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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: Sept syndicalistes commentent le résultat

by Yves Housson and Jacqueline Sellem

Seven Trade Unionists Comment on French Election Results.

Translated Wednesday 2 May 2007, by Victoria Santiago

During the campaign seven trade unionists together with Marie-George Buffet participated in a round table discussion organized by L’Humanité.

The day after the elections the seven made the following comments:

Roselyne Thefault,
CGT* union leader at Aubade.

“An essential point is that voter turnout was huge. It‘s clear that people feel a need to express themselves. But the big question is "which way will the wind blow?".
At Aubade most of my co-workers who lost their jobs voted for the left. Even if they have some misgivings concerning Ségolène Royal, they don’t trust Sarkozy. Some of those who attended her meeting at Chatellerault voted for Marie-George Buffet. Others voted for Besancenot.
In 2002 Le Pen received a high percentage of the votes in my village. This time it was even higher. Is this phenomenon specific to our region because of the Aubade and Domoform shut downs? I don’t know but during the vote count I was very frightened.
Our job now is to stop Sarkozy. He’s already broken a lot of promises, I hope that people will mobilize, it’s important for French workers and for the whole country. The left must stand together. In the next fifteen days Ségolène Royal needs to draw up an ambitious leftist program, show that she wants to cooperate with all progressive forces. The divisions among leftwing forces, and low leftist scores in the election, especially in view of such a huge voter turnout, are disappointing.”

Alain Cammas,
ex-employee at Polimeri‘s, deputy mayor (French C.P.) of Vizille.

“Fearful of a 2002 repeat, the least militant of the workers laid off by Polimeri voted “useful” (for Ségolène Royal ). Some of the younger employees, very receptive to Besencenot’s message, voted for him. The result is like the campaign: bizarre, composed of a huge voter turnout and a massive feeling of dissatisfaction. Marie-George Buffet’s program, which contained innovating proposals, was steam rolled by the two party system.
In Vizille, fewer workers voted for the National Front (than in 2002). However, those who voted Royal did so without illusions. The Socialist Party’s position concerning the E.U. constitution and their lukewarm solidarity with the struggle at Polimeri’s have made things clear. The working population will vote against Sarkozy during the second round. In order to counterbalance these election results, we must reactivate the now fizzled political dynamism that surged after the referendum victory. Otherwise we’re in for hard times. And it’s necessary to pressure our allies, (it’s unthinkable to not work with the Socialist Party). The legislative elections should help us to once again nominate progressive, anti conservative candidates and to unite in order to overcome the divisions inherent in the dealings between political parties. Local militancy is the best way to resist. “

Patrick Candela,
ex-CGT union leader at Nestle Saint-Menet.

“The April 21 syndrome (On April 21 JM Le Pen received enough votes to qualify him to run in the second round of elections against Jacques Chirac ), was a determining factor in this election. I believe French society has shifted to the right. In my voting district Sarkozy managed to triple Chirac’s score to the detriment of Le Pen. Leftwing divisions have resulted in fewer votes for progressive forces. Even if there’s a strong voter reaction to beat Sarkosy, the weaker position of the left is very troublesome. The UMP candidate (Sarkozy) supports a real political program. Ségolène Royal’s program is aimed at accommodating, adapting, softening the blows of capitalism. The “useful” vote enabled Royal to qualify for the second round but it is not enough to win. And the Socialist Party will be tempted to look to the center right (via Bayrou) for support which means hard times for French workers. The three parties that fervently supported the European Constitution, the UMP, the UDF (Bayrou‘s center right party) and the Socialist Party, have received 75% of the vote. This is a major contradiction. Around me, I don’t see militants giving up. We communists have known darker periods. Employers will be exerting even stronger pressure on employees, like those at Nestlé and Nescao. We must resist. “

Marie-Hélène Bourlard,
CGT union rep at ECCE, a textile company in the north of France.

“The shop employees were very disappointed with Marie-George Buffet’s score. Some voted “useful”, but since they risk being made redundant, most of my co-workers voted for Marie-George Buffet, the only candidate who defended jobs. In the villages around the factory, where there is usually a Socialist majority, Sarkozy received the most votes. Ségolène’s message was unclear: “yes, maybe”, “not now”, “we can’t do that”. And then Rocard (a VIP member of the Socialist Party) called to vote Bayrou... All too much. For the second round I’ll vote neither for Ségolène nor for Sarkozy. I’ll vote blank. The socialists have disappointed me once too often. Sarkozy, Ségolène are distanced from people like us, out of touch with the problems we face. Only militant activism can change things.”

Xavier Petrachi,
CGT union rep at Airbus France.

“We were glad that Ségolène Royal made it. But, even if Besencenot obtained a better score (than in 2002), the lower scores of Marie- George Buffet and other leftist candidates is a bad omen for worker’s struggles. This election demonstrates that French society has shifted to the right. Ségolène Royal assured us that she was against both Plan Power 8 and the sell out of Meault and Saint Nazaire, but her promise could become wishful thinking unless the workers continue to exert pressure.
Personally, right up to the last minute, I hesitated between a vote of reason, to avoid a 2002 repeat, and a vote from the heart. I voted from my heart to keep employee’s struggles in the foreground of French politics. Another reason I was hesitant was that after the referendum there was a surge of hope which we were unable to sustain. The CPE struggle** demonstrated that people will mobilize, but they refuse to join political parties. I know some young people who voted Bayrou, in search of a certain form of freedom of expression, of speech. The same goes for Besencenot, a person the new generation can relate to, because he’s not attached to political manoeuvres and intrigue. The Unified Leftwing Rally broke with an archaic political party system. Now, if Ségolène Royal wants to win leftwing votes, she’ll have to state her proposals concerning French workers, clearly. The Sarkozy-scare will not be enough. The candidate seen to present the most dynamic and coherent program will win.”

Charles Rey,
Officer in the non-profit organization created by ex-employees of Thomé-Génot.

“What bothers me is the importance of the “useful” vote. It’s an awkward situation for leftist parties like the LCR and the Communist Party who put up such a hard fight. Locally, in Nouzonville, Besencenot (9%) and Buffet (4%) did better than nationally. But, taking into account how much they supported our struggle, it’s a disappointing score. To avoid a 2002 repeat, people think twice...... In the plant people said they would vote either CP or LCR because these parties supported our struggle. This explains their relatively higher scores. Here, the left obtained 43% of the vote and Le Pen obtained 17% instead of the 23% he obtained in 2002. I know people who voted for him, leftwing workers who say they are “fed up with left, right, same difference”. It’ a vote to penalize rather that a vote of adherence to the ideas of Le Pen. Sarkozy only obtained 19% here. People have not forgotten that he sent troopers in opposition to our sit-in.
Nationally, I focus on the 70% who are dissatisfied with Sarkozy rather than the 30% who voted for him.
For the second round, Marie-George Buffet has said that instead of looking towards Bayrou, it might we wiser to pay attention to the desperation of the jobless, to anchor the election within leftwing forces.
I hope the debate will develop in this direction.
Above all, the left of the left must regroup to make sure that Royal focuses her attention on plant shut downs, unemployment and homelessness.”

Thierry Le Paon,
CGT trade unionist, ex-union rep at Moulinex.

“One positive point is the huge voter turnout. Disgust with politics could have kept people away. In spite of the lack of political clarity surrounding the elections, people voted en masse.
Another positive point is the decline of Le Pen‘s National Front as an organized force. This time, the 2002 Le Pen desperation vote searched elsewhere for solutions. Bayrou’s “neither right nor left” vote also expressed this tendency.
The questions: “what future for our society?” (choix de société) and “how to end the crises raging within the French working class” remain on the table. Some people voted “useful” but others want something other than Sarkozy and Royal. Historically, there was illusion then disillusion vis à vis socialist governments. Then the same happened with the hardcore right. Now people are wondering if there isn’t a middle ground solution. The working class vote gives food for thought. There’s a lot of desperation out there, a desire for change which doesn’t necessarily lead to deep thinking and reflection. We’re in a mood to reject rather than to build. The working class is open to right wing, including extreme right wing, ideas.
I am very critical of the manner in which the whole of the French left behaved in this election. The left wing parties are so worried about their own individual survival, that they almost forget the most essential issue: what must we do so that tomorrow workers, retirees, youth have a better life? The left, including the Socialist Party, can no longer dodge the issues ignored after the 2002 elections and the 2005 referendum: what to do to improve the social conditions, the daily lives of the French population?
Trade unionism has not been spared. The inability of the unions to reach agreements concerning salaries, social uncertainty and social welfare, etc. was an important factor (in the rise of the vote for the rightwing). The idea that change is possible also depends on unified, strong trade union struggles. Unless social forces help workers to realize that a better life is possible - a sphere in which trade unions have a role to play, even a responsibility - French society will remain in an “accommodating (to capitalism)” mode, shifting ever further to the right. When Sarkozy says
“work more to earn more”, I dream of a tract - drawn up by a unified labor force - that details the salaries paid by employers.”

*CGT or “Confederation Generale du Travail”, the biggest trade union in France.
** young people’s successful movement to annul an unfair labor law called the CPE or “Contract Premier Emploie” (First Employment Contract.)

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