President Emmanuele Macron of France has been a poster boy for a new 'progressive politics' that he also apparently shares with Canada's Justin Trudeau and our own Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. But that so-called 'progressivism' has been little more than a defence of neoliberalism. In France, the French working class are fighting back.
A shabbily-dressed man is wandering along the Champs-Élysées when a big Mercedes stops next to him and the window opens. He peers inside and recognises his childhood friend, Emmanuel Macron!
President Macron recognises him, gets out of the limousine and asks his chauffeur to drive on as they walk together, arm in arm.
“I see your life is succeeding,” says the homeless man.
“Yes it's not bad. And you?”
“It is not going très bien right now.”
As they walk, Macron notices a click-clack with each step and asks, “What is this click-clack?"
“Ah, the sole of my shoe came loose today and I can’t afford to repair it.”
“Wait, I can help you”, says Macron who takes from his pocket a wad of 500 Euro bills held by a rubber band. He removes the rubber band, gives it to his friend and says:
“Voila! Put this around your shoe, to stop the click-clack!”
SINCE HE WAS elected to power President Emmanuele Macron and his government and launched have launched wave after wave of attacks on the living standards and rights of the French working class. But demonstrating whose interests he really represents, Macron has chosen to reduce taxes for the capitalist class. It is a familiar neoliberal economic prescription that we are all too familiar with in New Zealand.
The irony is that Macron has been paraded as the new face of European 'progressive' politics. Even as he cut housing benefits and increased taxes on pensions - while slashing taxes for the wealthy - he was still being promoted as representing a new and hip brand of progressive politics that presented a realistic alternative not only to the populist right but also to the so called 'extremes' of the far left. Somewhere along the line Macron's liberal supporters forgot, or they simply chose to ignore, that Macron's tax changes have gifted the hundred wealthiest households more than half a million euros a year: the top 1% captured 44% of his new tax breaks.
Labour Party supporters in this country are always invariably keen to support anything that sounds vaguely progressive as long as socialism doesn't get a mention. So, not surprisingly, they have been fulsome in their praise of the 'centre left' Macron.
Writing in the Bay of Plenty Times shortly before Jacinda Ardern toppled Andrew Little as Labour Party leader, Tommy 'Kopai' Wilson announced that Emmanuele Macron, Jacinda Ardern and Canada's Justin Trudeau were not only all good looking but had the ability to 'connect' with the young voter.
"Just like Emmanuel Macron and Justin Trudeau, who created a "youth quake" of voters by talking to them and not at them, their tres chic style of electioneering coolness is something Jacinda has cleverly captured..' enthused Wilson.
Similar gushy sentiments were expressed by the Labour-aligned website The Standard. In May last year it commented:
'You just have to check out the hair. Full, lyrical. Check those steady, penetrating eyes. OMG the skincare regime. Compile media grabs of Macron and Trudeau – and Ardern – and you have images of successful people who are fun and interesting and want to do good.
When it stopped sounding like Smash Hits, The Standard went on to speculate whether the success of Macron suggested that 'the left' was foundering not because of unpopular polices but simply because it had 'unpopular leaders'. Style over substance? You betcha! It couldn't happen in New Zealand? Check out this.
But Macron is proving not to be as 'popular' as The Standard, or Tommy Wilson, thought he would be. The French working class have begun a fightback against Macron's neoliberal agenda.
While Macron has attempted to demonise the protests as the work of violent far right agitators, a recent poll showed that 75 percent of France is rooting for the protesters. What began as protests against rising fuel prices has now become a broader struggle against Macron's neoliberal reforms and a defence of the social gains made under social democratic governments.
In more than 2,000 locations across France, protesters last weekend blockaded intersections, bridges, toll booths and fuel depots.
Like others who his share politics, indeed like Jacinda Ardern and her government, Macron is a defender of an economic model that has led to austerity and attacks on living standards.
While we have yet to see similar protests in this country let us be in no doubt that Jacinda Ardern leads a government pursuing similar policies. Documentary maker Bryan Bruce made that point recently when he wrote:
'Today inequality is an all too familiar word in our country and the coalition’s handing of the economy isn’t fixing it. Why? Because it’s the same neoliberal approach the last National government took and the Clarke government before it .. going all the way back to David Lange and Roger Douglas who introduced this economic virus in 1984.'
But, unlike an honest Bryan Bruce, there are other people in this country who like to parade as 'left wing' while choosing to misrepresent Jacinda Ardern and her government as 'progressive'. Don't be fooled. Instead demand an genuinely progressive alternative to the status quo politics and policies of the parliamentary parties that claim to represent our interests but never do.
Liberte! Egalite! Fraternite!
Liberte! Egalite! Fraternite!