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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: Pierre Laurent : « Il est urgent d’ouvrir une autre voie à gauche »

by Sébastien Crépel, Julia Hamlaoui, Pierre Laurent

Pierre Laurent: "We urgently need to open a new leftwing path"

Interview with Communist leader Pierre Laurent

Translated Sunday 10 February 2013, by Richard Pond and reviewed by Derek Hanson

"The first task of Communists and of the Left Front has to be the remobilisation of all the forces that wanted change last spring," Pierre Laurent, Communist Party national secretary (up for re-election), told Humanité. He indicated that "the [party] congress will make an appeal" along these lines.

Have the last few weeks devoted to the preparation of the 36th Congress of the Communist Party reinforced your ambition to make this a historic congress?

Pierre Laurent. All the conditions have come together for this Congress to mark the acceleration of the renewal and transformation of the Communist Party. Our strategy of regroupment has created a strong dynamism for the Party itself. The major influx of new members is reflected in their very active participation in the preparation for our Congress and their very significant entry into the various bodies of the Party. Party unity is very strong now. After our common basis for discussion was adopted by a vote of around 75% in December, debates at conferences in the localities and in the départements in January have further strengthened this support. So the Party can enter an ambitious phase of refoundation and of renewal of the Communist project, what I call a "new-generation Communism". I intend to become involved personally, encouraging party members’ work with whole sectors of society that are interested in relaunching a project of social transformation for the 21st century.

Since the 34th and 35th Congresses, as the wide-ranging nature of the crisis has been confirmed, the conditions for defeating the whole of the right have been met - but without real change. In this context, what can the role of a Communist Party be if it’s not participating in government?

P.L. Our work has been decisive in anchoring a strong desire for change at the heart of the popular majority that allowed François Hollande’s election victory. With the government’s ratification of the European Fiscal Stability Treaty, France’s National Competitiveness Pact, and now support for an agreement on increased "flexibility", signed under pressure from [the employers’ association] Medef, the government has turned its back [on that desire for change]. It’s a direction that we’re challenging because it won’t allow us to get out of the crisis.

In these conditions, I think that in 2013 the first task of the Party and of the Left Front has to be the remobilisation of all the forces that wanted change last spring and which can take action again today to insist that the government put that change into effect. This is what our Congress will call for.

Doesn’t challenging the current direction risk opening a split which the right could benefit from?

P.L. That’s the current stance of the government, and if it remains in place, it will feed disillusionment, resignation and a sense of powerlessness, which will open the way for the right and the far-right. Since their defeat, the right and Medef have been trying to nail down to the ground any measure that would break with austerity and competitiveness. It would be suicidal to lock the forces of the left into this alternative: either they align unflinchingly with the current choices of the government, or those who challenge this direction get thrown into the rightwing camp. We urgently need to open up another path, leading to other, leftwing solutions. It is the mission of the Left Front to lead this struggle.

On several occasions you’ve called on citizens to mobilise. But struggles on the social battlefield remain sporadic...

P.L. We mustn’t ignore the early signs of remobilisation. Workers, who voted in their immense majority for change, wanted to check which direction the government was taking. Having not been heard, many of them are once more finding the path to action. The convergent mobilisations of sacked workers, of civil servants, of the world of education, coming together with mobilisations for resident foreigners’ right to vote in France, shows that popular pressure for change is again manifesting itself. We want to encourage this movement, opening up opportunities for it. We’re going to bring our bill prohibiting profit-driven redundancies back to the National Assembly. We’re going to lead the fight to change the supposed "secure employment" bill - because there’s no question of us adopting it. The Left Front’s campaign for an alternative to austerity is timely and has two goals: to make proposals and to bring people together. Our objective isn’t to be content simply with the rejection of the government’s direction, we want to be on the offensive to make the need for change uncontestable.

Redundancies have been announced at Goodyear, and the government is calling, once again, for negotiations. Is this, in your view, a legitimate and effective way forward?

P.L. The government can’t forever keep calling for dialogue between social partners when, on the employers’ side, they never stop repeating that there is nothing to negotiate. Very concrete measures can be decided on immediately: ban profit-driven lay-offs; give the works council the power to trigger a moratorium on plans for mass redundancies, with a legal obligation to examine alternative proposals put forward by employees and unions; allow the takeover of abandoned industrial sites, as promised; introduce new public controls over industrial policy. People power emanating from the workplace needs to be involved in national industrial decisions. Otherwise France will remain the plaything of international financial strategies.

Could these solutions be useful to workers right away?

P.L. Yes, since they would give them new weapons at a time when they’re in a position of weakness and when the agreement dictated by Medef proposes to disarm them a bit more still. This agreement legalises the competitiveness and employment accords that Sarkozy came up with. It is nothing but an act of blackmail aimed at seeing pay and working conditions fall and at enabling mass redundancies to be carried out. By contrast, with the measures that we are proposing, a strong signal would immediately be sent in the direction of the workers, who, on these issues, are defending not only their jobs but the national interest. This is the responsibility of the left, and it’s urgent.

Even before voting through such laws, has the government got the means at its disposal to stop these plans?

P.L. After the announcement of 7,500 job losses at Renault, when Arnaud Montebourg considered that "the red line hasn’t been crossed", the government itself decided to weaken the position of the workers. We’ve had enough of hearing the same old never-ending tune of just giving up. If it mobilised the energy of the nation, the government would have the country behind it. And if it mobilised France, it would find allies among numerous European social and political forces. The balance of forces is not inevitably in favour of the shareholders, the markets, the big corporations.

At Peugeot or at Renault, jobs are said to be threatened by the fact that a sector of the automobile industry is in difficulty in the French market and in the European market. Is this an acceptable discourse?

P.L. But who is responsible for the industrial strategies put in place up to now? Let’s open these groups’ accounts. They turned over considerable dividends to their shareholders for some years. Let’s open the debate about our national industrial strategy. The workers and unions are, like us, ready to put proposals on the table so that we can envision a future different from putting manufacturers into competition with each other at European level. We must enter a new era of job security so that workers no longer systematically experience unemployment but rather training, together with an income permitting them to live. Getting people to replace their old cars with new eco-friendly ones also presupposes that people have sufficient purchasing power. Yet, for the moment, none of these plans are in place.

Two documents have been shown to Left Front activists, one on strategy, the other on organisation. Are these questions on the agenda of the Communist Party’s Congress?

P.L. Obviously, the new momentum that we want to give the Left Front has been part of our discussions. The national coordinating body (which brings the parties of the Left Front together) has endorsed these documents, which had been under discussion since September, at the same time as it decided to enter into a campaign for the alternative to austerity that we have proposed. It’s good news that’s bringing us into a new more active phase. These documents provide a convergent analysis of government policy. The debate has focused, and continues to focus, more on the conclusions to be drawn from this situation. The important thing, in my eyes, is that these documents reaffirm our ambition to bring together a majority that puts alternative solutions forward. This is where our compass has been pointing - for us Communists - since the start. Those who hope to ring us into the fold of austerity politics are mistaken. Those who think they can lead us into a politics of dividing the left are wrong, too. At our Congress, we’re going to define how we intend to make our mark concretely in this new phase. The Congress’s decisions will be binding and will fix our roadmap.

The Party Congress will also give the opportunity to address the coming electoral cycle. Jean-Luc Mélenchon has declared himself a candidate for the European elections of 2014. Could these elections be the opportunity not only to demand a different direction for Europe but also a change in political direction in France?

P.L. One word before I reply regarding the 2014 elections. Nothing would be more dangerous than to skip over 2013. Millions of citizens who voted for the Left Front and millions of others who voted for François Hollande are currently wondering how to act so that they don’t lose the opportunity for change. It’s now that we need to give them an answer. If we succeed this year in giving hope and energy back to the forces that don’t want to give up, we’ll be able to address the electoral timetable in a very different climate. As far as the European elections of May 2014 are concerned, they’ll be a very important moment, in effect, because Europe’s dominant orientation towards austerity is at the heart of the crisis in France and across the Eurozone. These elections should allow the forces of the left that have an alternative to austerity in Europe to come together and to send a strong message aiming at a renegotiation of the treaties and a refounding of the Union. We’re going to be fully committed to this.

In French local elections, the right hopes to take a share of protest votes against the left. Between the need for alternatives to austerity politics and unity against the right, what will you choose?

P.L. There is nothing to choose. The path that we need to find is that which will combine unity against the right and building local majorities for the left supportive of our fight against austerity. These first elections will define the shape of the coming period in politics. They often record the highest levels of turnout following Presidential elections. For the right and far-right, these are the next key dates in their fight against change. I reject the idea that one of these election dates, European or local, will be more important than the other. The time will come to establish the party lists and alliances. We are not closing any doors. No one on the left will succeed in uniting us by asking everyone else to lign up behind their positions alone. Today, what is urgent is to initiate a public debate on what local projects should consist of, a debate around ideas and the values of our fight for the development of public services, democracy in the regions, solidarity. We are going to engage confidently in this battle because if ideas of change can win a majority of the country, this is even truer at local level. We can anchor the centre of gravity of municipal projects firmly on the left. The strong presence of Communist and Left Front elected representatives at local level is a precious asset and an advantage when conducting this battle.

Sébastien Crépel and Julia Hamlaoui interviewed Pierre Laurent

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