French Unions in Massive,
May Day Demonstrations
by Jeff Apter, Paris
SPECIAL TO THE UE NEWS
One of the biggest and most united trade union demonstrations seen since France was freed from Nazi occupation in 1944
took place on May 1 when at least 1.3 million people took to the streets in the country’s cities, towns and villages against the racist
and anti-immigrant policies of the extreme right-wing party, the National Front.
Police figures, always very cautious in their assessments, stated that at least 400,000 marched in Paris with another
million more in the rest of the country. The organizers claimed much higher figures and said that up to one million people rallied in the
French capital. The exact figures probably will never be known. But there was general agreement that the demonstrations were a powerful
warning that France’s unions will not tolerate racism.
France’s union federations, led by the CGT and CFDT, the two biggest, demonstrated peacefully to show their abhorrence
of the ideas of the ultra-right policies of National Front leader Jean-Marie Le Pen. The march followed the first round of
presidential election on April 21. In a shock result, Le Pen won 16.9 percent of the vote, narrowly besting Socialist Prime Minister Lionel
Jospin, who with 16.1 percent was beaten into third place in the French presidential election. Conservative President Jacques
Chirac came out on top — but with only 19 percent of the vote — the lowest ever for an incumbent. Only the top two candidates go
into the run-off.
The reason Le Pen beat Jospin was less a vote in favor of the extreme right-wing leader but because Jospin’s various
partners in his administration and some small progressive parties put up their own candidates, massively splitting the left vote,
resulting in his elimination.
Only the top two candidates go into the run-off.
The unions said that Le Pen’s racist and anti-union policies were unacceptable and turned the traditional May Day
demonstration into a peaceful mass rally to unite trade unionists against the ultra right-wing leader’s anti-union ideas.
And on May 5 many unionists supported Chirac — not because they wanted a conservative, but because he was the only
candidate opposing extreme right-wing ideas in the run-off for the presidency.
Parliamentary elections in June delivered a decisive mandate to Chirac’s center-right party, with disappointing results
for pro-union parties. However, in sharp contrast to the first round of presidential voting, Le Pen’s National Front failed to gain a
single seat. The June election was also characterized by a record-high abstention — voter turnout was 61 percent, high by American
standards but a shocking result for France.
(This story has been updated from the version
published in the print-edition of the UE News).
UE News - 6/02