Over the past few months, France has seen widespread protests against the controversial Global Security Bill proposed by the Emmanuel Macron-led government. The proposed law grants more autonomy to the local police, expands the use of surveillance drones and portable cameras by police patrols, and illegalizes the dissemination of images where police officers can be identified. The law has been proposed in the backdrop of back-to-back protests taking place in France against the anti-people policies pursued by the government. Peoples Dispatch (PD) spoke with Sofian Nejjari, in-charge of international relations, Mouvement Jeunes communistes de France (MJCF), which is a communist youth organization in France regarding the ongoing protests and the policies of Macron’s government.
Peoples Dispatch(PD): What is your take on the ongoing protests against the Global Security bill in France? In your opinion, how detrimental is this bill for the freedom of the press and the checks on police atrocities?
Sofian Nejjari (SN): This bill comes at a critical time for Macronist power. It is meant for the president to maintain a climate of repression while, at the time of this pandemic, the disastrous results of his liberal policies fuel dissent. During the pandemic, we saw the result of capitalist policies which cost several people their lives, particularly through the destruction of the public health system of France. This bill is a more symbolic subject, but was an opportunity to open a debate on the policies which are destroying all the public services.
But for Emmanuel Macron, there is no debate. He uses the police to implement the many anti-social measures that he has been promoting since the start of his mandate. Moreover, article 24 of this law, which is particularly concerned with the subject of social movements, has caused a lot of controversy as it targets journalists who film the police. The wording of article 24 makes its interpretation very risky: “the fact of disseminating, by any means whatsoever and whatever the medium, with the aim of harming his physical or mental integrity.” Therefore, a journalist risks being arrested at any time. The government is maintaining a hypocritical and dangerous posture, denying police violence but at the same time prohibiting the filming of the police in action.
PD: How do you view the response of the French police to the back-to-back protests taking place in the country? Is it only a reflection of the anti-people attitude of Macron’s government or are there some structural problems behind the police’s contemptuous behavior towards people’s mobilizations?
SN: In France, we have a structural problem which prevents the equal legal treatment of this violence. Police violence is a social phenomenon that goes beyond the framework of demonstrations and, unfortunately, the inhabitants of working-class neighborhoods have been facing its violence for decades. France has an administrative institution, the IGPN (General Inspectorate of the National Police), which has the role of investigating the misdeeds of the police. However, this institution is not independent of political power and very often we have seen completely dishonest investigation reports in cases of police violence during demonstrations.
But beyond this structural problem, there is also political use of police violence. It is a way for the government to maintain a climate of fear which directly impacts the ability to mobilize for demonstrations and which considerably weakens expression and the means to oppose the liberal reforms being implemented. During the Yellow Vests protests, many demonstrators were severely injured by the police forces.Some lost a hand or a foot because of the kind of grenades used. There were also many demonstrators put in prison and others who faced severe judicial sentences. All this repressive apparatus that we endure has the sole objective of silencing the protests.
PD: France has become a target of terrorist attacks these years. There has also been a rise in Islamophobia and hatred against migrants. How has such a situation evolved in France and what is MJCF’s position on this issue?
SN: The goal of terrorists is to divide the population and weaken democracy. And it has been observed in recent weeks that they have partly fulfilled this objective of division because their criminal acts enrich and serve to justify the discourse of the extreme right. The reactionary forces find in these actions the justification for their hate speech. Thus, speeches against Muslims and immigrants are more and more widespread. Governments must be able to intercept terrorists before they take action. But above of all this, the best response is to engage in a real policy of social justice and equality between citizens, and to develop public services where they have been dismantled. We believe that giving young people prospects in terms of employment but also fighting discrimination, racism and inequality is the best way to bring down terrorism. We must give the people the means to build their future on all levels.
That is, we have to do the reverse of everything the government is doing today. It weakens all public services and destroys social security and labor rights. Then, in the critical moments that we are living, in the event of a terrorist attack, it decides to point the finger at the millions of Muslims in our country via nauseating debates and even proposes a bill on “Islamist separatism”.
PD: France has been witnessing another spike in COVID-19 and once again, all walks of society including workers, youth, students and teachers are in a difficult situation. What is your evaluation of the government’s initiatives towards handling the crisis and what are MJCF’s proposals on this ?
SN: The government continues to blame the population for the aggravation of the pandemic and this second wave. . The minister of health said in November that if the French did not respect containment, the situation would become even more alarming in hospitals. These speeches which are aimed to make the population feel guilty are unbearable when we know that this government, as well as the previous ones, have continuously weakened the public health service by reducing budgets and capacities.
At the start of the September school session, we were alerted about the unacceptable health conditions in which high school students, college students and school staff were going to resume classes. Not to mention, public transport everywhere is crowded. These are all places of contamination that workers are obliged to frequent. Healthcare workers have had the difficult task of facing the pandemic and are the most exposed to the virus. Blaming the people, when we know that it is the workers who keep the country standing, is unbearable. Besides that, nothing has been done or announced by the government in terms of structural policies to face this situation or other pandemics to come. We have also seen that for Macron, economic considerations are a priority more than public health.
PD: How do you evaluate governance under Macron’s rule in France? What has provoked the continuing waves of protests beginning with the Yellow Vests, the trade unions protests against pension reforms, health workers’ protests, students’ protests and the migrants’ protest?
SN: All of these protests are rooted in the rejection of a world that many people cannot stand. The Yellow Vests movement has shown that many people in France are facing great social difficulties and are increasingly poor, whether they are salaried or unemployed. This revolt was an opportunity for thousands of workers to demand a better sharing of wealth. The violent repression of the protests on the one hand and the lack of compromise on part of the government made many people understand the insensitivity that president Macron embodies. Thus, the movement of the Yellow Vests has allowed part of the social movement in France to revive and take shape on different subjects. This includes certain old subjects such as that of migrants, whom the French state abandons at sea and also goes to the extent of sanctioning those who come to their aid in France, but also subjects that emerged during Macron’s five-year term, such as the pension reform which will privatize the French pension system and reduce pensions. Despite the protests and the difficulties that citizens face in living with dignity, the government is still going in the same direction and will use yet another security reform to consolidate its policy.
PD: Even though Macron’s government relentlessly continues policies detrimental to the working class and the majority of the people in France, a large section of the liberal population voted for Macron – as we saw at the time of Euro parliament elections – in order to prevent the ascent of the far-right to power. How can the left-wing forces in the country confront this situation and oust Macron from power without giving any advantage to the far-right?
SN: We believe that the best way to defeat both Macron and the extreme right is to propose a political alternative that puts an end to inequalities, promotes the sharing of wealth, as well as a better exercise of democracy. We must also be able to respond to the ecological emergency with strong proposals which will not weaken the most fragile. The program that we must build must revolve around these major axes. The people and the working class have largely stopped voting, as the policies that have been implemented for decades have produced nothing but disillusionment and disappointment.
Hope for a better tomorrow should not only be projected in elections that will take place in over a year. If we want to be strong, we must carry the current social struggles such as the strengthening of public services and increase of wages and social welfare by supporting all the struggles that go in this direction. There are also high expectations on the subject of feminism, which was declared a “great cause of the five-year term” by Macron. However, his government is yet to do anything on the subject.
The way we move towards the presidential elections should not be disconnected from the campaigns of the citizens and workers which take place every day in the country. Those who still believe in politics expect it to make a real difference in their lives and I think it is this idea that we need to embody, through daily struggles and in our activism. It is only by this means that we will achieve the democratic revolution that we want. This is also the best way to reconnect peoples with each other and to thwart the far-right.