80,000 demonstrators in the streets of Paris: Say no to austerity, but with what perspectives?

October 10, 2012

Thursday, October 4, 2012
By Jean Patrick Clech, from Paris

Several tens of thousands of people, 80,000, according to the Front de Gauche (Front of the Left), went out to the streets on Sunday, September 30. Such a demonstration, scarcely four months after the defeat of Nicolas Sarkozy and the arrival in office of a government of the PS [Socialist Party] and environmentalists, had a big impact. It is the first time that a government “of the left†is experiencing such a demonstration, a few months after having assumed its duties, a demonstration that has a much larger scope, now that the plans are continuing, on the eve of the official announcement of the steel multinational, ArcelorMittal, about the permanent closing of the blast furnaces of Florange.

On Sunday, hundreds of union groups, political groups and associations, that came from throughout France, demonstrated for several hours through the streets of the capital. This is what gave the march a really militant aspect. In the different contingents, one could hear a real expression of the social dissatisfaction that is growing in the enterprises and in the workplaces, especially in the interior, and that goes far beyond the matter of the Treaty on Stability, Coordination, and Governance (TSCG), that subordinates the French budget to the requirements of the European Union. It remains to be seen if this disillusionment and this discontent will be able to crystallize into a coordinated movement against the social plans and austerity.

The Front de Gauche

The problem is the question of the perspectives. Pierre Laurent, from the Communist Party (PCF), has emphasized that the demonstration was “a gust of oxygen … full of perspectives.†The aim of the leadership of the Front de Gauche was to exert pressure on the left of the SP and Europe Écologie, the Greens, but not to fight consistently against austerity on a European level, like that of the TSCG. As Le Monde stresses in its October 2 editorial, “European budget treaty, too late to say no.†As the editorial writer emphasizes, “the demonstration of the Front de Gauche and Jean-Luc Mélenchon happened when the die was already cast.†Mélenchon is perfectly aware of this, which does not prevent him from continuing to demand a referendum, even when what happened with the 2005 referendum on the European Constitutional Treaty (ECT) is known: the “no†vote easily got the majority. However, a second version of the ECT was adopted.

So this demonstration is partly in order to see the internal calculations of the main force that called it, in this case, the Front de Gauche, between Jean-Luc Mélenchon, on one hand, and the PCF leadership, on the other. It is owing to the fact that Mélenchon wanted to make a big push for this resumption of activities (after the European summer vacations), by killing two birds with one stone: practicing politics to reissue, on a reduced scale and in a much shorter space of time, the dynamics of 2005, diverting attention from the problem of the layoffs “very close to us,†thanks to the question of the TSCG. It is also necessary to emphasize what the leftist press reflects, beginning with Monday’s L’Humanité, that avoided saying that what predominated in the march was the repudiation of austerity, and, in place of that, the paper highlighted the most chauvinist and nationalist slogans that could be heard in the contingents.

The workers’ anger

But, above all, the demonstrators were there to shout their disillusionment and their being fed up with austerity, in harmony with what could be heard even more forcefully in the streets of Portugal or in the Spanish state this weekend. It is this latent dissatisfaction that explains the catastrophic poll numbers that the government has. Now the question is structuring the perspectives. The Front de Gauche, that won the political battle this Sunday, proposes “decentralized actions†throughout France on October 6 and 7, and then a rally on October 8. They are not saying anything about October 9, the European Confederation of Unions’ day of action and strike, as reported by the CGT, which many militant groups will appropriate, over and above the superficial slogans about “the struggle against de-industrialization,†in order to make the workers’ anger heard.

Since September 30, we have lacked a perspective of struggle closely linked to the factories, that are now under fire from the social plans; they are fighting, but are hardly coordinating with each other. Rather than subordination to Mélenchon, the far left, beginning with the NPA, would have to be the driving force of a broad appeal to coordinate the enterprises in struggle and, on this basis, organize a big national movement against layoffs and unemployment. This is the only perspective so that the energy and mobilization of the union groups and militants, that are intervening in the workplaces and that want to make this fall a hot autumn, corresponding to the attacks that have been announced, will not lead to a dead end. This is essential, because if discouragement and the absence of perspectives prevail, behind is the National Front (of the extreme right), hidden and waiting.

October 3, 2012