The results of the French General Election yielded a blow to newly elected President Emmanuel Macron’s government, and saw gains for both the Left and the Far Right. Catherine Curran Vigier reports on the election results and their implications for the French Left.
Newly re-elected President Emmanuel Macron and his government are reeling under the impact of disastrous results in the June General Election. After five years of savage neoliberal attacks, including the brutal repression of the Yellow Vests, the Left proved that it could fight back.
The victory of Rachel KéKé symbolised the reversal of Macron’s fortunes. A former hotel cleaning worker standing for Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s NUPES, the New Popular Ecological and Social Union, she defeated Macron’s sports minister, Roxana Maracineanu in the Val-de-Marne constituency no. 7 in the southern suburb of Paris. She previously led a successful 22-month struggle against the Ibis Hotel in Batignolles, Paris, including an 8-month strike, for better pay and conditions. An immigrant from the Ivory Coast and a member of the CGT trade union, Kéké promised to represent the people whose work was invisible and whose voices were unheard.
By taking seats from government candidates across the country, Kéké and other NUPES candidates, deprived President Macron of the absolute majority he required in Parliament to continue pushing his brutal austerity agenda. He is 44 deputies short of the 289 seats he needs to have an absolute majority, and will be forced to seek an alliance with the Conservative Party Les Républicains (LR), who took 61 seats, and others on the right. A number of Macron’s ministers lost their seats – his close collaborator and former minister of the Interior, Christophe Castagner, persecutor of the Yellow Vests, as well as Amélie de Montchalin (Environment) Brigitte Bourguignon (Health) and the outgoing speaker of parliament, Richard Ferrand.
The general election has two rounds, with the 2 candidates getting the highest number of votes in a constituency going through to a run-off two weeks after the first round. On June 19th, the second round result was a major setback for Macron, a slap in the face signaling that people have had enough of his austerity politics and his contempt for the working class.
The NUPES vote reflected the anger at Macron, who went into the election declaring he would raise the retirement age from 62 to 65. He ignored the issue which was most people’s utmost priority – the huge rise in the cost of living. Unfortunately, anger against Macron also helped the fascist National Rally (RN), which made a big breakthrough.
The NUPES is a coalition of the left formed by Jean-Luc Mélenchon, after he narrowly missed defeating fascist Marine Le Pen for a place in the second round of the presidential election last April. In order to keep up the dynamic of his presidential campaign, he called on the parties of the left to unite around a common programme. In the first round of the general election on June 12th, the NUPES got more votes than Macron’s alliance, the neo-liberal Ensemble. But high levels of abstention, 53.77% in the second round, and particularly high among younger voters, plus the 5.5 % of voters who spoiled their votes meant the NUPES ended up with fewer seats (131), than Macron’s group (245). Overall, the NUPES got 6.5 million votes, whereas Macron’s Ensemble got just over 8 million. The fascist RN got 3.5 million votes.
The RN got 89 seats, a major advance for them. They were helped by the fact that Macron refused to call on his supporters to vote NUPES where its candidates faced the RN. Yet Macron would not have been elected if left-wing voters had not given him their vote to keep Marine Le Pen from becoming President. Throughout the campaign, Macron’s supporters and their media mouthpieces insisted on the danger to democracy represented by the NUPES.
Despite media hostility, the NUPES did well. Mélenchon’s LFI (France Unbowed) got 72 seats, The Greens 23, the former ruling Socialist Party (PS) 26 and the Communist Party (PCF ) 12. In many constituencies, a handful of votes separated the two candidates. This contrasts with the poor results for the Left in the 2017 General Election, when France Unbowed got 17 seats, the PS 28, the PCF 15 and the Greens none. The victory is substantial, though there is a feeling that more could have been done.
Now the NUPES faces a contradictory situation. On the one hand, it has dynamised the left by uniting it under a programme for change, with an increase in the minimum wage, a plan to fight climate change and the defence of the public sector. Candidates like Rachel Kéke are part of this new Left, a fighting Left that gives hope to people. But Mélenchon has also thrown a lifeline to the parties of the old reformist Left, the PS and the PCF, and the Greens whose disastrous neo-liberal policies and pandering to racism and sexism when they were in power, are part of the reason for the rise in the far right. In order to give these parties winnable seats, the revolutionary NPA party was excluded from the process, despite being involved in fights against racism, sexism and Islamophobia when the other parties were making concessions. This was very unfair and suggests that Mélenchon will make more concessions to the neoliberal reformists in order to continue building his parliamentary opposition group.
But difficulties lie ahead for him. The PS, PCF and the Greens have now refused his invitation to form a united NUPES group in parliament. This will make the fascist RN the biggest opposition party, and allow it to benefit from the privileges that go with this status . Macron’s ministers are already making overtures to the RN by insisting on its right, as the largest opposition group, to chair parliament’s finance committee. This is like giving the keys to the food cupboard to a bunch of rats. Macron’s Agriculture minister, Marc Fesneau, has said that the constitution obliges the government to give control of the commission to the RN. This commission plays an important rôle in setting the agenda for budget debates, and controlling spending in the different areas of public administration. With Marine Le Pen under investigation by the European Parliament for misuse of public money, Macron is sending her a strong signal. The RN will prosper in the new French parliament.
The enthusiasm around the NUPES’ victories must be used to build the struggles that are taking place outside parliament, in workplaces and in the streets. Since the beginning of the year, there have been strikes over pay and conditions in dozens of big companies, like Danone, Coca Cola, Hennessey, Nestlé and others. While the pay rises won do not always allow salaries to catch up with inflation, there is a growing determination among workers to fight back. There is also a determination to fight back against racism and Islamophobia. The Left will grow, and the NUPES with it, if we build these struggles.