France: Mélenchon compares Macron’s government to the Nazi regime

Jean-Luc Mélenchon comes under fire for comparing Macron’s government to the Nazi regime, writes Lauren Joffrin in Libération.

Jean-Luc Mélenchon

Mélenchon – who is now French President’s main opponent – spoke at a protest march against Emmanuel Macron’s new labour reforms last Saturday. He stated to the audience that ‘it was the streets that beat the Nazis.’

In the face of ensuing criticism, he has since justified his comments as a direct response to Macron’s statement on CNN International: ‘democracy doesn’t take place in the streets.’ Joffrin argues this is an ambiguous phrase: ‘the right to protest… against elected representatives… is a fundamental one. The government can heed this or not, but history shows that… this type of expression has an effect.’

‘The streets’ in French history

Mélenchon is right to remind us that public protest has often contested the arbitrary within politics, or been the first indicator of forthcoming change, says Joffrin.

It was ‘the streets’ that forced the Juppé government of 1995 to back down on proposed reforms, and likewise the Mitterand administration on educational reform in 1984. From the barricades of the Fronde during the 17th century French Civil War to the uprising of the 1848 Revolution, French history is a record of the power of the public voice. Though it is not always the progressive voice, as was clear from the anti-Semitic protests during the Dreyfus Affair, or the far-right anti-parliamentary riot of 1934.

A clumsy comment

Nonetheless, Joffrin considers Mélenchon’s comment somewhat misjudged. It was the allied forces, he asserts, and not the people, that drove back the Nazis. It was not a question of protest by the streets, but of bloody combat in the streets.

Joffrin adds that the march on the Champs-Elysées during the Liberation of Paris had little to do with the insurrection. In what he terms ‘a little extra irony’, the uprising was initiated not by the masses but by the local police. ‘So Mélenchon was more or less right,’ concludes Joffrin, ‘but he will doubtless choose his examples with more care next time.’

France: hundreds of thousands unite in protest against reforms

Over 223,000 people united on Tuesday in protest against French Employment Law reforms. Philippe Martinez, of the French General Confederation of Labour, proclaimed the rally a success, wrote Le Monde.

Philippe Martinez, Secretary General of the French General Confederation of Labour

‘We are off to a promising start,’ declared Martinez, who spearheaded the rally alongside several other unions. Reported turnout figures across the country varied widely; in Marseille, 7,500 according to local authorities or 60,000 according to the organisers; in Nantes, 6,200 compared to 15,000; and in Havre, 3,400 compared to 10,000.

Minor clashes in Paris

The Parisian procession marched from La Place de la Bastille – accompanied by a fairground brass band – to La Place d’Italie. Despite the celebratory atmosphere, the rally was marred by several incidents. Protesters threw projectiles at police, who retaliated with tear gas and water cannons, as observed by a journalist from Le Monde.

Police stated that 300 people in balaclavas were present at the march and reported ‘several acts of vandalism’, including the damaging of windows and defacing of adverts. One person was taken to hospital.

Political personalities mobilised

Amongst the crowd were several political figures such as Benoît Hamon, Socialist Party candidate in the last election, Pierre Laurent, National Secretary of the French Communist Party.

In Marseille, leader of ‘La France Insoumise’ Jean-Luc Mélenchon promised to ‘make the President back down’. In Strasbourg, five European MPs participated in the protest.

‘La France Insoumise’ supporters

Placards bore messages targeting Macron for recent remarks in which he promised ‘to make no concessions to absconders, cynics or extremists’. One banner read, ‘You’re in trouble Macron, the slackers are marching on.’

Strikes and blockades

The day was also marked by strikes and deliberate travel disruptions. Several schools in Paris and surrounding areas were partially or momentarily blocked off by students, but without violence.

Tens of fairground lorries disrupted morning traffic in Paris and the rest of France, in response to a call to protest by the ‘Fairground King’ Marcel Campion. According to Campion, ‘around 10,000 trucks were mobilised throughout France, of which between 400 and 500 were in Paris.’

Divided trade unions

The proposed reforms go against many of Macron’s electoral promises: a cap on compensation awarded by industrial tribunals, the merging of independent staff representatives into companies, reform of the CPPP (safeguard against ‘difficult working conditions’) and greater power accorded to intra-company agreements.

Yet the unions are divided. The Worker’s Force did not publicly align itself with the movement, though some members decided independently to protest. The same was true for the Democratic Confederation of Labour, the Confederation of Management, the Confederation of Christian Workers and the National Union of Autonomous Unions.

The General Confederation of Labour has already called for another protest on the 21st September, the day before the reforms are presented at a Cabinet meeting.