One million French workers struck and protested on Tuesday of last week. The popular strikes were called in opposition to attacks by the right wing government on the social security system and laws protecting workers.
They mark the latest phase in a series of struggles against neo-liberalism which began with a giant strike wave in 1995. The recent strike will add to a growing debate about creating an electoral alternative on the left.
The 1995 strikes created a new situation. When the right wing government called elections the “plural left” of the Socialist Party, the Communist Party and the Green Party took power.
But by 2002 the right wing had taken power once more. The reason for the failure of the plural left is straightforward — instead of breaking with neo-liberalism it simply applied a slightly softer version of this agenda.
The rejection of neo-liberalism is the fundamental fact of French politics. This fact has impacted upon different left parties in different ways.
The Communist Party has had to adopt a more combative stance since 2002. In the Socialist Party there is a tension between the leadership and those who want to break with neo-liberalism.
The current right wing government performed badly in last year’s regional elections.
Then there was the referendum on the European Union constitution. The neo-liberal constitution was supported by the leadership of the Socialist Party and the right wing government.
A broad spectrum of political and social forces took part in the left wing no campaign.
Most of the trade union movement, under pressure from the rank and file, took part alongside the Attac movement which opposes neo-liberalism. They were joined by a large part of the rank and file of the Socialist Party, as well as the Communist Party and the far left LCR.
The no campaign won, with the left playing a dominant role. There was a high expectation that a new electoral expression would emerge from this movement.
The Socialist Party conference takes place in November and it is expected that the current leadership will win the votes. There is a question about what those who took part in the no campaign will do if this happens — it is possible there will be a split or a big exodus from the party.
The Communist Party is giving out mixed signals. It says it doesn’t want to break its connection with the Socialist Party.
But it is still open to the possibility of supporting a united left candidate in the 2007 presidential elections.
There are two main parties on the far left — Lutte Ouvriere and the LCR. Lutte Ouvriere did not take part in the no campaign.
The LCR was very involved. Its spokesperson, Olivier Besancenot, is extremely popular. It is developing the struggle and building the committees created in the no campaign, but so far it has not put forward a clear political proposal.
A good candidate expressing the politics of the no campaign could beat an official Socialist Party candidate in the first round of the presidential elections.
Stathis Kouvelakis is on the editorial board of the Contretemps journal