Are you watching mister Starmer this is what an opposition looks like – Mass demonstrations in France

“The mobilisation is very broad, involving trade unionists, students, young people, the Yellow Vests, and the whole broad left, but mobilising people beyond the traditional labour movement.”

Dave Kellaway gives an update on the deepening crisis in France.

Yesterday (March 16th), the crisis in France over Macron’s attempt to force people to work another two years before they can take a state pension took a new, dramatic turn. Macron wanted to do a deal with the mainstream conservative party, the Republicans (LR), but given the huge mobilisation in the country against his “reform,” these MPs failed to support the president. So he resorted to the undemocratic but constitutional mechanism of the 49.3 clause to push through his policy without a parliamentary majority.

Élisabeth Borne had to abandon her first attempt to deliver this decision as the NUPES (New Ecological and Social Peoples Union) opposition in parliament stood up with placards and sang the Marseillaise, the French national anthem.

At the same time, workers were gathering in the Place de la Concorde, which faces the National Assembly across the Seine. Police data said there were over 6000 who were joined by Mélenchon (leader of La France Insoumise,  LFI, and France Unbowed) and other NUPES leaders. The left-leaning parliamentary opposition has joined in on the half-dozen previous strike and demonstration days. What a contrast with Starmer’s opposition, which bans front bench spokespeople from going anywhere near a picket line or demonstration!

Rolling strikes were already underway in some key sectors of the economy, like the rail, air traffic, and energy sectors, where union organisation is strong. Refuse workers have been taking action in Paris with the rubbish piling up. Workers in Le Havre blocked roundabouts, preventing access to the big industrial zone in the town. Some cars were burned, and barricades were built. Flames arose against the Parisian sky. Police used tear gas and water cannons to clear the protesters, and many were arrested. A meeting of the coordinating committee, involving eight trade union confederations along with student and school student organisations took place on Thursday night and has called for another national day of strikes and demonstrations for the 23rd of March.

Mélenchon has announced that NUPES will support a motion of censure being put forward by an independent parliamentary group (the LIOT). Marine le Pen’s hard-right party, the National Rally (RN), will likely also support it. However, Ciotti, the leader of the more mainstream conservatives, the Republicans (LR), has said his group will not support the vote of no confidence. So the numbers at the moment — about 20 or so — look like they will not be enough to get it passed. The LR fears that it will lose out electorally if there were to be a dissolution of parliament and new elections—the normal consequence of a vote of no confidence passing. Elections now would probably help NUPES increase their vote, with even the possibility of Mélenchon’s election slogan from last year’s parliamentary elections, “Put me in the Matignon (= Downing Street), actually becoming a reality.

Subsequently, it reinforces a widespread sentiment that parliament can no longer do much and that Macron has to be stopped by the strength of industrial action and street demonstrations. The left wing of the movement is doing everything it can to encourage moves toward an all-out general strike.

Some NUPES MPs are going to the Constitutional Council to try to get the reform ruled unconstitutional, and they will also propose that the people vote on the reform in a referendum. It would block implementation for nine months and also require collecting over 4 million signatures. Other LFI MPs think that the reform can be killed off before then through continued and heightened mobilisation.

Big public meetings are being planned too, which will involve all currents of the movement. This Sunday (March 19th) there is one in Paris with speakers from the LFI, the more moderate Socialist Party, and the New Anticapitalist Party. This does not happen very often.

Opinion polls still show around 70% against Macron, so there is a real crisis of legitimacy for the regime. The mobilisation is very broad, involving trade unionists, students, young people, the Yellow Vests, and the whole broad left, but mobilising people beyond the traditional labour movement. There really is a good chance of it continuing to defeat Macron.

  • This article was originally published by the Anti*Capitalist Resistance on March 17th, 2023.
  • Dave Kellaway is on the Editorial Board of Anti*Capitalist Resistance, a member of Socialist Resistance, and Hackney and Stoke Newington Labour Party, a contributor to International Viewpoint and Europe Solidaire Sans Frontieres.
Featured image: Jean-Luc Mélenchon takes part in a demonstration against Macron’s pension reform and the use of the ‘49.3 clause’. Photo credit: Anti-Capitalist Resistance

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