
Sarkozy’s victory is then MEDEF’s victory - MEDEF is the main employers association, where lots of his friends and the brother of the new President are. Measures he and his government will adopt are a declaration of war on the working classes. They are a continuation of the liberal and Police-State policies that were pursued for years, but we can already notice a marked acceleration since the elections.
He also has a great influence on mass media, because he is a personal friend of all great press patrons. And he also threatens untamed journalists. Thereby, he’s very similar to Berlusconi.
2. Some people have said that the left was the big loser with this election... do you think the results in the polls were reflecting some deeper problem in the left?
PS (Parti socialiste) lost the presidential election for the 3rd successive time. And it signed its death sentence because, on social themes and main values, it took very similar positions to UMP’s. And part of the PS electorate did not succeed in distinguishing between PS and Christian Democracy (Bayrou’s party). There was no opposition “project against project”, and Sarkozy and Bayrou could give their programs a “break”, a “change” image.
For years, PS spoke left and acted, most of the time, as a right wing party when it ruled the government. Now, its speech is synchronized with its acts. The party’s right-wing is working hard to make the PS leave its socialist original matrix and base itself in the centre, as do many so-called socialist parties in Europe. This renunciation leaves the left without basis for an institutional opposition to the right policies, and can splash all the left and extreme-left.
Anti-liberal and radical currents, parties and sectors of the social movements, pretended to present a common candidate, on the basis of the local groups that were born during the “No” campaign concerning the European constitution. The process failed for several reasons, and anyway it was in our opinion a “False good idea” (see: http://www.alternativelibertaire.org/spip.php?article982). Parties like LCR (Revolutionary Communist League) are now calling for a coalition to build a “radical left party”. We of course don’t take part in this electoralist game and we lead a campaign based on the idea that the resistance and political and social change will come from the struggles. We claim that the main responsibility of the radical and extreme-left now is to stand up and build struggles for strike rights, labour law… and against all the antisocial and reactionary measures that will be taken by the government very soon. They want to act quickly, because they know that most of the left parties are campaigning for the legislative and either they, or the big unions are prepared for, or wish, a frontal confrontation. And summer is the perfect period to adopt possibly unpopular measures. The fight should begin right now!
3. How do you think the victory of Sarkozy will affect the people and the working class in France?
Workers, with or without documents, people living in working-class neighbourhoods will be the firsts and most hardly affected. The first symbolic act of the new government is the transfer of the labour question from Ministry of the Social Affairs to the Ministry of Economy and Finance. The catch phrase "travailler plus pour gagner plus" (work more to earn more) announces a policy that will lead to low salaries and a higher unemployment rate. A new and unique work contract will be created, to make lay-offs much easier. What the candidate Sarkozy called “la valeur travail”, the “labour value”, is a trap to make workers and unemployed people individually guilty for employment problems and to put pressure on them so that they accept any conditions of work and employment. Breaking of labour rights and protection, flexibility, part-time work, low wages for the workers and less taxing for the bosses, are the basis of the program of the government, under the pretext of economic growth and financial health. This contributes moreover to discredit and finally to destroy socially all collective/mutualist values.
Social inequalities and precarity have been growing for years. Social rights, like social security, retirement rights, unemployment incomes, minimum social incomes… are going to be reduced even more. Part of the State and public responsibilities will be transferred to private sector. This process has already begun, and some reforms are already in progress.
Speaking of privatisation, this is a real challenge in this period that concerns all European countries: workers’ struggles obtained in France, social welfare services based on the idea that sectors like health, education, communications, energy… should be accessible to all and in the same conditions, and couldn’t be merchandized. The attacks on the public sector, also linked to E.U. policies, appeal to a European opposition, even in countries where the existence of a public sector is much weaker.
Access to France will be much more difficult for migrant workers, it will be impossible to get residence permits, except in sectors that they are needed... to be exploited! For instance, the UCIJ mobilisation that recently prevented the government from associating the residence card with the work contract, which means that when you lose your job you lose your right to stay in France, is to be pursued more than ever. You can imagine the effects of such blackmail on migrants, first, but also on all the workers… xenophobia, which exists in France anyway, is manipulated in a demagogic way to divide workers and feed the “feeling of insecurity” that justifies the worst Police-State policies. Moreover the “ethnicitisation” of social relationships is a way to evacuate the social question and class conflict.
To avoid massive opposition, repression against social movements and popular response will be harder. It’s already effective with articles of the laws against “terrorism” or against “delinquency” which we owe to our ex-Home Ministry, Nicolas Sarkozy. The repression is not only a fact of the police. There is also an encouragement to grassing and very perverse ways to survey and control people (using pupils in school to handle information on their family, for instance)…
To conclude, gifts to the Bosses, attacks on social and labour rights, repression of social movements, control on individual freedoms and the division of the workers will have an impact on all workers, on their working conditions and their life conditions.
4. Do you think there's capacity and readiness to face Sarkozy's attacks on the people?
It’s not so obvious. Sarkozy’s victory can leave the organized proletariat in dismay, and there is a danger that many liberal attacks may succeed in a very short time without a massive and organised popular response. Keep in mind that Sarkozy was elected with almost 54% of votes and with very little abstention. But this is only half the story. At the same time, Sarkozy is also the most hated president ever elected, so he remains a highly controversial and polarizing figure. The first evening he was elected, demonstrations and riots erupted in several great towns. Sarkozy had been police minister for 5 years and everybody expects hard measures. He is absolutely not seen as an easy-going idiot as Chirac was. But this is not enough to expect a successful popular response.
The riots in suburban towns in 2005 are still in our minds: in a context of great social tensions, the riots pointed clearly to problems of unemployment, discrimination, urban segregation… but they were politically vain and didn’t lead to a mass mobilisation on these problems.
On another hand, we can notice that the electoral campaign didn’t totally erased strikes and demonstration, as it usually does. Airbus, aeronautic or aircraft industry, PSA (motor-car industry) and other factories were on strike, and there was mobilisation on housing questions for instance. And we can hope that movements like that of the CPE (against a special work contract for young people) are still in memories. One of the questions is to know how the main Unions are going to deal with the government and the Bosses, if the strategy of “domestication” of Unions is going to work.
On ideological and social themes, like the scandalous, racist-nationalist Ministry of “immigration and national identity” for instance, mobilisation is growing but it’s only a fact for activists or intellectuals at the moment.
What can be of great interest is the reaction of students concerning the reform of University, with the law project on the “autonomy of Universities”: this means finally more selections and higher prices of inscription. It ought to be voted this summer, of course, like all the sensitive measures. This can lead to a student movement, and in this case, the connection with workers' struggles is an aim to pursue. In fact, three main projects of the government: university, reform of strike right and the unique work contract can make people mobilise in convergent struggles.
5. You have been talking about resisting and fighting back. What is AL proposal as a way forward in the struggle?
In fact, we carry on our work, building a strategy of ideological and concrete counter-powers and convergence of struggles. Unionism for social transformation, solidarity with immigrants like the experience of RESF or UCIJ, struggles against the Police State like in the “Anti-grassing group” are still emergencies for us, as well as the convergence of struggles like the immigration and the unionist ones.
Nevertheless, we specially need to act on two levels:
We also need, as anarcho-communists, to promote our values and to dare to speak of utopia. Equality, solidarity, wealth repartition, self-management and organisation, anti-patriarchal struggles and so on must be part of political debates and practices we’re involved in. And linked to one another, in the perspective of the society project we promote.
We also need to be more creative on alternative media, resistance practices and places in neighbourhoods, in non-violent action and civil disobedience… Some questions like how to face the State are to be put again. All this isn’t new, but theses questions are reinforced by the radicalization of the situation we have to face. Unionism in service sectors and all the sectors of great exploitation of the workers, like the fast-food sector, industrial cleaning or call centres, for example, is also an emergency. For instance, AL comrades in the town of Rennes, among others, are building a movement in pizza take-away shops, while unionists of AL work on the involvement of cleaning sector workers in movements and unions.
6. What do you think the next couple of years ahead will be like for the revolutionary and the libertarian left?
Probably something like the last couple of years. We should perhaps consult Italian FdCA members about their background with Berlusconi! More seriously, the social situation is going to get very rough and as we already said, the repression of protest movements will get to a higher level. One very recent example: yesterday, a student that just faced the police during what we call “raffles” or massive arrests of immigrants in the streets was herself arrested and kept in the police station for “outrage, insult and rebellion”, while a few days ago, in a plane, the police nearly killed a man that refused to be expelled and arrested some of the passengers that reacted to this barbarian event. Unionists in struggles, like students, are also very concerned with this repression. To sum up, we’ll have to face social de-structuring, ideological offensives back by the mass media and authoritarian policies at the same time… Libertarian organisations would have a lot to gain from working together more often in the years to come.
7. Some final words ?
There would be so many other things to talk about... The foreign policy we can expect for instance: the attitude towards the United States, the rejection of the Turkish arrival in the European Union, the “Françafrique” continuity… But also the hypocritical position on the environment, the position on the moral order or religions… Let’s keep these subjects for another time.
We’re once again in a period of elections, for the Assembly this time. The Right will probably be the winner and the government will be allowed to go as far as it can with the reforms. In this context, the challenge for us is to leave apart “purist” positions, to catch the opportunity to work with other radical left and social movement organisations at local and national levels without losing our political “compass”, our political basis and aims: anti-capitalism, emancipation struggles, self-management, direct democracy, social movement autonomy and the libertarian society project could be our final words!
We’re also very conscious that we need, more than ever, to share information, analysis and experiences with other anarcho-communist organisations in the world…