2018 11 – News From France


Mélenchon replacing Marine Le Pen?

The powers that be have broken the puppet Marine Le Pen by rough handling at the last presidential election.   The mistake was made of exposing her dangerously in a televised debate with Emmanuel Macron.  Her limitations were cruelly exhibited.  She spent her time attacking Macron, with a bright smile on her face.  He countered that he could attack her if he wanted to, but he had better things to do, solving the problems of France, etc, over an hour in that vein.

Her father had made it clear that he was not seeking high political office in earnest.  It was pretended that he did, and that he was a danger to democracy.

He played a useful role as a foil during elections. Then by a silly miscalculation, Marine Le Pen was exposed as really not a serious figure, light years away from power.  Her party disintegrated, her symbolic bastion (a village in the North) renounced her, her main ally and heavy weight influence went off to found his own groupuscule, away in Arras.  She had to pick up the pieces of the National Front and give it a new name: it is now the National Rally.

That leaves Macron with a problem: who to set up as an opponent to knock down?  Perhaps Mélenchon, and his group France Insoumise (France Unbowed); the name says it all:  France not bowing to who or what?  Not to the state?  Not to the EU?  Not to the US?  Is it all of France that is unbowed, or just the members of the group? It’s all left vague.  One thing is clear, Mélenchon is anti-communist; for example he only accepted collaboration with the Communists if the latter agreed not to stand their own candidates in the presidential election, and in many constituencies.

A recent incident was useful in puffing him up and bringing him to the attention of the population: his house and offices were searched, in the context of supposed electoral expenses fraud, and he reacted verbally violently; the media then found some members who admired his violence and others who disapproved, and even someone who was creating a new movement called ‘Democratic Unbowed France’ in a bid to get away from the domination of the leader. Nicely mired and split, he and his group are ready to be put up and knocked down at the next electoral show.

The idea of ‘unbowed’ is vague enough for Macron himself to use it in his last speech; he said, ‘deep down, the French are never ready to submit’, meaning something flattering like ‘what a good lot of rebels you are, really you are’; does Mélenchon mean more than that? Macron was making a speech to try and regain the moral high ground that he lost this year after various accusations were made against him, and he fluffed his lines a bit too often, using unpresidential vocabulary and appearing in photos that made him look ridiculous.  None of these things really matter; De Gaulle must have had worse security personnel than Macron and no one cared.  Young presidents can’t be expected to have the dignity of old-fashioned types.

He is criticised for these small things, by a press that has little interest in the big issues. It’s not that the big issues are not there, but nothing is done in practice by the  government, and the media don’t complain.  Macron had a plan against poverty; he concluded the speech he gave on the subject by appealing to the people: ‘I know that together we can eradicate poverty, I have a plan; I will not set out criteria to define success [amazingly, he actually said that], but I know we will succeed’.

Then he had a big plan for agriculture, discussed for months, in particular the vital question of a living wage for farmers.  The resulting law did no more than recommend that big firms be encouraged to negotiate prices fairly with the producers, in other words wishful thinking.

In Brittany, a big agricultural area, producers are part of so-called ‘cooperatives’ which sell them machinery, buildings, animals and animal feed, or machinery, seeds, fertilizers and pesticides, tell them how to work, and then buy the product at a price they set.  The word cooperative is a misnomer, because the producers have no say at any point in the process.  They also have no alternatives since the cooperatives drain all agricultural activity in one area.  Farmers who tried to protest are told that no other cooperative will take their produce, or else they are given inferior materials to work with, as retaliation. The cooperatives then sell to the supermarkets, which pay the lowest possible price.

In a situation like this, what inducements have the big firms to negotiate fairly? The result is huge pressure on farmers, who work with a minimum of staff in order to make ends meet; that means they have to work on their own at a cost to their physical and mental health, can’t pay a wage to family members and can’t contribute to reducing unemployment in the countryside. The government needs to set minimum prices, applicable at all levels, and in particular in the supermarkets.  That would be revolutionary, humble as it appears.


La Plaine in Marseille

Markets are becoming rarer and rarer as production, as mentioned earlier, is streamlined from large concerns to large supermarkets, leaving no opportunity for small amounts to find their way to local traders and local consumers, a system the French approvingly call ‘circuit court’ [local distribution network].  This new phrase is bandied about more and more, in a nostalgic sort of way.

La Plaine in Marseille is a large square with space for a market three times a week, space for sitting and walking around and a play area for children; the surrounding district is home to the much vaunted (in theory) social mixity, it’s lively and untidy.  The square has over sixty trees.

You can guess what is happening there now; the trees are being cut down and large lumps of concrete put down to delimitate the building site it will be for the next three years, for its so-called renovation.  It will be gentrified and the market is not part of the new plan.  Locals had a cheaper plan for improvements, which would have kept the amenities.   They are now trying to stop the work progressing, but riot police stand between the workmen and the protesters, spraying teargas at individuals; a photo shows several people holding open umbrellas to try and protect themselves from the hand-held sprays (mustn’t be employed less than a meter from someone’s face, say the regulations).

As with farmers, people’s needs are being ignored; here a place to meet, a place for children to play, trees to look at, walking about where your parents walked before you, where you have your habits, see familiar faces, have congenial places to shop.  These are the things that matter, not whether the president said something silly, or how the next elections will be stage managed.