Tens of thousands amassed in Toulouse Thursday evening to hear Jean-Luc Mélenchon, Presidential candidate for the radical Left Front, defend France’s national sovereignty in the face of threats from the EU and NATO, and workers from exploitation.
Borrowing the words of historic socialist leader Jean Jaurès and the language of French revolutionaries, the ‘third man’ in the race for the Elysée Palace delivered a powerful speech that once again demonstrated Mélenchon’s capacity to tune into the hopes and fears of the people in the difficult times facing the country.
Organisers estimated that some 70,000 attended the rally, held 17 days before the first round of the Presidential election where incumbent Nicolas Sarkozy is facing defeat.
Mélenchon promised that if elected he would call a referendum on the new EU Fiscal Pact, or ‘permanent austerity treaty’ as critics dub it, and membership of NATO. He also argued for stronger workers’ rights such as new powers for employees ‘to pre-empt’ or ‘requisition’ plants faced with closure, a major issue in France where there have been a wave of factory closures and mass redundancies.
‘Political democracy…expresses itself as a central idea , or better still as a unique idea: the political sovereignty of the people, that’s to say only obeying laws that one has personally contributed to with one’s vote,’ said the candidate evoking Jean Jaurès, icon of the Left and native of the Midi region where the rally was held.
‘Sovereignty is the other name for liberty,’ he added.
In a 25 minute speech, the former Socialist often used turns of phrases evoking France’s great revolutionary tradition, with the crowds, despite the rain, chanting ‘President, President’.
‘Once again, you will have to be the crater from which will spring up again the flame of the revolution, which by contagion will become the common cause of all the peoples of Europe,’ said Mélenchon, calling for a new anti-globalisation alliance that would be independent from the United States to avoid being the ‘spare wheel in the imperial chariot.’
‘We are in the month of Germinal (…) France, beautiful and rebellious, happy days are coming,’ he said at the end of his second major open-air meeting, after the 120,000 strong rally in the Place de la Bastille in Paris on March 18.
Next big stop is Marseille, April 14. Watch this space