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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: Avec Valls 2, jusqu’où ira la régression sociale ?

by Benjamin König

How Far Will Social Regression Go Under the Valls 2 Government ?

Translated Sunday 12 October 2014, by Gene Zbikowski

Of course the Prime Minister obtained the confidence of the National Assembly, but a confidence for show, that was justified more by the fear of the right returning to power than by support for a program which, far from solving the political, social and economic crisis, worsens it. Poverty and unemployment are spreading, democracy is becoming weaker, and regression is becoming permanent. Just how far will the Valls 2 government go?

A hard-liner: “Someone who favors taking extreme measures, no matter what the consequences may be. “ Synonym: “Extremist.” No one knows whether “Hollandiste” or “Vallsist” will one day be added to the list of synonyms, but it must be noted that the French president and his prime minister are putting their hearts and souls into the job. In the final analysis, what does the posturing as captains in the storm, as imperturbable leaders in the face of the looming catastrophe, matter? They contributed to this fire, they reinforced the flames, and today they are supposed to be the firemen. Deaf to any other word than those spoken by the financial markets and their French twin, the MEDEF [1], they are dragging their country down the road to a generalized regression, whether it be in the domain of the economy, society, or democracy.

An economy of ineffectiveness

“This is a catastrophe scenario that nobody anticipated,” Michel Sapin, the Minister for the Budget, dared to declare when the definitive government accounts for 2014 were presented. And yet, for months many left-wing political parties, the trade unions, associations, and citizens have kept warning the government that its policy was leading to a dead end. Pressured by finance, the French economy has broken down and is deteriorating at a dizzying speed. Zero growth over the first six months of the year, and a timid 0.4% growth rate for 2014 (instead of the 1% forecast by the amending budget voted in July). 2015 does not augur better, with a forecast of 1% growth that is also very likely to be revised downward. As for the deficit, which is growing deeper each day due to insufficient government income and to the austerity policy that is putting a strain on government demand, it has reached 4.4% of gross domestic product. Without tax reform, which has been put off indefinitely, the percentage of payers of income tax has fallen from 53% to 48.5% – the lowest level since the early 1980s – the sign of generalized impoverishment. Whereas everything indicates that these economic choices lead to a dead end, it is out of the question for the government, which is under close surveillance by the markets and the European leaders, to deviate from them. “The 2 billion euros in savings which will not be realized because of the weakness of inflation will be compensated for, we are maintaining the planned amount,” Michel Sapin insisted. Hence another 2 billion euros in savings, which should primarily hit the provision of health care. But since Manuel Valls repeats at every possible opportunity that “we are not practicing austerity” …

Pauperization of the people

The social repercussion of the cut in government expenditures and the love-song sung by the government and the MEDEF have reached alarming proportions. The 50 billion euros of the “responsibility” pact are putting a strain on any possibility of relaunching the economy and are weighing down on wages, investment and consumption. Behind these words, it is poverty, visible and oppressive, which is spreading. The INSEE [2] speaks of “an intensification of poverty” and the latest study published by the Secours populaire [3] makes you shiver: 66% of the French have a close relative living in poverty and 86% fear that their children will fall into poverty. François Hollande can rest assured that the “toothless ones” [4] are not about to disappear: 32% of the French say that they have already given up on buying dentures or have delayed it for several months. Betrayal comes on top of this anti-social policy: the government will not boost small retirement pensions (less than 1200 euros a month) in October, although Marisol Touraine, the Minister for Health, made that commitment to the French Parliament when retirement pensions were reformed in 2013. The fundamental problem, obviously, remains employment. Private-sector employment, with the destruction of French industry and the cost of capital, which French companies are dragging like a ball-and-chain, and also public-sector employment, with the outright cutting of jobs in the civil service and the lowering of the allocation to local government which are putting a strain on employment and investment at the local government level. How can one be astonished when we are witnessing a massive transfer of public monies (households, local governments) in order blindly to shower money on companies, including companies that axe jobs and pay generous dividends?

According to a Secours populaire poll, 66% of the French have a close relative living in poverty and 86% fear that their children will fall into poverty.

The oligarchic links entertained by the government with the big bosses can explain the stubbornness in conducting a policy that goes against the interests of the country, but it is also necessary to look for an explanation for the allegiance to a policy demanded by Brussels. “Faster and harder,” the Hollande-Valls duet keeps repeating. But whither? A new series of anti-social measures are waiting in the file cabinets. The “smoothing of the social cost thresholds” [5] – code language for reducing worker representation – , the programmed end of the 35-hour work week, the generalization of working on Sunday: as many ideological measures whose beneficial impact on employment has never been demonstrated – quite the contrary. And the MEDEF’s proposals indicate what the program for the months and years to come will be, if the French do not get mobilized.

Democracy brought to heel.

The fall in popular support for the executive duo is dizzying, especially among left-wingers who voted for them on the basis of a program that has been continually disavowed. Thus, six months after his nomination Manuel Valls has joined François Hollande in the limbo of popularity, with only 22% approving of him and 15% approving of the French president. Just 48% of people who lean to the Socialist Party back him, which represents a 21% fall in just one month. Worse than disavowal, this is mistrust. The stupefied French see a junior minister “forget” to pay his income tax, and, dead to all sense of shame, blaming this on an “administrative phobia” while keeping his job as a deputy in the National Assembly. The spectacle of the tragicomedy caused by the publication of Valérie Trierweiler’s book is the finishing touch to this pathetic tableau. A disgust that pushes some of our fellow citizens into the arms of abstention from voting or the National Front? The government has only one card left to play, division, war among the poor, in which the unemployed and immigrants are thrown to the mercy of the working poor. And the question of the democratic legitimacy of this government is posed with greater acuity – this government which only retains the legality granted by the monarchic institutions of the Fifth Republic. Thus an advisor to the French president, quoted by Le Monde daily newspaper, confesses that he “prays ever evening to thank de Gaulle and Michel Debré (the fathers of the Fifth Republic – editor’s note).” Popular aspirations have been flouted. Parliament is scorned and treated authoritarianly, the governing duo governs alone, isolated and out of touch. More than a vote of confidence in the form of blackmail on the dissolving of Parliament, it is indeed the examination of the 2015 government and social security budgets, planned for October, that should seal the loss of democratic legitimacy of the government, to the point that a minister does not hesitate to declare that “Manuel Valls is going to pass the budget with paragraph 49-3 (without a vote in Parliament – editor’s note), that’s clear.” Should this misprision of democracy occur, it would leave deep scars and would mark a little more deeply the urgency of a democratic re-founding of France. Today an abyss separates the urgency of a project of popular policy and the ruins of the left, or rather of the left’s political representation. And the Fête de l’Humanité served precisely to further this great work and to establish the bases for pursuing this immense task.

[1the main association of French bosses – translator’s note

[2the French statistical bureau – translator’s note

[3a non-profit association to fight poverty and marginalization, set up in 1945 and officially declared a “Great National Cause” – translator’s note

[4the expression used by François Hollande to refer to poor people, according to the book published by his ex-girlfriend, Valérie Trierweiler – translator’s note

[5Hiring more workers at a company leads to crossing certain thresholds and increases a boss’s costs in terms of social contributions. There are three particularly important thresholds: 10, 20, and 50 employees – translator’s note

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