Workers and youth protest in Paris, France in May 2003 , photo Paul Mattsson (Click to enlarge)
LITTLE MORE than 24 hours after the second round of regional elections in France, strike action began on the railways, ushering in a day of action and protests in 80 cities across the country.
Clare Doyle, Committee for a Workers' International (CWI)
23 March was agreed on by the eight major trade union organisations to demonstrate mounting hostility to the government's policies on jobs, pensions, working conditions and the cost of living. Mobilisation from on top was poor, but anger and hatred against Sarkozy has reached boiling point.
He and his government have pushed ahead with attacks on the railway workers, universities, high schools, post office etc. Only in some cases, where widespread opposition has developed, has he been forced to step back.
There was a record abstention of over half the electorate in the first round, especially in the poor and working class areas.
As Le Monde wrote on Monday 22 March, this expressed "a deep disappointment with politics and with the head of state". The paper's front page headline was "After the electoral punishment, the third round (of) social (battle)?"
Alex Rouillard of Gauche Révolutionnaire (GR - CWI, France) commented: "After driving a steam-roller over so many rights and conditions of workers - old and young - Sarkozy is hated. His unpopularity has never been greater.
"He may be forced to reshuffle his cabinet and even retreat a little, but his aim is to make the working class pay for the bankers' and bosses' crisis".
Socialist Party benefits
Workers and youth protest in Paris, France in May 2003, photo Paul Mattsson (Click to enlarge)
The hostility to Sarkozy benefited the French 'Socialist' Party considerably. It had been reeling badly after poor performances in previous national and European elections. This time they got their highest score since 1981. The SP and their allies in the second round got 53.8% to 35.4% for Sarkozy's camp.
Together with the Greens, the SP ended up in control of 21 out of the 22 regions of France.
But the SP has a record in government of implementing far-reaching attacks on workers and widespread privatisation. Its leader, Martine Aubry, now said to be preparing to challenge Sarkozy in the 2012 presidential election, was the first to propose raising the retirement age.
The far right National Front (FN) also benefited from the anti-Sarkozy protest vote. In Le Pen's (FN leader) region it got 24% and 9% overall. It got more than 17% on average in the regions where it stood.
This has not yet brought them to the level they reached in 1995 but shows a real potential danger of reaction gaining ground.
The new Left Party, a split from the Socialist Party, with its vague promises of a fight against the right, apparently fared a bit better.
In 17 regions, they were involved in the Left Front (alliance between the Left Party, the PCF - communists - and a rightwing split from the ex-LCR) which, in the first round, got about 6% on average on a national level, around the same as the 6.5% they won in last year's European Parliament vote.
But the Left Front's subsequent alliances with the Socialist Party and others means they will be faced with the question of whether they will be involved locally in implementing cuts dictated by central government policies in a time of capitalist crisis.
The crisis and the left
Cecile, of Gauche Revolutionaire, France, the sister party of the Socialist Party in England and Wales, addresses the European Committee for a Workers' International school, photo Bob Severn
France has a widening budget gap and an €11 billion deficit in the state pension fund which, under capitalism, means more demands for austerity measures.
This crisis, and the need for generalised mass workers' struggle against it, should have meant that the New Anti-capitalist Party (NPA), first time out in regional elections, would fare well.
Unemployment now exceeds 10%. Millions of workers and young people have already been involved in battles over jobs, education, and pensions in the recent period.
Yet the NPA could muster only 2.5% of the vote in the first round, far less than what they got in the 2009 European elections (4.88%).
Only in one area - Limousin - did it pass the 10% barrier and have candidates in the second round. Without any distinct programme, it got two councillors (along with three for the Communist Party and one for the Left Party).
The NPA nationally had entered the fray in total confusion over tactics - with three different positions in relation to alliances with other parties. Gauche Révolutionnaire argued, along with others on the national committee who formed Platform B, for an independent fight in the elections on a real programme of working class struggle, to build support for the party as well as attract votes away from the right and the pro-capitalist Socialist Party.
Others wanted an alliance with the Socialist Party from the beginning and a third grouping wanted 'technical' alliances for the second round.
After referendums in the party last December showed much more support for position B than anticipated, the leadership of the NPA decided on a position of the party in each region deciding on its own programme and tactics. A recipe for chaos and ineffectiveness.
There was the additional factor in the election of the party in Vaucluse choosing to put forward a young woman who wears the veil. Before and after the election, she became the victim of considerable attacks inside and outside the party.
Disgracefully, she has even become, for some, a scapegoat for the poor showing of the NPA in the elections.
"The coming national meeting of the NPA leadership this weekend will see the left around platform B pushing harder for clear fighting policies", commented Alex. "The Right will attempt to blame the left for the poor showing but will have difficulty."