For the past ten years various French governments have been trying to break with what they call the “Juppé syndrome”.
In 1995 the Tory prime minister Alain Juppé tried to push through a massive package of cuts in public sector pensions and wages.
But French workers took to the streets and defeated those neo-liberal measures.
Two years later Juppé was ejected from office and the new Socialist Party government was forced to concede measures such as a statutory 35-hour week.
Ever since then the French ruling class has complained of its inability to push through neo-liberalism.
As in Britain, this project is dressed up in the language of “modernisation” and “reform”.
The Socialist Party government rapidly moved to the right and lost its popular support.
This allowed the right to rally, with the Tories returning to power in 2002 under prime minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin.
He faced down protests in 2003 to push through an assault on pensions. But his project was derailed in May last year when French voters defied both the Socialists and the Tories to reject the neo-liberal EU constitution.
That campaign was led by “no committees”.
These brought together a broad range of activists on the left of the Socialist Party with those in the Communist Party, the Attac campaign against neo-liberalism and the Ligue Communiste Révolutionaire, France’s main far left group.
A unified radical left political alternative in France could have emerged from this movement, but the leaderships of the parties involved failed to seize that initiative.
Now the extraordinary energy and breadth of the student movement, and the drawing in of more and more workers, has reopened that opportunity.
Activists in France need to seize this chance to deepen and broaden the movement while pushing for a serious realignment of the left that can challenge the neo-liberalism pushed by both the Tories and the Socialist Party.