Socialist Worker

Why did the Tories win the election?

Issue No. 1805

THE FRENCH Tories won a big majority in the parliamentary elections on Monday. The right will have around 400 seats in the new parliament, while the Socialist Party (equivalent of the Labour Party) and its allies will have around 175. After the recent presidential elections John Monks of the TUC and newspapers like the Guardian blamed the far left for the fact that the Nazi Le Pen beat the Socialist Party.

But these latest results show the real problem is that the Socialist Party has alienated many of the people who swept it into office in 1997. The far left was not able to stand in the second round of the parliamentary elections. But the Socialist Party could not generate enough enthusiasm to beat the parties supporting the corrupt Jacques Chirac. The Socialist Party's pathetic slogan 'Don't give the centre-right too much power' sums up its weak challenge.

France has not suddenly swung to the right, but millions of people are bitter and angry with the equivalent of the Labour Party, and will not back it. Analysis of the first round of the parliamentary elections shows that the parties of the previous governing coalition (Socialist Party, Communist Party and Greens) won only 40 percent of the categories 'employe et ouvrier' (workers of all sorts, supervisors and foremen).

The abstentions on Sunday, in the second round, were a record 40 percent-the highest since this form of government was introduced in 1958. Almost half of the 'worker' category abstained in the first round, along with 53 percent of students. Around 58 percent of people aged 18 to 24 and 54 percent of the 25 to 34 age group did not vote.

The right wing are celebrating now. But their big majority in parliament is likely to unleash a period of class conflict. This could mean a rerun of the mid-1990s. In 1993 the right, with 472 seats, won an even bigger majority in parliament than now. The Socialist Party was totally humiliated. Two years later Jacques Chirac was elected president.

With control of both presidency and parliament, the right launched big assaults on pensions and working conditions (called the Juppe plan). The attacks led to the biggest public sector strikes since 1968. In October 1995 five million stopped work for the day. And in December ten million struck and protested for two days a week over a period of three weeks.

The strikes and massive demonstrations sent fear through every government in Europe. Chirac and the right had to retreat in disorder. The election of a socialist government a year later was the result. Now Chirac and his allies will try again. The bosses' MEDEF organisation is pushing for an offensive against workers.

History rarely repeats itself exactly. But the French working class has not been defeated over the last seven years. The last two years have seen a rising number of strikes.

A revival of struggle is the best way to thwart Chirac's agenda. It is also the best response to the divisions and scapegoating pushed by Le Pen and the Nazis. The mass demonstrations against Le Pen in recent weeks showed the potential for real change in France. But the Socialist Party could not offer a focus for such a movement.

Le Pen's National Front has won no seats in parliament. The parties of the extreme left, LCR and LO, won 740,000 votes in the first round of the parliamentary elections. Although this was less than in the presidential poll a few weeks earlier, it is still a very good figure, and more than in 1997.

It would have been higher if LO had agreed to the LCR proposal for united candidates. French workers now need a united socialist and anti-capitalist party that will build for the most militant response possible to the right's attacks.

The Socialist Party betrayed its supporters

SOME PRETEND the Socialist Party lost because it is not 'modern' (business friendly) enough. The real problem is that the Socialist Party and its allies have betrayed workers.

The profits of large firms rose by 36 percent last year, while for most people life has got much harder. Unemployment, which fell slightly in the early years under the Socialist-led government, has now begun to rise again.

Most of the 1.5 million new jobs created during the last government are in the category of 'precarious' employment-short term, contract and temporary work. According to official figures 2.2 million people in France, almost a tenth of those able to work, hold such jobs. A significant section of people in full time work, or with several part time jobs, do not earn enough to afford even a basic life.

Some 17 percent of youth between 20 and 25 years of age are officially out of work. In the working class suburbs of Paris youth unemployment stands at up to 50 percent. The government was forced to bring in a law limiting the working week to 35 hours.

But the way it was introduced became an excuse for bosses to demand increased 'flexibility'. 'Working hours' no longer include work breaks, changing and washing time. Workers can be employed up to 13 hours a day six days a week. This has also driven down wages, because the employers are no longer required to pay overtime.

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Sat 22 Jun 2002, 00:00 BST
Issue No. 1805
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