France: “appeasement” or revolution?

During his televised speech on 17 April, French President Emmanuel Macron tried to move on from the uproar surrounding the recent pension reform by promising the Earth to all those who, since 19 January, have mobilised in the streets and have been on strike against this bill.

Few people pay attention to the promises and other “solemn” commitments of the head of state anymore. However, this speech also contained thinly veiled threats against workers and youth. These must be taken very seriously.


Unsurprisingly, a new offensive is being prepared against immigrants. Macron targeted both “illegal immigration” and “benefits fraud”. He shed crocodile tears over the fate of workers hit by inflation who do not receive any “aid” from the state – which we are to understand as follows: “unlike all the benefits cheats, who are given aid for doing nothing”. The next day, on BFM-TV, Economy and Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire made an explicit link between immigration and benefits fraud: “Our compatriots are legitimately fed up with fraud. They are fed up with seeing people who receive aid… send them back to North Africa or elsewhere, if they are not entitled to it.”

This classic diversion tactic will be combined with a brutal offensive against the right to the unemployment benefits (RSA), with the aim of making budgetary savings on the one hand, and pushing the unemployed to accept extremely low-paid jobs on the other. It was Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin who, the day after the presidential speech, took it upon himself to clarify this point: “For those who receive the RSA, if they are working towards integration, if they show effort, we must help them. But if they don't want to go back to work, it is normal for us to impose sanctions against them.” All of this, of course, for the sole benefit of the rich.

Waterloo and the Bastille

Let us summarise the general situation. Macron, who has not backed down on pension reform, is going on an offensive against the poorest, most exploited and most oppressed layers of society. He is vindictively singling them out in a context where inflation, which is still very high, is constantly undermining the real wages of all workers.

This is what he calls a policy of “appeasement”, supposed to last “100 days”, that is, until 14 July. Let us remember Napoleon’s famous ‘100 days’ in 1815 – in which he returned from exile only to lose a series of military campaigns, culminating in his return to exile. Napoleon’s 100 days ended very badly for him, at the battle of Waterloo.

Let us also remember that 14 July is the anniversary of the storming of the Bastille, at the beginning of the Great French Revolution of 1789-94. Are the head of state and his advisers trying to suggest something to us?

Waterloo Image John Overholt FlickrNapoleon’s 100 days ended very badly for him, at the battle of Waterloo / Image: John Overholt, Flickr

At the time of writing, the “appeasement” policy is not going well. Choruses of banging saucepans – a symbol of protest that has emerged recently – greet every move of every member of the government. Some politicians have given up thanks to this public pressure and cancelled official visits to avoid the crowds.

The demonstrations on 1 May will undoubtedly be very powerful, perhaps even of historic proportions. One thing is certain: the anger that has manifested itself on a vast scale over the last three months is very far from being “appeased”. On the contrary: it will constantly be fuelled by inflation, which is eating away at the purchasing power of millions of young people and wage earners every month.

What is to be done?

What is to be done with the enormous reserves of militancy that have been expressed since the beginning of the year? This is the central question facing the left and the trade union movement today. If Macron is allowed to win and inflict a new racist propaganda campaign, while attacking those on unemployment benefits, this risks favouring Marine Le Pen – who, as always, remains lurking in the shadows, playing her demagogic games, while the people struggle in the streets and in their workplaces.

What should be the objective of the struggle in the coming period? We have said it over and over again: on its own, the slogan of repealing the pension reform is insufficient, because it is far too limited. Of course, we must continue to fight against this reform – and for a return to a retirement age of 60. But to encourage the mobilisation of new layers of young people and workers, we need to fight for a much broader and more radical programme. What is needed is a programme that opens up the prospect of putting an end to the problems of the overwhelming majority of the population.

Consider the question of inflation. In his speech, Macron evoked it to immediately divert our eyes towards the “benefit fraudsters” and immigrants. The workers’ movement must respond by putting the cost of living crisis at the heart of their struggle. We must fight for a general increase in wages and all benefits on the one hand, and on the other hand for these to be adjusted according to inflation. The rate of inflation should be calculated by elected representatives of the workers, not by bourgeois economists.

Bruno Le Maire Image EU2017EE Estonian Presidency FlickrEconomy and Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire made an explicit link between immigration and benefits fraud / Image: EU2017EE Estonian Presidency, Flickr

Given the importance of energy and food prices in the deterioration of our purchasing power, the workers’ movement must fight for the nationalisation under democratic workers’ control of the big companies in these two key sectors of the economy. It is common knowledge in France that the energy company TotalEnergie is lining the pockets of its shareholders thanks to inflation. But all the big multinationals in the energy and food sectors – including distribution – are fattening the wallets of their shareholders: France is the European champion of dividends. To put an end to this scandal and organise price controls, we need to expropriate the giant parasites who own these companies.

Other programmatic measures are needed, including the nationalisation of industry and the banking sector, the extensive hiring of civil servants, the repeal of counter-reforms in the education sector, the Labour laws and all other counter-reforms of the last twenty years.

Who will carry out this programme? Naturally, it will be neither Macron nor Le Pen. Only a government in the service of the workers could achieve it. Consequently, this programme must be linked to the objective of bringing down Macron and his clique. This perspective would win the support of the wide layers of society who grit their teeth in rage at the mere idea of putting up with this government for another four years.

How can we achieve this?

Once this programme has been drawn up, the struggle to implement it must not consist of a series of ‘days of action’, the limits of which have been demonstrated many times over. We need to popularise this programme in every workplace, in every neighbourhood, in every university. This work must involve all the militant forces of the youth and the workers’ movement, through thousands of General Assemblies and public meetings throughout the country.

The balance of power that would be required, in the streets and in the workplaces, to implement this programme, must be clearly explained from the outset. Large demonstrations alone will not be enough. Well-organised, indefinite strikes will have to develop in a growing number of sectors. This is precisely what has been lacking in recent months: the mobilised sectors have remained isolated. This is not the fault of the workers, but of the leadership of the trade unions, which has done absolutely nothing to try to develop the movement of indefinite strikes. We must learn the lessons from this. A battle plan must be drawn up. Everything must be planned in advance so that the mobilisation of the most militant sectors leads the other sectors in their wake.

Emmanuel Macron, whose arrogance so often borders on recklessness, has proclaimed “100 days of appeasement”. Let's take him at his word, but with a radical change of objective. 100 days is a good time to draw up an offensive programme, to popularise it massively and to start implementing it on the basis of a solid battle plan. If the labour movement throws its weight behind this task, we could be in a good position on 14 July to remind the government and the ruling class of the profound historical significance of this date.

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