At 3.45 p.m. on Wednesday 6 July, deputies on the left wing of the National Assembly (socialists, communists, ecologists not part of the government and non-party deputies) decided to issue a motion of censure of the government.
The motion opposed the forced adoption of the labour law by means of article 49-3 [which allows the French President to turn a vote on any law into a vote of confidence in the government]; however they were only able to collect 56 out of the required 58 signatures.
The motion could not be put, [Premier] Valls’s constitutional blackmail succeeded, and one chapter of this story closed. The second reading of the labour law bill in the National Assembly is now finished, and the bill will return to the Senate for a final bit of formal to-ing and fro-ing. The final vote will take place on 20 July.
Hollande and Valls have put the final nail into their political coffin — definitively burying all the hopes placed in them after their election on 6 May 2012. In the large circles of left-wing voters, the refrain has been growing louder by the day for three years: “we did not expect the revolution [from voting for Hollande in 2012], but we didn’t expect to be betrayed like this either”.
On Tuesday 5 July, the last cross-union demonstrations before the summer holidays took place, with clearly smaller numbers, but a general mood that can be summed up as “the government can force the bill through Parliament, the opposition to this regressive law will carry on, in strikes and protests, but also in the political field.”
Everywhere, [ruling] Socialist Party candidates will be interrogated, in an organised or a spontaneous manner, by dozens, hundreds, thousands of people who will brandish the labour law as an accusation, in the face of which the SP will have no defence, because its pro-capitalist guilt is clear. We could speculate and gossip about the handful of possible signatures to the motion of censure in the SP parliamentary group who may have agreed not to sign under pressure. But what’s fundamental is this: with, or without the motion of censure, Valls is naked. He is only able to rule the country by means of baton charges against demonstrations, only able to rule the National Assembly by strong-arming deputies and threatened reprisals, using the pretext of the state of emergency to do both.
Last week has been full of incidents illustrating this loss of legitimacy and the fears of the SP leadership. During a public meeting in Bordeaux, Stéphane Le Foll, minister and government spokesman, was heckled by many attendees in the hall. An old SP activist waved a modestly-sized paper sign that read “Valls, resign!” and was hurled to the ground by security, like a dangerous hooligan. The video of the incident had an even greater effect...
The national secretary of the SP, Cambadélis, decided to postpone and relocate the traditional SP summer school which is normally held in Nantes. With the combination of a high level of mobilisation and struggle at Nantes since the start of March, and with the proximity of Notre-Dame des Landes, an airport project which is the target of a long-running campaign of thousands of greens and conservationists, the local elected SP representatives fear that the town will be “put to the fire and the sword” if the event is held this year. This is to say nothing of the number of local SP headquarters or deputies’ offices which have been subject to more or less vigorous visits by hundreds of demonstrators across the country.
The government is exhausted, but it is holding on for now, by a thread. This is a result of the tactic chosen by the trade union leaders, principally CGT and FO, of not risking an overthrow of the government through a general strike that would galvanise the strength of the workers. This is also a result of the inability of the forces previously brought together in the Front de gauche [Left Front] to create a credible opposition. In fact, over the last four months, the inter-union committee has managed what the Front de gauche was not able to do, and yet it shared with the latter a reluctance to clearly beat the government in a trial of strength. But the immediate and historic interests of the working class demand an end to the government’s anti-social activity.
The summer holidays, necessary for the masses and the activists to catch their breath, will bring to an end one phase of the social mobilisation. No-one can say in what form, and with what energy, the mobilisation will re-start in September. If it doesn’t concern the labour law, there are plenty of other issues which could ignite struggles across many sectors: hospital reforms; school reforms; reforms to working times and job cuts in public services; waves of sackings resulting from economic woes despite Holland’s famous sound bite, “ça va mieux!” [it’s getting better] . But no-one can imagine that the social agitation will disappear. It will be matched, as one approaches the Presidential elections, by a political agitation which focusses on social questions and looks for a political answer.
The right wing has refused to issue a motion of censure on this occasion, preferring not to provoke a governmental crisis, and to prepare for the Presidential elections in the hope that the government will hold on for as long as possible, and thereby discredit itself as thoroughly as possible. The right wing, the natural representatives of the bosses, agrees with the labour law, but it wants to leave the SP to take the hit in the opinion polls for it. It also hopes that Valls and Hollande, by going as far as possible with the “dirty work”, will sow despair and resignation on the left, so that the right wing will be able to pocket an easy win.
But political ferment is on the cards for September. And you don’t need a degree from Sciences Po or the ENA [Two famous higher education institutions that produce the bourgeoisie’s governing elites] to know that the Presidential election will be anything but a walk in the park for the institutional parties.
“A brutal refusal to discuss”
Extracts from the motion of censure:
"We, parliamentarians of the left and ecologists in the National Assembly, consider that the second use of article 49-3 of the Constitution by a government of the left, on a motion to reform the Labour Code, is a very serious act. We cannot accept this authoritarian act which would suppress democratic debate around a bill for which the government has not received a mandate from its electors. The debates around this bill have provoked a profound social tension in our country. Like a majority of French people, we are opposed to the serious risks to our social model which this bill contains, to the inversion of the hierarchy of rules and the undermining of the principle of favour in labour law, which would make it generally possible for businesses to call themselves social while reducing their employees’ real wages (for example by reducing overtime pay). We are also opposed to the other dangerous measures such as facilitating lay-off on economic grounds, the agreements which have been called “offensive” which relate to the development of employment and the reduction of medical support at work, with incapacity provisions which will henceforth offer less protection. At a time when our country is experiencing a serious crisis of democracy, where the gap between citizens and governments is growing wider and wider, the response of the executive is a brutal refusal to discuss. The final resort to article 49-3 thus addresses to the country, to all those who are demonstrating, the message of a power which has forgotten their shared values. It deprives the Parliament of its most essential right: to debate and pronounce upon a bill which regards a subject which is as important for our fellow citizens’ every day lives as the Labour Code…"