A battle lost but the war goes on

In the second round run-off of the French presidential elections on the 6th May, right wing candidate Nicolas Sarkozy won the presidency with 53% of the votes, on a record turnout of 86%. This constitutes a serious defeat for French workers. Sarkozy ran his campaign under the slogan “work more to earn more” and has promised to make generalized strikes illegal in some public services and transport. He also aims to attack labour contract law which has held up better (due to workers resistance) in France than in other European countries.

During the campaign he played down his enthusiastic support for Bush’s imperialist wars, but he trumpeted his desire to clamp down on illegal immigrants and massively reduce taxes for the rich.

It can seem hard to understand that after massive and popular youth and workers movements like the victorious movement against the notorious Youth Employment contract in 2006, the French voters should have chosen such a reactionary president.

The fundamental explanation is the failure of the parliamentary Left to persuade ordinary people that its victory would improve their lives much. Ségolène Royal, the defeated Socialist Party candidate, even if she sprinkled some leftwing social measures into her programme, talked more of law and order and the centrality of economic competition. “I want to make France a country of entrepreneurs” she announced.

In the absence of a convincing social programme, many were more tempted by Sarkozy’s moral certainties – attacking “bad immigrants” and integrating good ones, clamping down on unemployed “shirkers”, cutting public expenditure – a classic scapegoating approach.

There will be a period of demoralization, but big wildcat strikes during the campaign show that workers resistance will be very much on the agenda, and there are many big battles to come.

John Mullen, Socialisme International, France

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