France: Macron sets out to bust unions

Since his election French president Emmanuel Macron has been busy taking advantage of the clear majority (350 out of 577) held by his party La Republique En Marche (REM) and its junior partner Mouvement Democratique (MoDem), following the collapse of the major parties after the presidential election. The REM government has set about cutting taxes and attacking the code du travail, France’s extensive set of labour protections, with the president vowing not to yield to ‘the lazy, the cynics, or the extremists’.

The five orders which make up the reforms were signed by the president on 21 September, and should go before the national assembly by 20 November. Their purpose is to gut the power of the unions, which remain relatively strong and principled by European standards. Whereas currently workplace negotiations must involve a union representative, the reform will permit businesses to negotiate with a delegated employee or a ‘committee’ of employees. It will also seriously limit tribunal payouts.

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France: Macron on Africa – denying French imperialism

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Fourteen African countries, including Burkina Faso (above), continue to pay colonial tax to France

On 8 July at the G20 conference in Hamburg, French President Emmanuel Macron was asked about the possibility of creating for Africa something like the Marshall Plan which was used to fund European reconstruction following the Second World War. The ‘social-liberal’ president responded by stating that the continent’s contemporary problems are ‘civilizational’ rather than developmental. A major source of the continent’s troubles, according to this ‘centrist’, was African women each having ‘seven or eight’ children. He added that a ‘simple money transfer’ is not the answer. These comments are a reactionary denial of the root of Africa’s problems – imperialism.

A 2014 report by Curtis Research, Honest Accounts? The true story of Africa’s billion dollar losses, found that 47 countries classified as ‘sub-Saharan Africa’ by the World Bank suffer a net loss of $58bn a year.1 While $134bn flows in, predominately in the form of loans, foreign investment and ‘aid’, $192bn flows out, mainly in the form of profits of neo-colonial foreign companies, tax dodging and the costs of adapting to climate change. Africa is being drained of the resources it needs for development to maintain the wealth of the imperialist powers.

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French imperialism finds a safe pair of hands

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Since the election of Emmanuel Macron on 7 May 2017 the new President has moved quickly to approach the problems faced by French imperialism, which is not recovering well from the crash of 2007-08, especially compared to its major European partner, Germany. Since the introduction of the euro in 1999, the profitability of French capital has plummeted by 27% compared to Germany’s 21% rise. Investment has stagnated, leading to low productivity growth and an unemployment rate of around 10%. French imperialism also faces intensifying rivalries between imperialist blocs, expressed by Brexit, Trump, and calls for greater European integration. Macron has two main tasks: regenerating French capitalism by attacking the working class, and shoring up the future of the eurozone and France’s relationship with its major partner, Germany.

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French election: banker beats racist

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On Sunday 7 May France went to the polls for the second and final round of the presidential election. The country faced a choice between the two highest scoring candidates from the first round: Marine Le Pen of the racist, right-wing populist Front National (FN) and Emmanuel Macron of the neoliberal ‘centrist’ party En Marche! Macron, a former investment banker won by a landslide with 66.1% of votes cast (excluding spoilt ballots).

The campaign leading up to this second round saw the political establishment urge a vote for Macron in order to stop the FN, and according to a pre-election Ipsos survey, 43% of those intending to vote Macron were doing so to purely stop Le Pen, while just 16% were voting because of his political programme.

Le Pen says that the election result shows that the FN is the ‘number one opposition’ in France and has vowed to ‘continue the fight’ in the legislative elections next month. Macron will face these legislative elections on 11 and 18 June, and could be left without a legislative majority, meaning he will have to govern by decree.

Ruling class splits

The background to the presidential election is the ongoing capitalist crisis. The French economy is not recovering well from the crash of 2007/8, especially compared to its major European partner, Germany. The French economy only grew by 1.1% in 2016, compared to Germany’s 1.9%. Since the introduction of the euro in 1999, the profitability of French capital has plummeted by 27%, compared to Germany’s 21% rise. Investment has therefore stagnated, leading to low productivity growth and an unemployment rate of around 10%. In fact, the profitability of French capital has been weak for some time: it made only a limited recovery in the neoliberal era. This was in part due to the relative militancy of French labour which was less willing than its British counterpart to have the crisis solved at its expense. France retains the world’s best performing health service and generous social security, and some protection remains for the 35-hour week.

As the crisis deepened, François Hollande’s Socialist Party (PS) government went on the offensive and attacked social security and labour rights. The election exposed splits in the ruling class over how to solve the crisis. What both sides of the split have in common, however, is that they propose solving the crisis at the expense of the working class.

The bulk of the ruling class rallied behind Macron, who proposes solving the crisis of French imperialism in the same way that the mainstream French bourgeoisie has since the Second World War: by means of greater integration into the European imperialist bloc. Macron advocates the creation of a joint investment budget and a finance minister for the eurozone, as well as regulation of foreign investment into the EU. The FN, on the other hand, represents a dissident section of the bourgeoisie which sees the salvation of French national capital in protectionism, and in the revival of an independent French imperialism.

These two opposing solutions to the crisis were on show during the televised debate between the candidates. Le Pen called for a return to the French national currency, the franc, and for ‘freedom for economic patriotism, for giving an advantage to our French businesses in the marketplace, to practice intelligent protectionism’. Macron, on the other hand, argued that leaving the euro would be dangerous for French capital, saying: ‘My vision is to build a strong euro, a European politics which will be strong and in which we will defend the interests of France.’ His later comments on international trade made clear his concerns: he said ‘We need a European trade policy. Why? Because it is this which protects against China and other large countries.’

Macron and the dominant wing of the ruling class see French imperialism best served against its rivals by integration into a European imperialist bloc. Macron vowed in his first speech after his election to defend France, ‘her vital interests, her image, her message’, and to defend Europe, because ‘our civilisation is in danger’. He vowed that France would be ‘present and diligent’ on the world stage. Macron is clear: he will defend the interests of European imperialism.

Domestically, too, Macron will defend the interests of capital. He was briefly Economy Minister in Manuel Valls’ PS government where he presided over the ‘Macron law’, extending trading hours on Sundays, as well as being a staunch supporter of the El Khomri law ,which savaged over-time benefits and made it much easier for capital to hire and fire. Macron has been very clear that he will attempt to solve the crisis by extending these attacks. He has vowed to increase ‘flexibility’ in the labour market by extending the El Khomri law and giving companies the power to ‘negotiate’ the 35-hour week, destroying it in all but name. Increased ‘flexibility’ in the labour market meant that in the financial year 2016/17 86.4% of hiring was into temporary jobs, and of these 80% were into contracts of less than a month; 43% of France’s unemployed have been out of work for over a year. Macron has vowed to cut corporation tax from 33.3% to 25% and to eliminate 120,000 government jobs.

He has also promised to reduce unemployment with an investment plan and to exempt low-paid workers from welfare levies. He has not, however, explained how he will pay for this. It is clear that these measures were included in order to appeal to labour. Once a pro-business assembly is elected in June, these promises will go out the window as Macron begins his attacks on the working class.

The Socialist Party is dead

One of the most significant outcomes of this election has been the complete collapse of the PS. As the crisis worsened, the ruling class found themselves unable to govern in the old way and so social democracy has collapsed. The PS candidate in the first round of the election, Benoît Hamon, received just 6.4% of the vote. Ex-Prime Minister Manuel Valls announced on the morning of 9 May that ‘the Socialist Party is behind us’ and announced his desire to run as a candidate for En Marche La Republique! (En Marche’s new name). Valls in fact saw the collapse of the PS before Hamon’s defeat and backed Macron in the first round after losing the PS primary. Didier Guillaume, the PS vice-president of the Senate, also announcing his support for Macron, put it succinctly: ‘the Socialist Party is dead.’

No trust in politicians – build the resistance!

Macron also faces social unrest on a huge scale. French society, and black, Arab and Muslim youth in particular, is more disillusioned with establishment politics than ever before. A Sciences Po survey conducted in December 2016 found that 70% of those surveyed believe that democracy does not work well in France. Only 11% trust political parties, 56% do not trust big business and 55% do not trust the justice system. 28% of those surveyed expressed ‘disgust’ at contemporary politics and 40% ‘mistrust’. 41% said that they believed the capitalist system must be ‘fundamentally reformed’ (down 1% on December 2015). Another survey by Generation What? found that 62% of youth said they were ready for a ‘largescale revolt.’ The abstention rate of 25.44% in the second round was the highest since 1969 and was actually up 3.21% from the first round.

Macron’s election is already being resisted. Reuters reported that 141 people were arrested in Paris on the night of the election. May Day demonstrations saw firebombs thrown at the police as people opposed both ‘the banker’ and ‘the racist’. The day after the election, a collective of around 70 unions calling itself the Social Front organised a demonstration in Paris. Hundreds of police were mobilised to contain the threat. During the second round campaign, the Social Front likened the choice to one between ‘plague and cholera.’ Anticipating resistance, Macron has vowed to create 10,000 new posts in the military police to combat attacks by the ‘extreme left’ and wants to grant police extra powers without legal process. When asked by Le Pen what his response to antifascist protestors would be he responded that he is ‘for the dissolution of every known violent group’. He has also vowed to massively extend surveillance, intelligence gathering and the security services, including online.

Much has been made of the defeat of the FN, but it must be remembered, however, that Macron, too, is an unrepentant racist. Like any bourgeois politician, he makes a big deal of the distinction between refugees ‘in need’ and ‘economic migrants’. He supports greater immigration because refugees represent an ‘economic opportunity’ for France. Simultaneously he considers the Frontex EU security agency ‘insufficiently ambitious’ and has called for greater investment in border controls. He also believes the period of consideration for asylum claims should be significantly shortened and that all those who fail should be immediately deported. He has made much of the fight against Islamist terrorism, calling it ‘the priority’ for his foreign policy.

We must celebrate the defeat of the Front National, but we must by no means celebrate the victory of Macron. In him, French imperialism has found a president who will defend the interests of French capital by attacking the working class at home and the oppressed globally. The years since the financial crash have seen a rising tide of resistance against racist police violence and militant action against labour reforms. The conditions are ripe for revolutionaries to organise and fight back.

Séamus Padraic

French election: ‘The banker’ and ‘the racist’ through to run-off

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On 23 April France went to the polls for the first round of the presidential election. No candidate secured a majority and the second round will take place on 7 May between the two highest scoring candidates: Marine Le Pen of the right-wing populist Front National (FN); and Emmanuel Macron, a former banker and economy minister in Manuel Valls’ Parti Socialiste (PS) government. This will be the first time in 60 years that the second round has not included either of the main two parliamentary parties.

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