Socialist Worker

France's no vote was a blow against neo-liberalism

Last Sunday’s result has sent Europe’s elite into crisis, says Nick Barrett of the Ligue Communiste Révolutionnaire

Issue No. 1954

Crowds like this one in Paris flocked to no campaign rallies across France (Pic: Guy Smallman)

Crowds like this one in Paris flocked to no campaign rallies across France (Pic: Guy Smallman)

An incredible referendum turnaround last Sunday in France saw 55 percent of voters reject the European Union proposal for a European constitution.

This plunged the country’s Tories and Blairite left — and neo-liberal Europe — into deep crisis.

We should make no mistake about it—this is a victory for the French working class, the poor, young people, the real left and France from below.

The figures are stunning. In Marseille, a centre of radical mass movements over the last ten years, 63 percent of voters rejected the neo-liberal constitution.

In the northern Pas de Calais area, which has been devastated by factory closures, 69.5 percent voted no.

In the Languedoc-Roussillon region around Montpellier and Perpignan, which has one of the highest levels of youth unemployment in France, 63 percent voted no.

In the working class suburbs of Paris, votes as high as 73 percent were recorded against the constitution.

This was a class vote. Some 80 percent of manual workers voted no, as did 60 percent of those under 25.

Some 90 percent of managers and those in rich Parisian areas voted yes.

For the first time in more than 20 years the popular vote has given a majority to a left wing rejection of neo-liberal policies.

Yet it was far from a foregone conclusion. Eight months ago the yes camp was well ahead in the opinion polls.

Then people from the anti-capitalist movement, the anti-financial speculation group Attac, the Communist Party, the left wing of the Socialist Party and the revolutionary left came together.

This was an unprecented united campaign to counter the ruling class propaganda.

Meeting after meeting and debate after debate were organised. Understanding the constitution became a national pastime. People would read the hundreds of articles of the constitution in the Parisian Metro on their way to work.

The internet became a powerful tool in countering the official propaganda.

The yes camp accused the no campaign of being anti-European, populist and backward, but we held fast. There were a series of turning points.

Laurent Fabius, who is a prominent figure in the Socialist Party infamous for his adaptation to market capitalism in the 1980s, sensed which way the wind was blowing. He took a public position against the constitution and for a social Europe.

Despite enormous pressure 42 percent of the Socialist Party’s members voted no in its internal referendum in December last year.

In a historic debate in the CGT, France’s main trade union confederation, the national council overturned the leadership position and called for a no vote.

Then there were big strikes in February and March. For the first time the no vote was ahead in the opinion polls.

The mainstream media, president Jacques Chirac, the Tories and the majority of the Socialist Party were all united in campaigning for a yes vote.

Only one of the opposition parties — the Communist Party — had access to TV campaign spots. It opened its airtime to the whole of the left alliance.

National figures such as Communist Party leader Marie-George Buffet, the left socialists Melenchon and Emmanuelli, the Ligue Communiste Révolutionnaire (LCR) spokesperson Olivier Besancenot, the civil servant and founder of the radical Copernic network Yves Salesse and the radical farmer José Bové were all associated with the left no vote.

In the last weeks, the yes camp called in their allies from all over Europe — Barroso, the ultra neo-liberal Portugese president of the European Commission, German chancellor Schröder, Spanish prime minister Zapatero.

But it was all to no avail. The argument that a no vote would be anti-European just didn’t work.

This was a left wing vote. The racists, the fascists and the nationalists behind Nazi leader Jean-Marie Le Pen and Tory Philippe de Villiers were marginalised in the debate.

The vote was against unbridled neo-liberal capitalism, not for nationalism. It is a signal of hope for all European people struggling against neo-liberalism.

It has momentarily stopped the building of capitalist Europe and given the social movements time to decide how to go forward.

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