Mélenchon and the left arm-wrestle Macron in the street | International
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Jean-Luc Mélenchon, and the left he leads, brought tens of thousands of people to the streets of Paris this Sunday. The demonstration “against expensive living and climate inaction” is the prologue to a week of union strikes and parliamentary tussle. The Government, faced with the refusal of the opposition to approve the budgets, prepares the application of article 49.3, which allows avoiding the vote in the National Assembly and imposing a law by decree. The organizers – the left-wing parliamentary opposition that, under the tutelage of Mélenchon’s La France Insumisa (LFI), includes socialists, environmentalists and communists – estimated the number of protesters at 140,000. The police, at 30,000.
Between two and five in the afternoon, paraded between the Places de la Nation and the Bastille, in any case, a considerable human tide. Not so many people to change the plans of the president, Emmanuel Macron, at all, and even less considering that the conveners already sit in Parliament. But enough to whet the appetite for this week’s protests in a context of fuel shortages in part of the country, generalized inflation, energy savings in the winter and an economic slowdown on the horizon.
Mélenchon, who demonstrated accompanied by the brand new Nobel Prize for literature Annie Ernaux, called for a “general strike” next Tuesday, a day of strikes and protests called by the CGT and other unions in defense of salary improvements. Oil refiners have been on strike for nearly three weeks, leaving one in three gas stations without enough fuel this weekend.
“Today we are drawing the construction of a new Popular Front that in due time will exercise power in the country,” announced the leader of the left. “We will have the conjunction of the popular mobilization, the union mobilization and the institutional crisis. That’s why I said that [Macron] it’s charred, and I keep it.”
The militants of LFI, the anti-capitalist and eurosceptic party with the most votes and deputies on the left, were the most visible in the march, but ecologists, socialists and communists also attended. “Retirement at 60 years old,” read a sign. “Even vegans want to gobble up the rich,” said another, and another simply said, “In anger.”
“We are here to show that there are many of us who want wages to rise, to support the refinery strikers and to show that we will not lower our guard,” said Isabelle, a retired teacher and rebellious militant from Normandy, who had come to Paris with a group on two buses. Asked if she believed Macron would listen to the protesters’ claims, she replied: “No. But we don’t care about him”. In any case, she predicted, the president will have no choice but to listen “when the pumps run out of gasoline and the trains are stopped.” In other words: if there really is a general strike.
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The march was supposed to be a show of strength by Mélenchon, only five months after the left-wing alliance became, after the legislative ones, the first bloc of opposition parties, although the first opposition party is the National Regrouping (RN ), the far-right party of Marine Le Pen. Although it had been called for weeks, the strike at the refineries and the social conflict that is announced for the coming weeks have enhanced the message of the demonstration.
And yet, the veteran leftist leader, a three-time presidential candidate, is not going through his best moment. He has been the target of internal criticism for having praised the “dignity” and “courage” of one of his lieutenants, deputy Adrien Quatennens, who acknowledged having slapped his wife. Some have seen in this slip an umpteenth example that Mélenchon is out of touch with the times and cannot continue leading the project.
In the rest of the leftist alliance parties, there are deep ideological differences with Mélenchon on Ukraine and Russia, or on whether the left has to be more social or more ecological and multicultural. It was significant that the national secretary of the Communist Party, Fabien Roussel, a leading figure of the old-fashioned left, did not attend the Paris demonstration. The unions did not attend either: they reserve for Tuesday, and do not want to mix union life with politics.
Le Pen distanced himself from the protest. “The right to demonstrate is one of the great French freedoms,” he said on BFM-TV, “but I think solutions are found in the National Assembly. It is in the National Assembly where the debate must take place and where the fight must be waged”.
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