French trade unionists embrace political change
16th May 2012
French voters turned the EU's cuts and austerity programme
on its head last month when they turfed out conservative president
Nicolas Sarkozy and replaced him with Francois Hollande - a
socialist who's pledged to follow a new path of jobs and
But what will this mean for France's millions of trade
unionists? For the young and for those who have been out protesting
and demonstrating against government attacks in recent months?
Leading young French trade unionist Marie Buard (pictured) of the Federation of Communication, Advice and Culture Unions (CFDT) gives her take on the election - and whether it will mean better times for the people of France.
Q: During the election campaign, what parts of Mr
Hollande's programme appealed to particularly young voters in
A: I don't believe young French voters were particularly drawn to one aspect or another of Francois Hollande's programme. It is more of a desire for change. The Left's slogan "change is now" is significant. We young people, aged between 18 and 30, are a product of the Chirac generation. Right wing leadership is all we have ever known. For us changing the political landscape means voting for a left-wing party, specifically the Socialist Party (PS). The concept of change is important in the context of the crisis we are currently experiencing. Yes, the crisis is beyond our control, but can be met with humanitarian values, the values of the Republican left. Admittedly there was one significant pledge of Francois Hollande's which may have swung the balance in his favour - the introduction of gay marriage in France...a major step forward for our country which shows its dynamism, and progress in our mentalities.
Q: Do you feel this result was more a vote against Mr Sarkozy or more a positive vote for Mr Hollande?
A: The election results clearly demonstrate a rejection of the outgoing President Nicolas Sarkozy. The results are consistent with the presidential campaigns run by the various political parties. During this campaign we've heard things like "Get lost you loser", and "Anyone but Sarkozy"...French people these days don't come together to get behind a particular candidate, rather against a common enemy (having said that, the same mentality was very effective during wartime). People no longer vote for a programme, but for a candidate. This cult of personality in French political life is increasing every year. Indeed, all you have to do is ask a Hollande voter which PS policy was most influential in their decision - they won't have an answer!
Q: Did you feel that the Left Front candidate Mr Melenchon made a big impact on the campaign? If so, how would you describe his contribution?
A: Mr Melanchon had a very important impact during the presidential campaign, and continues to play a significant role during the current legislative election campaign. His presidential campaign was masterfully executed. The campaign was innovative, attractive to young voters, and popular. For example, on St. Valentine's day, Mr Melanchon organised Free Hugs! The pinnacle of his campaign was the gathering of thousands of citizens at the Bastille. He is a very good communicator who emphasises style over demagogy.
He has also contributed to the radicalisation of French politics, and to the rise in importance of extreme parties on the left and the right (in terms of electoral success and activism). There is a possibility that in the near future we will see bipartisanism between hard right and hard left parties.
Q: Are there any lessons that you feel young political activists in the UK could take from the election?
A: I would rather talk about advice than lessons. It's important that all young Britons engage with politics: by taking part in meetings (whoever the candidate), following current affairs in the press, listening to candidate's debates...elections are an important moment in any country's political life, which one must experience in order to be an agent of change. Debate, exchange of ideas... discussing politics is a way of making things progress. Let's not forget that whatever the country politics is in the hands of citizens, not the political elite...otherwise why would candidates spend so much money on campaigns and place so much importance on opinion polls?