We swanned through the first half of September. But it’s a month of two halves.

Out on the Streets … it was Day of Action N° 1

The 12 September Day of Action organised by the CGT came and went [the CGT knew they’d be so enamoured of Day of Action N° 1 that they denoted 21 September to be Day of Action N° 2 several days before N° 1]. The country barely noticed its effects, but there were some localised problems on the suburban Parisian transport system, plus quite a few visible effects in Lycées and Universities.

As always, the first victim of war (and Days of Action) is ‘truth’. CGT General Secretary Martinez didn’t help. He claimed, on Europe 1, ‘more than 400,000’ overall on the streets of France for Day of Action N° 1. ‘A success’ he said. The CGT promptly transformed that claim to ‘nearly 500,000’, making it an even bigger success. While the purblind Ministry of the Interior reported but 223,000 overall.

Yet, those numbers are broadly similar to the claimed attendance at the very first protest against the Socialist Government’s considerably less ‘transformative’ Labour Law revisions last year. Those 2016 protests ended up with well over a million on the streets (or so the CGT claimed).

The Government intends to weather out the squall of protests. Government spokesperson Castaner insisted that while they were ‘listening to the French people, they were also determined to bring in the reform as part of the fight against unemployment’.

The Prime Minister added his voice too. Responding to Mélenchon’s repeated jibe about a ‘social coup d’etat’. Premier Philippe said ‘When you present a Law which was announced before the Elections, then debated in Parliament, and then validated by the Constitutional Council, you’re not conducting a coup d’etat. Rather, we’re respecting the undertakings democratically endorsed by the French people … The demonstrations will not change the content of the Labour Law’.

The President’s use (on a faraway Athenian hillside) of the word fainéants (idlers, loafers, slackers, lazybones – you get the idea) will long echo. The word was immediately adopted by those on the N° 1 demonstration. Banners included ‘Loafers of the world unite‘. While an instantly favourite demo chant was ‘Macron t’es foutu, les fainéants sont dans la rue‘ (yes, it really does rhyme) [‘Macron you’re fucked, the idlers are on the street’]

Jupiter speaks again … and it’s in English this time

To make sure the message was clear, the President gave an interview (here it is – all in English) to CNN’s Amanpour while in New York for the General Assembly meeting.

Asked about his reform programme, Macron said: ‘I will deliver. Why? I was very clear in my campaign about the reforms. I explained the reforms. I presented these reforms during weeks and weeks and I was elected on these reforms. I do believe in democracy and democracy is not in the streets. They voted … My country has to be reformed … I am passing reforms on the labour market, on vocational training, on education, on investment … I have to deal with a lot of malfunctioning situations … [I] face resistance, unhappy people … If it were so easy to deliver reforms, probably classical politicians would have been elected to do so. It will probably last a few weeks, months … I will progressively pass these reforms’. [Amanpour interjected to ask if protests would last weeks/months, Macron replied that the reforms would last months] ‘I do respect those who demonstrate. But I do respect French voters and they voted for change.’

La grogne monte   

The semi-onomatopoeic grogne (‘grumbling discontent’) is part of an oft-used lazy headline-writer’s shorthand. It’s an indivisible part of the go-to expression la grogne monte (‘discontent is growing’) for when there are (thank you Google for these recent examples) discontented parents, or footballers, or patients, or local authorities or (above all) WORKERS, and when trouble’s loomin’ in ‘t workplace.

[In the UK Parliament, when votes are taken, MPs have to go through the Aye or No corridor (or lobby) to indicate their support for/opposition to a motion. However, the Upper Chamber does things differently. Their Lord(and Lady)ships do not do anything as coarse as deciding between Yes and No. Rather, their perambulations indicate whether they are ‘Content’ or ‘Not Content’.] Here and now the Not Contents are on the move.

Some of those in a state of grogne include:

  • 5.6 million public sector employees – not affected by the Labour Law – who will take action on 10 October, including those from the largest union (moderate CFDT) and 3rd largest union (formerly seriously ‘activist’ FO) which at a national level have nothing to do with the CGT’s Day(s) of Action. The public sector employees are protesting against (i) the coming loss of 120,000 jobs over 5 years (ii) the renewal of Sarkozy’s measure (dropped by Hollande) whereby public employees don’t get their first day’s absence on sick leave paid (iii) adverse effects on public employees’ pay of coming tax changes (iv) privatisations, such as mobile radar for traffic control
  • CGT, CFDT, FO lorry drivers – claiming the Labour Law will increase ‘social dumping’ (using, or abusing, cheap labour) – who have called for roads, and possibly fuel depots too, to be blocked from 25 September [Don’t worry, the Government’s meeting them today to soothe angry brows]
  • even the retired will be on the streets – they’re protesting (28 September) tax changes which will affect them
  • And finally. The leaders of three unions (including moderate CFDT) published an article in business paper Les Echos complaining about two key planks in the new Labour Law (maximum damages payable at employment tribunals and the reduction in workers’ representation bodies from 4 to 1). Is this to dampen down grassroots Not Contents or a sign of some more profound schism?

Keeping all those Not Contents well apart from each other is the Executive’s objective.

Sometimes it’s the little things that seem filled with significance

Back in the mid-August heat, excitement bubbled over the invasion of the President’s summer holiday privacy by one of the paparazzi. This photographer [who sounds a thorough charmer] told us he always spent his summer holidays pursuing Presidents and their companions for those ‘special summer shots’ (eg a less-than-flattering pic of Pres. Hollande on a beach reading Le Canard Enchainé] that sell scores of magazines.

Seemingly, he’d gone too far this time. President Macron formally complained to the police: the photographer had tried entering their Marseilles holiday home, lent to them by the Regional Prefect. The President complained of ‘harassment’ and ‘infringement of privacy’. The snapper was held for 6 hours by the police. (Too short I hear you mutter: hanging’s too good for the likes of them.)

Weekly business magazine, Challenges, ran an exclusive last week. They excitedly announced that the President had decided not to press charges against the photographer. They revealed that the decision was linked to the President’s desire to improve his relations with the media.

This was quickly picked up by the entire press. Radio station France Info reported the Elysée saying the President had withdrawn the complaint ‘as a conciliatory gesture’.

But then, quelle surprise. Online investigative journal Mediapart (often as much required reading as Le Canard Enchainé for revelations) this week claimed a different version of the story. The President might have actually withdrawn his complaint after being informed the authorities were not going to pursue the complaint against the snapper because no offence whatsoever had been committed. A tangled web.

Gaul and The Left are each divided in three [perhaps a tad more for The Left?]. How many divisions among Les Républicains (LR)?

  • LR Mayor of Nice, Estrosi (ex(?)-hard-right, anti-immigration former Sarkozy fan who became … one of the first right-wingers to support Macron) regrets the absence of ‘Gaullism’ from today’s LR and so (12 September) he launched an, as yet unnamed, movement of locally-elected LR politicians to be ‘above the fray’
  • LR Leader of the IdF (Greater Paris) Regional Council, Pécresse (softish-centre-right ex-Minister who decided not to run as LR President, wisely knowing she would lose to hard-man Wauquiez) launched ‘Free !‘ [note important exclamation mark] on 10 September to ‘put the discussion of ideas at the heart of politics’.
  • Ex-Mayor of Le Touquet and LR Deputy, Fasquelle, launched ‘Let’s save the Right‘ from disappearing altogether. It wants LR to be (i) more than just a vehicle for Presidential ambitions and (ii) open to several strands of right/centre political thought. Fat chance.
  • LR spokesperson Peltier wants to replace ‘The Strong Right‘ (launched to support Sarkozy’s 2012 return), which is definitely not to be mistakenly confused with anything from the ‘Soft’ Right. Note: they have 130 programme proposals … 14 shy of Le Pen’s 144 Presidential Proposals, but a serious increase on their earlier 85 Proposals. A flavour of their thinking: ‘At the Strong Right, we know where our country came from and its identity. We’re proud of our history, even if there were some dark times, for it’s that history, that culture, that identity which makes we French what we are …’ etc
  • A collective of LR nobodies created the ‘New Républicains’ so as ‘to rebuild the right from the inside … [their programme is] radically modern, European and popular’
  • And don’t forget the Dirty Dozen of LR Députés who joined the 35-strong ‘Constructive’ group of centre/right-wing members in the National Assembly to work ‘constructively’ with the Government
  • And, equally, don’t overlook the LR Prime Minister, LR Minister of Finance, LR Minister of Public Accounts and the LR Secretary of State in the Ministry for Ecological Transition.

‘Permanent State of Emergency’ (Le Monde editorial)

Following the concerted suicide attacks of November 2015, the Government imposed a State of Emergency. It’s been renewed six times. This July, President Macron announced: ‘I will re-establish the liberties of the French people … because liberties are at the root of a strong democracy’ and the State of Emergency was duly renewed until 1 November.

The draft legislation ‘reinforcing internal security and the fight against terrorism’ (currently under review in the National Assembly) transposes much of the State of Emergency’s main provisions into the regular law. Indeed, Interior Minister Collomb (ex-Socialist Mayor of Lyons for 16 years) is currently persuading the La République en Marche (LREM) Députés (with their inbuilt majority) to restore the original hard-nosed text, watered-down by the softy-liberal-wets from the LR-majority Senate.

Let’s get back, says Collomb, to the original restrictions of freedom of movement within defined areas, search warrants easier to obtain, the right for the Prefect to close places of worship judged dangerous … all, says Le Monde, ‘measures which transfer judicial prerogatives to the Executive and police’.

Further, a massive extension of identity controls will, in future, enable them to be conducted within 20 km of the country’s borders, airports and stations. It’s calculated that some two-thirds of France’s population could thus be subject to identity controls. The latter provision seems rather aimed at a different issue. ‘We take far too few [illegal immigrants] out of the country’ said the President (5 September).

Many lawyers – including the National Commission for Human Rights and even (really rather right-wing) ‘Defender of Rights’ Toubon – have protested against turning what should be exceptional provisions into the commonplace.

Le Monde writes: ‘Convinced it’s responding to what public opinion wants, the Government’s determined to push through the text in its current form, or even toughen it further. They are wrong. Removing judicial oversight weakens the rule of law. Security needs must not lead to calling into question individual liberties, the DNA of a democracy.’

Any talk he can talk, I can talk longer, I can talk any talk longer than him. No, you can’t …

From news weekly Marianne‘s front cover loomed The One And Only Leader Of The Opposition. The leader of France Unbowed. None other than hard-jaw-jutting Jean-Luc Mélenchon … with quite a bit more of a smile than the President had allowed himself for his own front cover pic. Roll up, roll up. It’s Spartacus v. Jupiter. Mélenchon speaks (over 10 pages):

  • the new Labour Law – it’s indeed a ‘social coup d’etat’ – previously workers could only negotiate improvements to the basic Labour Law norms, but there will now inevitably be attempts to worsen terms of employment so as to remain competitive
  • Macron’s politics – ‘[he’s] a pure creature of the neo-liberal system. Blair and Thatcher condensed … These people [have] a vision of a single economic theory, one which is an utter failure. We are the pragmatists; they are the ideologues … Macron personifies the advance guard of the right from the end of the 20th century.’
  • Macron’s language – ‘The violence of his vocabulary is intended to galvanise his narrow social base. It’s a strong reminder to the Establishment that it’s called to combat against the people. His insults are battle cries … His verbal violence against those from the Left operates as a class appeal to discipline around him.’
  • Legitimacy of demonstrations – In a democracy there’s always an opposition … We must turn the page from ‘everyone for themselves’ to ‘all together’ … we are [seen] as, almost by definition, illegitimate. That’s the expression of an authoritarian tendency within contemporary economic liberalism. The reprise of the famous Tina ‘There is no alternative’ of Mme Thatcher. In their minds, those who claim there’s an alternative are ‘morons, loafers, cynics’.
  • Macron/Mélenchon, two sides of the same coin – ‘We each respectively represent part of dégagisme‘ [‘get lostism’ which emerged during the jasmine revolution that overthrew Tunisian dictator Ben Ali – aka ‘kick the bastards out’]
  • Is France Unbowed ready to govern – ‘There’s no doubt that Mr Macron is getting the leadership over all varieties of liberals, from right, left and centre. But he’s in difficulty in getting a coherent whole from all this dust. There are so many opportunists. And, as his popularity falls, a meltdown threatens. Why? Because of our work as the opposition. We have awakened and sustained the country’s resistance … we want to be the place to go to in lieu of liberal chaos … If our strategy works, we’ll force those in power to choose … between total confrontation with the people and the obligation of giving the people back their ability to speak … France Unbowed will put forward an alternative to the current world’
  • ‘Mélenchon-bashing’ – ‘the hatred [of the media] gives me a chance … It’s not just by chance that 90% of [France’s] press belongs to nine billionaires. These people behave rationally trying hard to produce things which conform with dominant interests and they seriously fight against adverse ideas being diffused’.

‘Hold the front page’ he said excitedly ‘it’s the Senate Elections this Sunday’

Yes. This very Sunday. It’s the final round of 2017’s Elections. A large number of backwoodspeople are about to emerge blinking into unaccustomed light. They are the grands électeurs: Mayors, plus municipal, Departmental and Regional Councillors mostly. They’ll choose 171 Senators (half the Senate) to sit for 6 years in the Upper House; there are 1971 candidates and the vote is largely proportional.

President Macron had originally hoped to win enough LREM Senators to guarantee his Party 60%+ of the combined National Assembly/Senate. That magic figure would allow Macron’s proposed changes to the Constitution – eg abolition of the Court of Justice of the Republic (which deals with Ministerial miscreants who commit misconduct in the exercise of their office) or the maximum number of terms Députés can serve – to be effected without the necessity for a boring old referendum [the latter, as we know, can often result in unwelcome decisions].

But, alas, there will be what Le Monde called ‘The Revenge of the Old World’. The ‘traditional’ parties (above all the LR) – which still largely control France’s local councils – will have a good day at the office. So the latest wheeze is to try to find enough fellow-travelling non-anti-Macron centrist Senators who will ultimately come along to do their voting duty when The Nation (aka Jupiter) Calls.

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