France’s centre-left government has provoked a crisis that could bring it down by suspending parliamentary debate on its proposed Work Law. It faces a vote of no confidence tomorrow, Thursday—a day already set for nationwide strikes and protests.
After it became clear he was well short of a majority in parliament, prime minister Manuel Valls used the draconian article 49.3 of the French constitution. It means MPs can no longer vote on the bill, which will become law automatically in 48 hours unless the government is brought down first.
When in opposition, the ruling Labour-type Socialist Party (PS) called for 49.3 to be scrapped. Valls was one of the MPs to propose an amendment abolishing it.
Thousands took to the streets at short notice in towns and cities across France. Socialist activist Vanina Guidicelli spoke to Socialist Worker on the protest outside parliament in Paris, where 1,500 people had already gathered and cops were blocking roads to stop others joining them.
“It’s a huge political crisis and it’s a product of the mass movement,” she said. Two months of resistance have seen over a million people join the largest demonstrations, alongside intense student strikes and a new movement of city square occupations.
“Valls has got away with using 49.3 before with nothing like this reaction, but the mobilisation has created a very different context,” explained Vanina. “On the one hand it has pushed the government to offer concessions to some groups, such as releasing more funding for young people.
“That led some of the right wing opposition, who had been supportive of the Work Law, to turn against it. The protests have also pushed a section of the left wing MPs to break with the government.”
The Tory opposition parties have now proposed a motion of no confidence. Both the left wing Front de Gauche and the fascist Front National say they too will vote to bring down the government.
Some rebel PS backbenchers have suggested they could too. Over 100,000 people have already signed an online petition calling on Socialist Party MPs to vote for the no confidence motion "so that the Work Law never sees the light of day".
Valls hastily agreed to new minor concessions. But the heart of the bill—allowing workplace agreements to undercut national agreements and legally backed workers’ rights—remains intact.
Last week saw more intense direct action against it. Trade unionists sabotaged phone lines in central France and activists blockaded a supermarket distribution hub in the south west.
Rail workers and hauliers are set to begin all-out strikes and have invited other sectors to join them.
Vanina said, “It’s been decided that the demonstration will march on parliament during the vote on Thursday. But it’s not certain the no confidence vote will pass—we can’t trust all the MPs who oppose the Work Law to vote to bring the government down. If they don’t, it will be even more important we keep mobilising.”