On the 2007 elections in France - Interview with Alternative Libertaire

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In late May, we had the chance to interview Edith Soboul, of the federal secretariat of Altrernative Libertaire, our sister organisation in France. The interview dealt with the recent election of Sarkozy, the shift to the right in Europe and its impact on workers' and immigrants' rights, the tasks of the libertarians in France and AL proposals for the moment

1. What is the view you take from Sarkozy's victory?
There are two dimensions in Sarkosy’s victory: first, it is the victory of a man, which is always rather important in Presidential elections in France. And maybe even more in this case: Sarkosy’s personality and ambition, his relationship to power and his conception of the presidential charge met a progressive “show business” way of making politic in France. This leads to a dangerous personification or focus on personality in the political area.

But let’s not forget he’s not ruling things alone, and that his victory is the victory of an ultra-liberal, in socio-economical terms, and reactionary, in political terms, current in UMP, the main right-wing party, he belongs to. For the first time since May 1968, a right-wing candidate won by making a real right-wing campaign and not one to the “centre”. Sarkosy thinks he has an historical charge: break the workers social conquests made since 1945 and break the trade-unions. So, his political aim is like Margaret Thatcher’s one.

Sarkozy’s victory is then MEDEF’s victory -MEDEF is the main employers association, where there are lots of his friends, and the brother, of the new President. Measures he and his government will adopt are a declaration of war on the working classes. They are in continuation of the liberal and Police-State policies that were pursued for years, but we can already notice a marked acceleration since the elections.

He also has a great power on mass media, because he is a personal friend of all great press patrons. And he also threatens untamed journalists. Thereby, he’s very similar to Berlusconi

2. Some people have said that the left was the big loser with this election... do you think the results in the polls were reflecting some deeper problem in the left?
 PS (Parti socialiste) lost the presidential election for the 3rd successive time. And it signed for its death sentence because on social themes and main values, it took very similar positions than UMP’s. And part of the PS electorate did not succeed in distinguishing PS and Christian Democracy (Bayrou’s party). There was no opposition “project against project”, and Sarkozy and Bayrou could give to their programs a “break”, a “change” image.

During years, PS had a left speech, and acted most of the time as a right wing party when it ruled the government. Now, its speech is synchronized with its acts. The party’s right-wing is working hard to make the PS leave its socialist original matrix and base itself in the centre, as many so-called socialist parties in Europe. This renunciation leaves the left without basis for an institutional opposition to the right policies, and can splash all the left and extreme-left.

Antiliberal and radical currents, parties and sectors of the social movement, pretended to present a common candidate, on the basis of the local groups that were born during the “No” campaign concerning the European constitution. The process failed for several reasons, and it was anyway in our opinion a “False good idea” (see: http://www.alternativelibertaire.org/spip.php?article982). Parties like LCR (Revolutionary Communist League) are now calling for a coalition to build a “radical left party”. We of course don’t take part to this electoralist game and we lead a campaign based on the idea the resistance and the political and social change will come from the struggles. We claim the main responsibility of radical and extreme-left is now to stand up and build struggles for strike right, labour law… and against all the antisocial and reactionary measures that will be taken very soon by the government. They want to act quickly, because they know most of the left parties are in campaign for the legislatives and either them, either the big unions are prepared for, or whish, a frontal confrontation. And summer is the perfect period to adopt possibly unpopular measures. The fight should begin right now!

3. How do you think the victory of Sarkozy will affect the people and the working class in France?
 Workers, with or without documents, people living in working-class neighbourhoods will be the firsts and most hardly affected. The first symbolic act of the new government is the transfer of the labour question from Ministry of the Social affairs to the Ministry of Economy and Finance. The catch phrase "travailler plus pour gagner plus" (work more to earn more) announces a policy that will lead to low salaries and higher unemployment rate. A new and unique work contract will be created, to make lay off much easier. What the candidate Sarkozy called “la valeur travail”, the “labour value”, is a trap to make workers and unemployed people individually guilty for employment problems and to put pressure on them so that they accept any conditions of work and employment. Break of the labour rights and protection, flexibility, part-time work, low wages for the workers and less taxing for the bosses, are the basis of the program of the government, under the pretext of economic growth and financial health. This contributes moreover to discredit and finally destroy social all collective/mutualist values.

Social inequalities and precarity have been growing for years. Social rights, like social security, retirement rights, unemployment incomes, minimum social incomes… are going to be even more reduced. Part of the State and public responsibilities will be transferred to private sector. This process has already begun, and some reforms are already in progress.

Speaking of privatisation, this is a real challenge in this period that concerns all European countries: workers’ struggles obtained in France social welfare services on the idea that sectors like health, education, communications, energy… should be accessible to all and in the same conditions, and couldn’t be merchandized. The attacks on public sector, also linked to U.E policies, appeal a European opposition, even in countries where the existence of public sector is much weaker.

Access to France will be much more difficult for migrant workers, it will be impossible to get resident permits, except in sectors they are needed... to be exploited! For instance, the UCIJ mobilisation that prevented recently the government to associate the resident card to the work contract, which means that when you loose your job you lose your right to stay in France, is more than ever to be pursued. You can imagine the effects of such a blackmail on migrants first, but also on all the workers… xenophobia, which exists in France anyway, is manipulated in a demagogic way to divide workers and feed the “feeling of insecurity” that justify the worse Police-State policies. Moreover the “ethnicitisation” of social relationships is a way to evacuate the social question and class conflict.

To avoid massive opposition, repression on social movements and popular response will be harder. It’s already effective with articles of the laws against “terrorism” or against “delinquency” we due to our ex-Home Ministry, Nicolas Sarkozy. The repression is not only the fact of the police. There is also an encouragement to grassing and very perverse ways of survey and control people (using pupils in school to handle information on their family, for instance)…

To conclude, gifts to the Bosses, attacks on social and labour rights, repression on social movement, control on individual freedoms and the division of the workers will have an impact on all workers, on their working conditions and life conditions.

4. Do you think there's capacity and readiness to face Sarkozy's attacks on the people?
 It’s not so obvious. Sarkozy’s victory can leave organized proletariat in dismay, and there is a danger that many liberal attacks succeed in a very short time without a massive and organised popular response. Keep in mind that Sarkozy was elected with almost 54% of votes and with very little abstention. But this is only half the story. At the same time, Sarkozy is also the most hated president ever elected, so he remains a highly controversial and polarizing figure. The first evening he was elected, demonstrations and riots erupted in several great towns. Sarkozy had been police minister for 5 years and everybody expects hard measures. He is absolutely not seen as an easy-going idiot as Chirac was. But this is not enough to expect a successful popular response.

The riots in suburban towns in 2005 are still in our minds: in a context of great social tensions, the riots pointed clearly problems of unemployment, discriminations, urban segregation… but they were politically vain and didn’t lead to a mass mobilisation on these problems.

On another hand, we can notice that the electoral campaign didn’t totally erased strikes and demonstration, as it does usually. Airbus, aeronautic or aircraft industry, PSA (motor-car industry) and other factories were in strike, and there were mobilisation on housing questions for instance. And we can hope movement like the CPE one (against a special work contract for young people) are still in memories. One of the question is to know how the main Unions are going to deal with the government and the Bosses, if the strategy of “domestication” of Unions is going to work.

On ideological and social themes, like the scandalous, racist-nationalist Ministry of “immigration and national identity” for instance, mobilisation is growing but it’s only the fact of activists or intellectuals at the moment.

What can be of great interest is the reaction of students concerning the reform of University, with the law project on the “autonomy of Universities”: this means finally more selections and higher prices of inscription. It ought to be voted this summer, of course, like all the sensitive measures. This can lead to a student movement, and in this case, the connexion with workers struggles is an aim to pursue. In fact, three main projects of the government: university, reform of strike right and the unique work contract can make people mobilise in convergent struggles.

5. You have been talking about resisting and fighting back. What is AL proposal as a way forward in the struggle?
 In fact, we carry on our work, building a strategy of ideological and concrete counter-powers and convergence of struggles. Unionism for social transformation, solidarity with immigrants like the experience of RESF or UCIJ, struggles against the Police State like in the “Anti-grassing group” are still emergencies for us, as well as the convergence of struggles like the immigration and the unionist ones.

Nevertheless, we specially need to act on two levels:

- At a mass level, where we have to participate to the building of a social front with trade-unions and protest associations, and where we will join all workers wanting to fight;

- At a political level, where it is necessary to build an anti-capitalist and self-managed front with strong values, in order to resist the ultra-liberal ideological offensive, to promote class and emancipation struggles and radical transformation of society, and to balance PS influence over the people. Even without project, PS can be helped by the “antisarkozysm”.

This front has to be deep-rooted in workplaces, districts, schools… We have to call on the activists in social movements and trade-unions but also in radical left parties. And in this process, we have to be careful in regard to the autonomy of social movement from the parties.

We also need, as anarcho-communists, to promote our values and to dare to speak of utopia. Equality, solidarity, wealth repartition, self-management and organisation, anti-patriarchal struggle and so on must be part of political debates and practices we’re involved in. And linked to one another, in the perspective of the society project we promote.

We also need to be more creative on alternative media, resistance practices and places in neighbourhoods, in non-violent action and civil disobedience… Some questions like how to face the State are to be put again. All this isn’t new, but theses questions are reinforced by the radicalization of the situation we have to face. Unionism in services sectors and all the sectors of great exploitation of the workers, like the fast-food sector, industrial cleaning or call centres, for example, is also an emergency. For instance, AL comrades in the town of Rennes, among others, are building a movement in pizza’s takeway shops, while unionists of AL work on the involvement of cleaning sector workers in movements and unions.

6. What do you think will be the next couple of years ahead like for the revolutionary and the libertarian left?
 Probably something like the last couple of years. We should perhaps consult Italian FdCA members about their background with Berlusconi! More seriously, the social situation is going to get very rough and as we already said, the repression of protest movements will get a higher level. One very recent example: yesterday, a student that just faced the police during what we call “raffles” or massive arrests of immigrants in the streets was herself arrested and kept in the police station for “outrage, insult and rebellion”, while few days ago, in a plane, the police nearly killed a man that refused to be expulsed and arrested some of the passengers that reacted to this barbarian event. Unionists in struggles, like students, are also very concerned by this repression. To sum up, we’ll have to face social di-structuring, ideological offensive back by the mass media and authoritarian policies at the same time… Libertarian organisations would have a lot to gain from working together more often in the years that come.

7. Some final words ?
 There would be so many other things to talk about... The foreign policy we can expect for instance: the attitude toward United State, the reject of the Turkish arrival in European Union, the “Françafrique” continuity… But also the hypocrite position on environment, the position on moral order or religions… Let’s keep these subjects for another time.

We’re again in a period of elections, for the Assembly this time. The Right will probably be the winner and the government will be allowed to go as far as it can in the reforms. In this context, the challenge for us is to leave apart “purist” positions, to catch the opportunity to work with other radical left and social movement organisations at local and national levels without losing our political “compass”, our political basis and aims: anti-capitalism, emancipation struggles, self-management, direct democracy, social movement autonomy and libertarian society project could be our final words!

We’re also very conscious we need more than ever to share information, analysis and experiences with other anarcho-communist organisations in the world…

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