Tentative notes on the European election results in France
John Mullen, LCR
First a little context before moving onto the election results themselves.
After the right wing governement parties lost a huge number of seats in the regional elections a few weeks ago, the whole left in France was hoping that the European elections would mean another kick in the stomach for the government. Raffarin, the prime minister retreated on a number of fronts (giving in to research workers and entertainment workers and raising the minimum wage) but kept on the attack on the two most important playing fields for the bosses.
First, he is preparing a major attack on health care, making people pay over ten pounds a night for hospital stays, and a « symbolic » (for the moment) charge for each time they visit the doctor. The health system in France is one of the best in Europe, and, for example, one can directly make appointments with specialists without going through general practitioners. This is to be made much more expensive, and will reinforce inequality in access to health care.
Secondly, the government is pushing the partial privatization of the nationalized electricity and gas industry, taking on the powerful unions in these industries.
And thirdly, Chirac is moving towards an agreement with the United States to get back in the game in Iraq.
All of these three questions are causing very significant resistance, though a generalized mass movement like that of May-June 2003 is not yet in evidence. Last week 250 000 marched against the attacks on health care ; 30 000 marched against Bush’s visit to France. And 75 to 80% of gas and electricity workers were on strike against privatization in a day of action. Electricity workers are very determined, and are carrying out a series of symbolic actions such as cutting electricity to buildings which ministers are visiting.
The Left in general then was bound to make gains in the European elections. And so it turned out. Although right wing parties as a whole got slightly more votes than left wing ones, the right wing vote did not go to the governing party. The governing party ( UMP) got only 16.9% of the vote, with the more « moderate » right (UDF) getting 11,95%, and the fascists 9,81%.
The victor on the Left was clearly the Socialist Party (not as right wing as Tony Blair, but much less left wing than it was twenty years ago). It gained a record breaking 28,89%. The Communist party got 5,24%, returning to its slow decline after a good result in the recent regional elections.
The Revolutionary left vote was a big disappointment for us - 3,33% for all the revolutionary left together, around 2,6% of which was for the joint slate LO-LCR. This is much lower than at previous European elections, and does not even reach the 3% threshold which would mean that government money would pay our election expenses. We have lost the few euro-MPs we had. The reasons for the defeat will be discussed over the coming weeks. Certainly it seems that faced with a vicious right wing government voters have preferred either to stay at home and mope (57% abstention) or to vote for the biggest force on the Left, the Socialist party. This despite the very positive echoes which the LO-LCR campaign met with.
The revolutionary Left here is made up of three organizations. The two main ones, Lutte Ouvrière and the Ligue Communiste Révolutionnaire, ran a joint slate, with the third party « Parti des Travailleurs » running separately.
The situation with the LO-LCR joint slate changed somewhat since our joint campaigjn in the regional elections just a few weeks ago. The joint campaign in the European elections didn’t really happen -the two organizations of the joint slate ran separate campaigns, Lutte Ouvrière tending to concentrate on those regions where its own members were top of the slate. The LCR ran a more ‘political’ campaign than for the regionals - that is did not concentrate exclusively on economic issues such as redundancies.
The LCR posters, visible everywhere in the Paris region, carried the slogans « Another Europe is possible, without GM food, without nuclear power », « Another Europe is possible - Public services are not for sale », « Another Europe is possible - Ban redundancies, a job is a right », and « Another Europe is possible - No to the constitution, yes to a workers Europe. »
The leaflets underlined a series of arguments on a wide range of issues - Equal rights for gays, against nuclear power, defend the welfare state, equal rights for women and money for the fight against violence against women, cuts in military spending, troops out of Iraq, for the right for self-determination in Ireland, the Basque Country and Corsica, against special privileges for churches as written in the European constitution, priority to rail transport, a minimum wage in every country… Perhaps rather a lot for people to take in at times, certainly not resembling the « Emergency Plan for workers » a more minimum programme put forward in the Regional elections.
The main election leaflet put out by Lutte Ouvrière was quite different. It contained no specific demands, but a series of short essays on aspects of capitalist Europe - freedom of circulation, women’s rights, the origins of Europe in Greek and Roman antiquity, the undemocratic nature of the European elections, myths about the Second World War, working class housing in Europe … Not without interest, but rather strange as an election publication, and following a priority almost of using the campaign as an excuse for general marxist education rather than mobilization around immediate demands.
The campaign was in general dynamic on the revolutionary left - the heads of the lists going from strike headquarters to anti racist meetings, to groups of illegal immigrants, to marketplaces etc etc. Television appearances were frequent and well handled. It seems likely that the biggest mass meeting held by any party in the campaign in France was that of the revolutionary left, which got over three thousand five hundred people to a mass meeting in Paris. The Conservative prime minister’s « mass meeting » got only a third of that audience, in an embarassingly half empty hall.
In general the election results confirm that the situation is very volatile. Thenumber of slates standing was a record - twenty eight in the Paris region alone, including an (in my view misguided) single-issue « Support for Palestinians » slate which got 1,7% in this region. The fascists remain strong - 9.81% nationally, even though they are threatened with a split over strategy (this year there will be two rival Summer schools organized by different factions of the Front National).
The revolutionary left has underestimated the resilience of reformist organizations and consciousness. The unknown factor in the months to come is the level of class struggle. There will certainly be high levels of struggle over privatizations and health care - whether these struggles will pass the threshold which turns them into an explosive struggle, with the possibility of a general strike, is yet to be seen. The revolutionary left has a lot of patient explaining to do.
This article was written for the Socialist Unity Network website in June 2004