This week France’s government forced a controversial deregulatory economic bill through parliament by decree, provoking a confidence vote and further splits within the ruling socialists, with rebels including former minister Benoît Hamon. Drafted by a one-time investment banker and designed to win respite from the German-led EU over draconian deficit reduction demands, it has been pursued in the name of growth and modernising the French economy. It will do neither, argues Andre Chassaigne, leader of the Front de Gauche in the French National Assembly.
Presented as a turning point, the bill’s text confirms the dogmatic economic line followed since the beginning of the five year term of President Francois Hollande, according to which we would best meet people’s needs by pursuing competition and promoting private entrepreneurship. This is not a revolution, but a consecration.
France’s Minister of Economy has continued to defend this bill in the name of “modernity”. In reality it is haunted by the same old neoliberal antiphons that now seem, more than ever, archaic. We know the results of the policies of Thatcher, Blair and Schröder based on a triptych that devastates all: all-out deregulation, wild competition and social regression, more unemployment and insecurity. That was fifteen years ago. However, in the ideological software and rhetoric frame of the Minister of Economy, for whom what is not neo-liberal is necessarily “passé” or “demagogic”.
This binary and Manichean logic betrays dogmatism. Antonio Gramsci already explained in October 1917: “Demagogic and demagoguery are the two most fashionable words among well-heeled, right-thinking pious when they want to give the coup de grace”; “Because we are not starting from deceptive appearances, because we do not judge based on the criterion of what is immediately useful, we are demagogues, and the others are serious people, masters in the art of living.”
The victory of the left party Syriza and the message sent by the Greek people to the advocates of austerity makes the [French government’s] position even more passé. Greek citizens have rejected the old recipes imposed by the troika and put their trust in a left that offers resistance and hope.
In France, the debate on the bill has clarified the outlines of another left, opposed to austerity, determined to return to the path of social and ecological progress, proud of the legacy of the social struggles for rest from work on Sunday, the 35 hour week, paid leave, the minimum wage, pension rights and welfare, all of which helped over the last century to build a social model that is now the common heritage of millions of French.
It is not just a question of principles and values. The bill’s aim is to stimulate growth, but this is far from guaranteed. There are numerous examples of measures that have been enacted that do not boost economic activity, but in reality simply transfer public services to the private sector, without any social or economic utility. Worse, easing collective redundancies and attacks on labour rights provided in the latter part of the bill will not boost the economy but will further aggravate the social conditions of employees. The symbolic issue in the bill, the trivialization of Sunday working, is symptomatic of the overall strategy and philosophy of government...
However, the parliamentary debate had the merit of demonstrating the gap that has opened up between the socialist majority in power and the forces of the Front du Gauche. Some Socialists have not hidden their discomfort with this bill that renounces our social model. Voices from different parts of the Left have expressed a rejection of its neo-liberal bias. Rarely, indeed, have we seen a bill that emphasizes in such a cynical and systematic fashion the interests of business to the detriment of the employee, consumerism at the expense of family and social ties, competitiveness at the expense of the environment, public services and a balanced territorial development. Far from discouraging us, the loi Macron is a wake-up for left forces to consign archaeo-liberalism to the dustbin of history.
The law includes:
- allowing intercity coaches to compete with railways
- relaxing Sunday trading restrictions
- lifting barriers to becoming a notary
- ‘speeding up’ labour-tribunal hearings
- lowering taxes on some employee shareholdings