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France: Rural guerrilla warfare divides the government

This article is over 9 years, 6 months old
There are signs of hope amid the disappointment of France’s president, writes Sylvestre Jaffard
Issue 2332

François Hollande of France’s Socialist Party (similar to Britain’s Labour Party) was elected president in May. Now his ratings are down to 36 percent—a record low for a new president.

Hollande’s presidency has disappointed even the lowest expectations. Instead of change, he has come to represent continuity with Nicolas Sarkozy to observers on the left and the right.

There were some small progressive measures taken at first. Hollande cancelled Sarkozy’s rise in VAT. But just five months later his government imposed a rise of its own, something that has become symbolic of his Socialist Party’s spinelessness.

This came just after another humiliating climbdown on a tax that would have affected some bosses.

The fight over 8,000 layoffs at carmaker PSA is another example. Hollande and his ministers were quick enough to call the job losses “unacceptable”, but they have done nothing to stop them. The PSA workers are left to fight a heroic struggle with their backs to the wall.

There was at least some hope that a break with Sarkozy’s overt racism would come. But no such luck. Hollande had promised to give the vote to non-EU citizens in local elections.

But within weeks Socialist Party spokespeople started explaining this was “divisive”, “not a priority” or even that it would strengthen the far right. Just the opposite is true.

Sensing the government’s distinct lack of resolve, the most reactionary forces have been mobilising. Attacks on Muslims and Roma gypsies have been almost daily. One Nazi group felt bold enough to stage an “occupation” of a mosque building site in Poitiers.


In this case, left wing activists staged a protest a few days later. But a mass nationwide response to Islamophobia remains to be built.

After marches in Paris from both the mainstream and the fascist right, Hollande has made concessions over his election pledge to support gay marriage.

Reasons to be cheerful are few. But the spectacle of the French Tories tearing themselves apart after their defeat at the polls is sure to raise a smile.

Jean-Francois Copé and Francois Fillon, the two contenders for Sarkozy’s crown, spent two weeks in a vicious fight of claims and counter-claims following their party’s leadership election. A lasting split looks likely.

But we can’t just count on the right self-destructing. A left challenge to the government has to be built. Two signs in particular point to hope.

First, two demonstrations against austerity policies in September and October each saw 80 to 90,000 workers take to the streets. Second is the fight over the building of a new airport in the west of France, in a rural area near Nantes.

Local residents, left wing and environmental activists have been resolute in their opposition to this costly and damaging project. Tens of thousands have demonstrated. The area where the airport is to be built has been repeatedly occupied, evacuated, then re-occupied by activists.

There have been scenes resembling rural guerrilla warfare as hundreds of riot police use flash-balls and tear gas against activists. The issue has divided the Socialist Party from its Green coalition allies, and it divides the Front de Gauche between its two main components.

The viciously right wing interior minister Manuel Valls has called the activists a “cyst” which must “not be allowed to organise itself”. We’ll have to make sure it does.

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