France

With under a month to go before the first round of France’s presidential elections, there is still all to play for, with almost half of French voters still undecided. Arguably the most significant feature of the contest so far has been the almost complete collapse of the traditional parties. The incumbent president, Francois Hollande hasn’t even bothered to stand, so loathed is he by the public. His Socialist Party’s last hope, the “radical” Benoit Hamon, now languishes in fifth place according to recent polls.

Two years ago, an editorial in the Financial Times described France as being in a pre-revolutionary situation. That may have been an exaggeration, but it was certainly a reflection of the impasse of French society. Now that impasse has grown into a full-blown political crisis.

The defeat of Manuel Valls in the Socialist Party primary was celebrated, or at least appreciated, by far more than the 1.2 million who voted for Benoit Hamon. Valls, the former prime minister, is one of the most consistent representatives of the right-wing, pro-capitalist, leadership of the PS.

The 2017 presidential election will not be a normal election preceded by a normal election campaign. In recent decades, French elections have generally been a predictable duel between the Parti Socialiste (PS) candidate and a candidate from the traditional right wing. This norm, however, experienced its first exception on April 21st, 2002, when Jean-Marie Le Pen of the Front National (FN) eliminated Lionel Jospin (PS) in the first round.

The 2017 presidential election is at the heart of a new, profound crisis in the French Communist Party (PCF). The National Secretary of the party, Pierre Laurent, has for several months been calling for a “common candidate” of the “living forces of the left,” and says that he regrets the “division.” In the name of this approach, the leadership of the PCF has refused to involve the party and its activists in the campaign of Jean-Luc Mélenchon, who was the candidate for the Left Front in the presidential election of 2012.

France witnessed a wave of intense class struggle earlier this year with the strikes and mass protests against the government’s new law on labour relations. The law was eventually passed in July and the movement died down, but now the working class and youth is preparing to move from the trade union front to the political.

The [new French] labour law will be adopted in the National Assembly by 22 July, after final feedback from the Senate. The “Socialist” government has won this battle. To do so, they resorted to levels of police repression unprecedented in recent history, as well as a violent campaign of insults and stigmatization against the activists of the CGT involved in the struggle. Using the presence of “thugs” (“rioters”) as a pretext to discredit the movement, the government subjected the latest protests in Paris to massive police supervision and security screening, de facto restricting the right to demonstrate.

The renewable strike movement, which has been launched in several key sectors of the economy over the past three weeks, has had the immediate effect of intensifying the media propaganda campaign aimed at the anti-labour law mobilization since the beginning of March

"On lache rien!” We do not give up! This slogan sums up quite well the mood of militant determination of the French workers’ and youth movement against the El Khomri labour counter-reform which has now entered its third month. Last week saw oil refineries, harbours, nuclear power stations on strike and fuel depots blockaded by striking workers. What stage is the movement at and what are its perspectives?

The fight against the labor law has entered a new, decisive  phase. The development of open-ended strikes and blockades in several key sectors of the economy have changed the dynamics of movement. Everything is accelerating. After a series of “days of action” in the past two months - to which the government responded with police violence and 49-3 (a special article in the constitution which allows the government to bypass parliament and decree laws,) -  the immediate logical goal of the movement has now become to paralyze the economy. This is the only path to achieve victory.

A massive protest movement in France has been taking place since February. Sparked by the announcement of a reactionary new “reform” of the labour laws, this movement is mobilising masses of youth.

We publish here an eye-witness account of Marxist students from Belgium who participated in the March 31st general strike in France, and the subsequent "Nuit debout" movement occupying squares in French towns and cities, reminiscent of the movements in North America, Southern Europe and Egypt five years ago.

With over a million demonstrators, the protests of March 31 confirmed the deep unpopularity of "La loi Travail" [Labour law] amongst the youth and workers of France. That same night, in Paris's iconic Place de la République, thousands of people - especially young people - participated in the very first "Nuit Debout", or overnight occupation of the square. A very enthusiastic atmosphere helped the protesters as they refused to go back home or even fall asleep. Every night since, the square has found itself occupied by workers and youth.

According to the French trade unions over one million people came out onto the streets on March 31 in over two hundred and fifty cities across France. One hundred and twenty thousand in Marseille, a hundred thousand in Toulouse and tens of thousands in the capital.

On March 9th half a million workers and youth took to the streets throughout France, protesting against the “socialist” government's’ unprecedented attack on the labour laws. This was followed by further protests on March 17th.

On January 12th, eight former employees of Goodyear, including five elected members of the Confédération Générale du Travail (CGT, one of the largest trade union confederations in France), were sentenced to two years in prison, of which at least 9 months must be served.

The regional elections of December 6th and 13th accentuated trends already observed in recent municipal (March 2014), European (June 2014) and departmental (March 2015) elections. Faced with the economic crisis, a soaring unemployment rate and the austerity policies of a "socialist" government, the frustration of millions of voters has expressed itself mainly in two ways: abstention and voting for “le Front National”.

The year 2015 was marked by an unleashing of war and terrorism. Dozens of armed conflicts spread death and destruction in Africa, the Middle East and Asia. Millions of people have been killed wounded or forced into exile. On the borders of Europe, Ukraine has descended into a civil war that, according to the UN, has killed almost 10,000 people and injured more than 20,000. The list of countries affected by terrorism has continued to grow. The barbaric events in Paris could be repeated in London, Brussels or any other European city.