Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Sarkozy Shows His Hand

In the last week of the French presidential election campaign---voters decide between the two top candidates on May 6---right-wing standard bearer Nicolas Sarkozy has served notice that if he is victorious he will be a divider, not a unifier, of the people of France.

Many observers anticipated that Sarkozy would try to soften his image so as to appeal to the supporters of centrist Francois Bayrou who won 18 per cent of the vote in the first round on April 22. While he has made a few feints in that direction, Sarko’s main thrust has been an all-out assault against the left.

It is rare that events that are long in the past become fodder for an election campaign. That is why many seasoned politics watchers were astonished the other day when Sarkozy delivered a lengthy condemnation of the May 1968 French general strike that came close to toppling the regime of President Charles de Gaulle. In May 1968, eleven million workers and students filled the streets of France demanding a new social and political order for the country.

Even though the old order survived, workers achieved substantial gains in the form of a higher minimum wage, shorter working hours, earlier retirement and improved rights for unions to organize. While the right-wing won the national elections that followed, the next year de Gaulle proposed a constitutional change to be ratified in a nation-wide referendum. Well aware that if the president lost he would resign, voters voted No and de Gaulle left office.

Sarkozy’s purpose in raising the issue of the events of 1968 was to tar today’s Socialists with the brush of being agents of chaos and unrest. Just as those who went into the streets four decades ago had no morality and no values the same is true of today’s left Sarko has insisted. His message---the Socialists and the unions are on the side of the trouble makers in France.

Throughout the campaign, Sarko’s strategic objective has been to portray himself as the man of order and security. For years as Minister of the Interior, Sarkozy has been honing the anxieties of the population about unrest in the country’s great suburbs, the centres of large populations of immigrant origin. To a considerable extent, Sarko has been the political beneficiary of the decades of anti-immigrant propaganda carried out by the far-right Front National led by Jean-Marie Le Pen.

In a certain sense it is appropriate that Sarkozy has set his sights on the legacy of May ’68. All campaigns for political office seek to move the front-line in the struggles between the social classes in one direction or the other. Sarkozy wants to move the front-line sharply in favour of capital and against labour.

All of his fear mongering has as its ultimate goal a transformation of France to roll back social programs, hold down salaries and wages, increase hours of work---in short to break the power of working class resistance to a neo-liberal agenda.

If Sarkozy does win next Sunday, that does not mean that French wage and salary earners will lie down and play dead. The struggle will be resumed in acute encounters in the National Assembly, at other levels of government and in the streets. French working people will not easily give up the gains they have won over the decades.

1 comment:

janfromthebruce said...

The fear factor, what is it about the right, along with those who are the great pretenders, always pull the 'fear' factor in the last week of a campaign.
Personally, I like hope.