It must be slightly irritating for a bourgeois politician, even the self-avowedly unflappable French president Émmanuel Macron, to realise that the sarcastic nickname pinned on him both by rival capitalist parties and by the organised working-class movement suggests that he’s a complete fraud and that his policies are doomed to failure.
In fact, we know what his personal reactions are to being more or less universally labelled ManuMaculé [the immaculately conceived Manuel]. During a recent public relations walkabout in Paris, he shook the hand of a teenage boy who then addressed him simply as Manu, the diminutive of his first name. The Prez went ballistic and uttered the following words:
“You address me as ‘Mr President of the Republic’. If you want to start a revolution, go to university and get a degree first.” We at Lalkar wish this young man every success in his studies.
Readers ‘of a certain age’ — the polite euphemism for old and nostalgic — will be familiar with the cartoon strip Asterix the Gaul, in which a stubborn band of bronze age villagers resist the Roman occupation of what is now France, with the help of a magic potion that brings them superhuman strength.
Marine Le Pen’s Front National, renamed in August as the Rassemblement National [National Rally], continues to promote Joan of Arc, a real-life woman who resisted the English and was burnt alive as a martyr, as the main symbol of the French willingness to fight back. In the case of the far right, this is a culturally-charged call to fight back against the alleged ‘immigrant-led’, ‘foreign-dominated pollution’ of French society.
For the French popular masses, however, it’s the fictional Asterix who’s the hero.
In the organised workers’ movement, and in broader proletarian circles, it’s Asterix and his mate Obelix who symbolically represent the French people’s determination to resist exploitation and oppression. Enormously insulting, then, that ManuMaculé has just described the French proletariat as ‘bunch of skivers’ and, crucially, ‘akin to Asterix and the Gauls refusing to accept change and modernity’.
Of course, he said this at a conference in Denmark, where no French eggs could be hurled at him.
In real life, the class struggle in France is again intensifying as Macron, a technocrat and investment banker by trade, pretends to be a politician. He was parachuted in by finance capital to be its (completely inexperienced and unqualified) candidate in the May 2017 elections so as to fend off the challenge by the French Corbynite left and, much more importantly, the threat from far-right populists, whom most sectors of the ruling class are not yet willing to embrace.
Against this backdrop, what exactly is the French proletariat fighting against?
None of the current attacks on workers is new. There was a general strike during the winter of 1985-86 around the same issues which, for example, closed all public transport and all taxi services for nearly two months.
Here’s what’s at stake:
– Defence of redundancy payments at final-salary level and an 80% pension thereafter;
– Keeping worker representatives on all company boards of directors, no matter how large or small the enterprise;
– Refusing to accept the scrapping of a 55-year-old retirement age (at full salary) for rail, health and other key workers;
– Upholding salary-linked unemployment benefit.
We say ‘all the best’ to proletarians in our neighbouring country of France as they continue their fightback. And we hope they succeed in developing the ‘magic potion’ of a strong Marxist-Leninist party.