France: Large 'people's front' marches against austerity
A large march against austerity took place in Paris on April 12. Organised around the slogan “Enough is enough”, the theme of the demonstration was “against austerity, for equality and sharing the wealth”.
At the head of the march were leaders of the French left: Jean-Luc Melenchon, leader of the Left Party, Pierre Laurent, leader of the Communist Party of France, and the New Anti-capitalist Party's Olivier Besancenot.
Significantly, the march was joined by Alexis Tsipras, head of the Greece's Coalition of the Radical Left (SYRIZA) and the Party of the European Left’s candidate for president in the upcoming EU elections.
Police estimates put the march at 25,000, but the organisers estimated as many as 100,000 took part. This is an increase on a similar march held in December.
But the success of the march was as much political as numerical. An example of unity in action, the protest was jointly called by the Left Front (which includes the Left Party, Communist Party and smaller groups) and the New Anti-capitalist Party. It also gained support from various trade unions, left groups and social movements.
The General Confederation of Labour and Solidaires trade union confederations were also well represented.
Likewise, although it did not officially support the march, members of the French Green Party were a significant presence.
Melenchon has called this broad coalition “the people’s front”.
“It is an extension of those who feel themselves united by a common cause of opposition to the austerity politics destroying our society,” Melenchon commented on his blog.
The show of unity was particularly important coming out of the recent municipal elections in which the left as a whole suffered big losses.
The two major currents in the Left Front coalition, the Left Party and the Communist Party, were divided over the question of whether to run in joint tickets with the governing Socialist Party.
The Left party took a hard stance against running with the Socialist Party. In many places, the Communist Party stuck to its long-standing policy of forming joint tickets with the now unpopular incumbents.
Divisions on the left gave space for the far-right National Front and other right forces to make big gains.
No doubt contributing to the size and energy of the march was the recent decision by Socialist Party President Francois Hollande to appoint Manuel Valls as prime minister.
Valls, hailed by the media and economists for his free-market credentials, has recently announced a plan to cut public spending by 50 billion euros between 2015 and 2017. This has caused divisions within the Socialist Party and rumbles of a revolt from the Socialist Party's left wing.
In the face of this fresh round of austerity, public sector unions have also called for a strike on May 15.
Before the European elections on May 22-25, Tsipras's presence at the march indicates the seriousness of the bid by the Party of the European Left to mount a united challenge to the pro-corporate parties and the anti-democratic austerity politics of the European Union.
Clare Solomon and Danielle Obono from British group Counterfire report from Paris on the April 12 march.