It was a word half-forgotten in the vocabulary of the French left, although it has been the backbone of the history of this ideological current since the 19th century. Now, in a country that has the lowest unemployment rates in years, but the fear of social declassification is widespread, the word worked return to the political scene. And it sparks debates on the left that could be described as radical, the one that is beyond social democracy.
Politicians such as the national secretary of the French Communist Party (PCF), Fabien Roussel, vindicate “the France of work” in contrast to “the France of subsidies”. They maintain that, if in the last decades the white and worker vote went en masse to the extreme right of National Regrouping (RN), it was not only because of fears, real or imagined, of immigration, or because of the effects of globalization. and the closure of factories in declining industrial regions. It was also —they say— because these voters concluded that the left had renounced something as close to theirs as the culture of work in favor of the culture of subsidies.
“The left must defend work and wages,” Roussel said in September. “The issue is not to increase the social minimums [ingreso mínimo para personas en situación de precariedad]but get out of the social minimums”. Alexis Corbière, leader of the first party on the left, La France Insumisa (LFI), replied: “The subsidies are a magnificent social conquest, there is nothing unworthy about them, they are our pride.” “Sorry, but the value of work is a right-wing value”, completed the environmental deputy Sandrine Rousseau, before claiming the “right to be lazy”.
What Roussel said, in a perhaps schematic way, has been pondered for a long time by François Ruffin, an LFI deputy for a district in the industrial north of France, in the old communist and socialist territories now in the hands of Marine Le Pen’s RN. He knows these voters first-hand, debates with them, and listens to them, as he explained a few weeks ago during an interview in Paris.
“During my electoral campaign, I was constantly questioned by people who told me: ‘I can no longer vote for the left because I am in favor of work,'” Ruffin (Calais, 47 years old) recounted. And he wondered: “How did we get to this point? For me, the left is Jean Jaurès [fundador del Partido Socialista]fourmies [bastión de la izquierda en el norte], the miners. It has an organic link with work. But now they tell me: ‘I work, but I have no right to anything’. For these people, it is the right that defends the value of work, and the left defends social assistance.
Ruffin is the rising star on the left. Last week she was on the cover of the weekly L’Obs with a provocative headline: “I am a social democrat”. It is a way to differentiate himself from the leader of his party, Jean-Luc Mélenchon, and to appeal to a segment of voters that goes beyond the radical left.
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The deputy recounts that, during the last campaign for the legislative elections, in June, in the markets and squares of the working-class regions and provincial France, there was more talk of the dichotomy between workers and people with social assistance than of immigration. “They don’t talk to us about immigration, but about the cas soc’ who lives downstairs, as white as them,” he says, using the contraction of “social case.” This expression designates, in a derogatory and hurtful way, the person without training or job prospects, sometimes drunk, who lives on subsistence aid from the State.
What happens, according to this argument, is that the precarious worker who gets up early ends up blaming the neighbor more cas soc’ than to the boss or big capital. And this is how he ends up voting for the extreme right: he associates the left with the subsidies that allow the poor neighbor to survive. Ruffin says that he tries to fight this perception.
“I win my campaign by telling them: ‘Count me for a moment: 1, 2, 3… During this time, Jeff Bezos, the head of Amazon who does not pay taxes in France, earns 10,000 euros, while the baker on the corner has a 24% tax. in these three seconds [Bezos] she gets as much as a companion of children with disabilities in a year of work”.
the world cited in September a study published in 2009 by sociologist Olivier Schwartz on bus drivers in the Paris region, to which Ruffin also refers. “Their representation, their awareness of the social world,” wrote Schwartz, “was not bipolar, but triangular: they had the feeling of being subjected not only to pressure from above, but also to pressure from below, from those below. below them”.
There is a left that considers that addressing these issues is playing the game of the extreme right. The doctrinal fight broke out in September during the Fête de L’Humanite, annual festival of the French Communist Party newspaper that brings together thousands of people over a weekend with debates, speeches and concerts. It was there that the host, Roussel, declared: “I am not in favor of the France of the RSA [ingreso mínimo para las personas sin recursos] and unemployment (…), but rather more than one job to which a salary corresponds”.
It may seem like a no-brainer, but in a country where the 35-hour week is one of the last tangible successes on display on the left, it sounded provocative to some. “We have a right to be lazy,” replied the ecologist Rousseau days later, “a right to transition between jobs, a right to take breaks in life and, above all, we must find time, share it, and the four-day week ”.
It’s not just the concept worked which polarizes the left, grouped in the National Assembly under the name of the New Social Ecological Popular Union. The communist Roussel has marked differences with LFI and with environmentalists defending nuclear energy. In January, he sparked controversy by declaring: “A good wine, a good meat, a good cheese: for me this is French gastronomy.” “These words exclude a part of the gastronomy that takes place in France,” replied—again—Rousseau, leader of the left wing of environmentalists. The carnivorous diet was associated, for a sector of the left, with intensive agriculture and the destruction of the environment.
Ruffin himself, in his positions on issues such as insecurity in the streets, distances himself from his party, LFI. “When a woman in a neighborhood tells me that she can’t sleep at night because of the noise, or that she’s afraid to go home at night, you have to listen to her,” he says. “You have to take into account what she lives or what people feel.”
For the deputy, this is the only way to stop the advance of Le Pen, who since the June legislatures has 89 deputies —a record— and knows how to speak to the worker voter, something that the left has forgotten.
“I will not abandon them,” Ruffin promises, referring to these voters. “Losing these people, for the left, is not just losing an electoral segment: it is losing their soul.”
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