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FRENCH President Emmanuel Macron’s decision to order a six-month suspension of fuel tax rises that have aroused massive “gilets jaunes” (yellow vest) street protests doesn’t mean he has seen reason.
He will mobilise all state resources to have his way by next May, hoping to deflect and disorganise the forces ranged against his neoliberal government.
Macron poses as an altogether different political phenomenon from his predecessors, a moderniser who transcends special interests and old-fashioned political parties — a virtual reincarnation of the smiling, glib populist Tony Blair who once seemed likely to rule for as long as he wanted.
Blair made a virtue of being supported by the Labour Party but without an attachment to the party’s principles or history.
Margaret Thatcher detailed her political legacy as consisting of Blair and New Labour, which owed at least as much to the Tories’ “choice” agenda as to Labour’s traditional defence of gender, race and disability rights.
Political convergence experienced by New Labour with the Tories had its reflection in France, with Macron, emerging from obscurity as a minister in Socialist Party president Francois Hollande’s disintegrating government, appealing as a political novelty to SP members, the main conservative opposition and a neoliberal bloc emerging from other parties, the corporate sector and various personalities.
Sweeping all before him in his La Republique en Marche (Republic on the March), Macron’s honeymoon with the public has not even lasted as long as Blair’s did before he buried it under countless Iraqi civilian corpses.
Macron has, like his forerunner, shown his contempt for the trade union movement.
While Blair boasted of his government retaining the most repressive curbs on trade unionism in western Europe, Macron set about slashing employment rights, reducing trade union influence and imposing marketisation, competition and compulsory tendering on the publicly owned SNCF railways.
Blair’s justification was that, while “firm” treatment of Britain’s unions would bring Tory and Liberal votes to Labour, there would be nowhere else for trade unionists and Labour Party socialists to go.
That logic fell flat on its face when Blair and his followers lost the Labour Party five million votes, along with the Westminster and Holyrood parliaments and even Labour’s overall majority in Cardiff Bay.
More galling for New Labourites was the loss of Labour’s leadership for the first time in decades to a socialist.
Whereas it is unlikely that La Republique en Marche, the outfit confected in Macron’s image, would actually elect a socialist, left-wing forces still exist in the PS, the Communist Party (PCF) and la France Insoumise (France Unbowed), led by Jean-Luc Melenchon, plus other smaller formations.
Macron felt confident enough to denounce as “thugs” the drivers who fought back against police brutality, especially since fascist leader Marine Le Pen threw her movement’s weight behind the gilets jaunes.
It suited the agendas of both Macron’s neoliberal elite and Le Pen’s forces of Islamophobia and scapegoating to assign the protesters to the fascist menace, but gilets jaunes activists interviewed for the media rejected Le Pen’s embrace.
All the left-wing parties backed the protests, as did the CGT militant trade union.
New PCF leader Fabien Roussel urged the gilets jaunes to form a “united front” with the unions, recalling the events of 50 years ago when 10 million French workers went on strike, leading to a 35 per cent rise in the minimum wage.
If the victims of neoliberalism unite in opposition to Macron and the elite, French workers need not restrict their goals to simply reducing unaffordable fuel prices.
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