French workers reject the dictatorship of the free market
Article from Socialist Alternative June 2005
French workers won a historic political victory last Sunday when the new European constitution was rejected by 55% of voters. Well over 70% of manual workers and over 60% of office workers voted against the constitution, despite all the major parties pushing for a Yes vote.
This constitution would have guaranteed “free untramelled competition” as the centre of European economic policy, as well as binding Europe more closely to NATO. Public transport, street cleaning, education and health services would have been constitutionally obliged to become “profitable” or risk being sold off to private companies.
The French ruling class pulled out all the stops to get a “yes” vote. With the support of all the main media, politicians of the socialist Left and the Right warned of catastrophe if the “No” vote won. “France will become the Black sheep of Europe” warned Jacques Chirac, the president.
In response, forces of the radical Left ran by far the largest and most united campaign of the last twenty years. Badges showing a black sheep and even a black sheep song did the rounds.
In dozens of towns where experienced activists were used to having meetings of a few dozen, thousands attended rallies. Over a thousand united “committees for a No vote” were set up, involving Communist party, Revolutionary Left and non-party activists, as well as thousands of dissidents from the ranks of the Socialist Party and of the Greens, both of whose parties officially supported a Yes vote. For every “Yes” poster on the walls, a hundred “NO” posters from a dozen organizations replied.
Unity of action on the radical Left became the new fashion, with combined groups of Communists, anarchists, Left socialists, revolutionaries and others going out at night putting up posters - all groups putting up the posters from all organizations! The revolutionary Left of the Ligue Communiste Révolutionnaire has been a central element in the campaign, which has also impressively revived a declining left reformist Communist party.
The referendum campaign really politicized people. Only nineteen percent, in a recent poll, said they were not interested in debates on the constitution. So although establishment politicians of the Left and Right paid thousands of hours of overtime to their experts in political spin-doctoring, the “No” vote became ever more solid. The far right, also calling for a No vote for nationalist reasons were marginalized in the campaign which was run solidly on “defend public services” and “for a social and democratic Europe” grounds.
In the last few days of the campaign the ruling politicians to reverse became frankly laughable. The Prime minister Raffarin called for people to abstain if they didn’t like the constitution rather than voting no. Historic leader of the Right Giscard declared that if the “No” vote won they would make the people vote again next year!
So on Monday morning, the French ruling class awoke with one almighty hangover. The Conservative prime minister resigned, replaced by Villepin, so distant from the people that he has never even been elected. Leaders of the Socialist Party and the Greens, who had recommended a “yes vote” but whose supporters had overwhelmingly voted “No” have been thrown into a panic. But on the radical Left, activists are all smiles. And people realize that it is only the first step. The “No committees” are not planning to disband, but to continue as a united force to defend public services and fight back against the dictatorship of profit.
It is a tremendous political and ideological victory, as French workers show they reject ultra-free market ideology, established parties are thrown into disarray, and the radical Left is given an exciting new mass dynamic.
But it is only the first step to bringing in concrete victories for people’s lives. In the last two years mass strike waves failed to stop major government attacks on pension rights and on education when union leaders put the brakes on the movement.
The non-party Left has risen dramatically in the last ten years, but no organization has had enough prestige and clarity to federate a new anticapitalist force. This new victory could prepare the building of an organization capable of leading in battles to come
Because major conflicts are in store. The head of the French bosses’ organization, the Baron Seillères, called right after the referendum for an “acceleration” of the free-market reforms in France. The government has several attacks ready which they had put off because of the referendum. Banning all-out strikes in “key public services” including transport is one of their plans.
This is our finest victory in 25 years and a tremendous wave of hope is spreading among Left activists in France, while the ringleaders of European capital are crying in their soup.
John Mullen (LCR, Montreuil, France)