The second round of the French parliamentary elections on Sunday saw record levels of abstentions, with voters in many cases presented with little alternative. The composition of the National Assembly is therefore more disconnected than ever from the political reality of the country. The task now is to organise the fightback against the new government.
57.4% of the electorate did not go to the polls yesterday in the second round of parliamentary elections (compared to 51.3% in the first round). This is not surprising, as in many constituencies voters only had a choice between “tweedledee or tweedledum”, under various labels: La République en Marche (LREM), Les Républicains (LR), or even the Socialist Party (PS).
The composition of the new National Assembly is more disconnected than ever from the political reality of the country. After winning only 8.6 million votes in the first round of the presidential election, Macron will be able to rely on an absolute majority of 350 MPs from LREM/Modem. Meanwhile, Mélenchon, who won 7 million votes in the presidential elections, will only have 27 MPs in the National Assembly between the France Insoumise (FI) and French Communist Party (PCF). (Possibly 28 if, with any luck, Manuel Valls is finally beaten).
It is true that FI and the PCF would have had more members if they had been united in the first round. Nonetheless, there is still an enormous disproportion between the number of votes won by Macron and Mélenchon on April 23rd and the number of corresponding MPs. This also applies to the FN: 7.6 million votes on 23 April and 8 MPs in parliament. Conversely, the PS is over-represented in relation to the FI-PCF and the FN: 2.3 million votes for Hamon in the presidential election and 44 PS MPs in parliament. Thus, the National Assembly in no way reflects the real vote in the presidential election, which already gave a distorted picture of the real trends of opinion in the country (the FN, for example, hid its true programme). So-called “national representation” has never rung so untrue in the history of the Fifth Republic.
With 57.4% abstention levels, the vote was in effect a boycott of the election. Mélenchon is talking of a “civic general strike” and says that abstention has an “offensive political significance”. That is correct, to some extent. Mélenchon adds: “I see in this abstention an energy which is there, if we know how to call it out to fight. (…) This force can be deployed and move from abstention to an offensive. That is what we call it.” That is what is at stake in the period ahead. And the fight against the policy of the Macron government must be organised immediately. In fact, it has already begun through the mobilisations of the “Social Front”, which includes a growing number of trade union bodies.
The draconian nature of the new “labour law” is an indication of what the French ruling class is demanding: an acceleration of counter-reform policies carried out by previous governments. This corresponds to the objective needs of big business. Emmanuel Macron is their attorney; his mission is to brutally attack all the social conquests won by the workers’ movement in the decades following the Second World War. But the bourgeoisie has a problem: the implementation of such a policy is impossible without causing, sooner or later, huge social mobilisations.
Great struggles are being prepared. However, the labour movement must draw lessons from the mobilisations of recent years. Faced with the determination of the bosses and their government, the strategy of trade union “days of action” will not suffice. Only the development of a solid continuous strike wave could push back Macron. A growing number of trade union activists understand this and are pushing in this direction, as we saw at the last congress of the CGT. But the trade union leadership does not reflect the radicalism that is expressed at the grassroots level. They are under pressure from the bourgeoisie and hope that “negotiations” with the government will help to limit the social polarisation. This is completely illusory and counterproductive: weakness invites aggression.
The emergence of the “Social Front” is itself a consequence of this gap between the rank and file and the leadership of the trade union movement. The “Social Front” seeks to give expression to the combativity of the rank and file. It is hard to say whether it will continue to grow, but it is clear that it is leading the way. It can play an important role in the development of a more radical strategy of struggle – that is, in accordance with what is necessary.
Now is not the time to wait and enter into pseudo-negotiations with a government that is preparing a series of major attacks against our living and working conditions. The time has come for discussion and for the organisation of a counter-offensive of the workers’ movement and the youth. On the trade union front, this raises the question of building for a rolling strike involving as many sectors as possible. On the political front, this implies the adoption of a programme that breaks with capitalism in crisis, a system that is capable of offering nothing but permanent cuts and attacks for the vast majority.