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Oppose France’s new racist laws

14 January 2024
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By Marc Lassalle

On 19 December the French parliament adopted yet another immigration law, the 117th law on the subject since 1945 – and much worse than all the previous ones. It was proposed by the Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin, who claimed it ‘protected the French’, adding that the government had to take tough measures in order to stem the rise of Marine Le Pen’s racist Rassemblement National (RN).

But though the health minister Aurélien Rousseau offered his resignation in protest, it was sponsored by President Emmanuel Macron, despite the fact that it was heavily rewritten by right-wing senators from France’s traditional conservative party Les Républicains and was only finally carried thanks to RN votes.

It is easy to understand why Le Pen proudly claimed it as an ‘ideological victory’. The law contains an array of measures which deny basic benefits and fundamental rights to many immigrants, endorsing the RN’s objective of ‘national preference’, i.e. that French citizens should be given priority access to state welfare).

It will contribute to spreading the RN’s lies: that immigrants come to France only to benefit from its welfare system, that they are responsible for the lack of housing and jobs, that they are dangerous criminals and a threat to national security. In brief, it is a toxic mix of racism and xenophobia, supported by lies and slanders.

The new law includes various vicious measures:

• State benefits, like support for housing or for families, will be provided to immigrants only after a delay of up to five years, depending on whether they work or not – despite the fact that most immigrants are not allowed to work when they arrive in France.

• The introduction of quotas to cap the number of immigrants, meaning the regularisation of immigrant workers will be subject to the goodwill of the Préfects, local officials.

• A blow against the principle of the ‘loi du sol’, the right of those born in France to become French citizens at their coming of age, which goes back to a previous law sponsored by Charles Pasqua, right wing Gaullist and Interior Minister in the late 1980s.

• Foreign university students will have to pay a ‘deposit’ to the state, reimbursed only when they leave the country at the end of their studies.

• Bi-national citizens will lose their French nationality if found guilty of serious crimes.

Moreover, to obtain the support of the right wing, the government promised that, early in 2024, State Medical Aid, through which all immigrants can obtain urgent healthcare, will be ‘reformed’, meaning it will either be severely restricted or abolished.

The law contains measures so shockingly reactionary, that the government had to rely on the Constitutional Council to abrogate some of its articles, because they are against the 1946 preamble to the Constitution, stating that ‘No person shall suffer prejudice because of his origin’.

The approval of the law was a big shock even in Macron’s own camp, with 59 of his own MPs voting against it, and one minister resigning. Macron’s claim in the last two presidential elections, that he is a bulwark against Marine Le Pen and her ideas, has been proven to be yet another lie. However, the working class has little to expect from the ‘left’ inside the presidential camp, as they accepted – or even led – many of Macron’s other attacks against the workers.

France and super-exploitation

For centuries French capitalism has needed cheap, super-exploited labour: first in the form of slaves in the Caribbean islands, and later forced indigenous labour in its colonial empire. In the last century, it turned to immigrants from the Maghreb (North Africa). The democratic rights of these workers were highly restricted, reaching a hysteric level during the Algeria independence war in the 1950s and 1960s.

Racist ideology was used as an ideological justification for this discrimination, despite the fact that ‘Egalité’ (equality) is proclaimed on all public buildings. This racist oppression allows the bosses to keep them in low-paid jobs, often denying them basic workers’ and union rights.

The racist police and state apparatus, whose personnel was recycled from the fascist Vichy regime after the Second World War, were responsible for repression and massacres against immigrant workers.

The Front National, founded by Jean-Marie Le Pen, was built on a racist ideology and oriented massively towards supporters of Algérie Française, the violent pro-colonial movement of the 1960s. However, the traditional right wing parties also pandered to racist ideas and this was even true of the ‘left’ parties.

Contrary to the slander that immigrants are flooding into France seeking state aid, most of them spend long years working clandestinely as ‘sans papiers’ (lacking the required documentation) especially in the construction and service sectors. Far from profiting from state welfare, they actually pay obligatory social contributions, but are not entitled to any corresponding benefits.

Despite racist hysteria, the proportion of immigrants in the country’s population is hardly growing: up from 6.5 % in 1975 to 7.8 % in 2022. Even the chair of MEDEF, the main bosses’ association, calculates that the French economy will need about 3.9 million immigrant workers in the coming decades, because of the low birth rate. French capital wants ‘controlled’ migration, to force immigrants into extremely insecure and super-exploited positions.

The far right wants to go even further. Already in the 1980s Jean-Marie Le Pen coined the slogan ‘one million immigrants, one million unemployed’, suggesting that expelling the immigrants would solve the unemployment problem. Marine Le Pen, daughter of Jean-Marie, hammers the concept of ‘national preference’, and warns of the submersion of the French people under the wave of immigrants. Her ideas are clearly legitimised by the new law.

In this respect, the law is a break with previous racist laws and is much more dangerous, reflecting the spread of racism and xenophobia among the French population. Marine Le Pen’s party is poised, according to the polls, to be the first party in France in the coming European elections next June with about 28%, well ahead of Macron’s Renaissance party with 20%. In addition, her overtly fascist niece, Marion Maréchal, is predicted to gain 6.5 %.

President Macron claimed a victory with the law’s approval, showing that he is not a ‘lame duck’ and that he is capable of passing laws without using undemocratic tricks of the French 5th Republic constitution. Les Républicains also claimed a victory as they were pivotal in the approval of the law and strongly influenced its content.

For both of them, this ‘victory’ will soon appear to be a Pyrrhic one. Racist voters will prefer the original racist party, RN, to other forces simply imitating it and the ideological influence of RN ideas will be strengthened at all levels by this measure.

Working class

The French working class faces a difficult situation. Already weakened in the political arena by Macron’s victory in the struggle around pensions at the beginning of the year, it faces possible divisions in its own ranks between ‘French’ and immigrant workers, and augmented repression against the immigrant brothers and sisters.

The Socialist Party, the Communist Party and Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s France Insoumise all rejected the law. Thirty-two departments led by the Socialist Party declared that they would not apply it, as did the SP mayor of Paris Anne Hidalgo.

The CGT union leader, Sophie Binet, declared: ‘CGT calls for civil disobedience and the multiplication of actions of resistance against this law that undermines all our republican principles and prepares the ground for the far right.’ In the coming weeks, the CGT will organise ‘massive initiatives to allow those who do not identify themselves with a le Pen-ised France to show their determination so that solidarity values are respected’.

All this is correct but one can certainly doubt the effectiveness of the resistance by the reformist parties and by the unions, as they were unable to stop the pension reform. There is a real risk that the ‘massive initiatives’ by reformists will be toothless symbolic actions. Workers should call on their leaders to prepare the most effective resistance against the law, not in the comfortable seats of the Parliament, but in the workplaces, the banlieues (working class suburbs) and the streets.

Workers must be ready to mobilise this resistance with the weapons of class struggle, whether the reformist leaders agree to it or not. Civil disobedience must be accompanied by protests and mass strikes in favour of a massive regularisation of sans-papiers, as well as the abrogation of the whole series of racist laws of the past years.

Immigrant workers, some of them sans-papiers, are massively concentrated on the construction sites for the coming Olympic games in 2024. They will be on the frontline for the organisation of that event, in transport, security, hotels, restaurants, cleaning, etc.

The workers must be ready to block all related activity until the law is withdrawn. All unions, all working class parties and organisations must support such actions. They must organise for self-defence against likely repression by the state, right wing or even fascist forces.

The only way to stop the spread of racist ideas among the ranks of the working class is to propose, popularise and fight for a programme of action against all the racist laws and addresses the real causes behind the growth of RN: low wages, lack of jobs, lack of houses, schools and hospitals.

The shock provoked by this law, as well as the anger against Macron and his government, should be turned into a massive strike wave, including a general strike, against racist discrimination and oppression, as well as against the government and the system it defends.

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