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by Jean-Paul Piérot

The Tunnel


Translated Friday 7 November 2008, by Alison Billington

We have been warned that the economy is going to suffer an ‘extraordinarily bad slump’. The budget minister, Eric Woerth did not mince his words. Government announcements show it has changed its tune. The propaganda of success, the determined optimism, give way to anxiety-provoking statements. Even Xavier Bertrand, usually so pleased with himself, informs us seriously that unemployment figures will not be good ‘for many months ahead’. What’s happening? A nervous attack in the ministries? At the rate things are going we would not be surprised to hear Christine Lagarde reveal to us that the French financial system shows weaknesses…

It is certain that statistical research, from whatever institution it comes, produces depressing figures one after another. All the indicators are on red. Unemployment continues to start upwards. Failed enterprises increase in the housing sector, for hotels, restaurants, construction and industries for service to private individuals; in other words, in those economic activities that depend most on the purchasing power of the employed. The forecast for expansion for 2009 remains below the level of 1%. We cut back on our holidays, many of us delay buying a house or replacing the car. It’s difficult to see the world through rose-tinted spectacles in such a context.

But the government can’t free itself, with impunity, of its responsibility for the disastrous situation in which millions of families in our country find themselves. That, however is what messieurs Woerth and Bertrand are trying to do, by describing to us a never-ending tunnel. When unemployment officially marks time the government has to be given the credit for this feat. On the other hand, when the figures are high, does the government have nothing to do with it? How are we to interpret Nicolas Sarkozy’s commitments ‘to seek growth by tooth and nail’ Was this a bluff? Mere propaganda?

There are at least two ways to take away the credibility of politics: one consists of telling employees sacrificed on the altar of shareholding that ‘the State can do nothing’; the other consists of staging a showy restlessness and repeating throughout speeches, ‘I haven’t been elected to…’ and going on to other things pretty quickly and assertively to distract the attention. Each politician will recognize himself in one of these modes of side-stepping the issue. Doubtless a certain number of Ancelor Mittel ( an international steel company) employees, forced to take obligatory holidays right in the middle of November, must think at the present time ‘I didn’t elect Mr. Sarkozy for that!’

Can workers for C.A.M.I.F. [1], a veritable institution for the teaching world, understand why an experience of public economy is left to die in this way?

So while plans for layoffs follow on one from another, the president of the Republic passes himself off as a ‘moraliser’ preaching on the evils of capitalism, be it on the United Nations platform, at the European Parliament, or soon in Washington at the time of this petty summit where twenty of the most powerful Heads of State accord themselves the right to speak in the name of the planet and so to reform a world financial system by keeping off to one side all the people who suffer from it most.

In France, as elsewhere, it is the increasing disequilibrium in the distribution of value added to capital, the manipulations of finance capital, the ever greater demands of shareholders, in a word, it is capitalism itself that is in crisis. Sarkozy’s ‘preaching’ is a smoke-screen and mystification. In truth, isn’t the government in the process of demoralising the French and creating the crisis which will make them accept new sacrifices? It is certainly not taking into account their ability to perceive. The stakes in this ideological fight, with its very practical consequences, are decisive. Every crisis is a journey, but the destination is never certain. What a challenge for those on the left who want to overtake and pass the capitalism that Nicoloas Sarkozy would like to re-establish!

[1a French association offering household goods for sale primarily to teachers

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