It’s been less than a year since Sarkozy stomped his way to the presidency over the increasingly right-wing Socialist Party candidate, Segolene Royal. But in that time he has managed to see his approval ratings fall from a high of 67 percent to around 39 percent today.
No doubt it has to do with his broad full frontal assault on French working people, starting with his attack on the “special regime pensions” of French train workers. This led to a national rail strike that ended with a qualified victory for Sarkozy but not the thumping he was hoping for as he had to offer pay increases and a bump in pension payments in return to increasing working time to 40 from 37.5 years.
Now, with the French economy all but stagnating and government deficits rising, Sarkozy has tried to take on different groups but often has failed in the face of mass resistance. Fisherman blockading ports over high fuel prices, won subsidies. Students protesting rules opening up university funding to the private sector lost on the central demand but won an extra $5 billion in state funding to upgrade deteriorating classrooms. And, recently, taxi drivers struck and defeated Sarkozy’s plans to de-regulate their industry.
So much for his slogan of burying the legacy of 1968, the year when French workers launched the largest general strike in history up to that point.
The failure of Sarkozy’s claimed goal of making France a place where one could “work more to earn more” is now leading to revolts in the private sector with the first ever national strike by retail workers in early February. There have also been walkouts in 17 McDonald’s and some workers have taken to holding managers hostage to win demands.
“This week the tyre giant Michelin continued talks over the closure of a plant in Toul, eastern France, after a government-appointed mediator secured the release of two managers whom workers had locked in a room for three days. It follows an incident last month when workers outraged at planned job cuts at the Miko ice-cream factory in Saint-Dizier locked up their British manager, Prakash Patel.
“This week, staff at a Ford plant near Bordeaux blockaded their factory and L'Oréal cosmetics staff took to the streets under the banner ‘because we're worth it’, asking for pay rises after their company's good financial results.”
Sarko isn’t yet down and out, not by a long shot. And he’s going for the usual weak spots in the lead-up to municipal elections that at present look set to deliver a big blow to his UMP party. Just last week 1,200 cops were sent into raid working class estates in the middle of the night to arrest 35 people from their beds as supposed leaders in the rioting that took place after cops killed two immigrant kids riding a mini-bike.
However, even this is blowing up in his face since it was clear to most that the whole thing was a press propaganda opportunity. The media arrived and had cameras set-up to film the raids before even the cops were there.
And his UMP party is fracturing under the pressure of resistance and the free-fall in the polls. Sarko can’t even get his own way in the town where he used to be mayor. Here, he tried to impose his spokesman to head the UMP list in town council elections but it was rejected by the council group – including by his own 22-year old son.
Nobody can accuse the French of having any sacred cows when even the right wing son of a right wing president skewers his father prior to a critical election.
With all this turmoil, the hope is that the left can revive itself and break out of the neo-liberal impasse into which the “governmental left” of the Socialist Party has fallen. At the February congress of the Ligue Communiste Revolutionaire, a small but significant far left party in France, they voted to set-up a broad anti-capitalist party with all those on the left who want to present an anti-neo-liberal alternative in upcoming elections.
The LCR’s presidential candidate, Olivier Besancenot, has a very high profile in the French media and was the only candidate to the left of the Socialists to increase his share of the vote last year. If they can tap into the growing sentiment for an alternative to Sarko and the governmental left, the French political scene could have an even bigger shake-up in the coming period.