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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: http://www.humanite.fr/2007-09-20_M...

by Olivier Masclet

“The gap between the left and the working class housing projects dates back to the 1950s.”

Translated Tuesday 2 October 2007, by Gene Zbikowski

Why did the left fail to do, or fail to do well, its political work among the immigrants and their offspring? This is a question that is linked to the more general question of the gap that the left has allowed to develop between itself and the laboring classes.

By Olivier Masclet, lecturer in sociology at the Paris-V university.

“The connecting of a political party and a population, whatever its origins or its social characteristics might be, is not a naturally existing situation. Such connecting is always the fruit of political work. So, let’s ask the question: Why did the left fail to do, or fail to do well, its political work among the immigrants and their offspring? This is a question that is linked to the more general question of the gap that the left has allowed to develop between itself and the laboring classes, the factory workers, and the white collar workers, and the unemployed. The gap has grown terribly between, on the one hand, the lower classes, and on the other hand, the positions of power, the positions of representation, and political expression, which have become less and less accessible to people from the working class neighborhoods. There are many reasons for this situation, and they are described in my investigative book. (*)

The first problem between the working class left, the left that represents the working class populations in cities like the ones in the French département of Seine Saint Denis (on the outskirts of Paris) where the l’Humanité newspaper festival is being held, is first of all a problem regarding the legitimacy of these populations. From the 1950s up to the present day, even though there has been a change since then, you often hear left-wing elected officials talking about these neighborhoods using terms like “garbage dump,” “debased habitat,” and “a population that has been forced upon us.” To put it in a nutshell, the housing projects and the working class neighborhoods were not built or constructed for the people who now live in them. The French Communist Party worked on this question in the 1950s, in the hopes of providing a fraction of the working class with better housing conditions. But as things turned out, the expected populations did not live in them, at least not for very long, and those populations were replaced very quickly by immigrant workers.

The second reason was the development of a big vote for the fascist Front National in the mid-1980s, which resulted in the local political scene freezing up. Fearing for the loss of part of their electorate, some municipalities proved capable of using language which would have been inconceivable a few years earlier. This also resulted in a rejection of those populations. Finally, I’ll say that the problem of being able to make oneself heard also involved the problem of whom you consider to be capable of expressing himself. The city councils are no longer assemblies composed of elected officials from the working class. The difference in social class between the working class neighborhoods and the municipal governments has grown. And today’s elected officials have a hard time recognizing those who come from the working class housing projects as full-fledged partners, just as they have a hard time understanding their words, their practices, their wants, their desires, and their needs. Similarly, a form of self-exclusion develops. A goodly section of this population, feeling that they aren’t represented in the cities where they live, withdraw from politics, refuse to participate in meetings in any way, and see the elected officials in an extremely hostile light.”

(*) La Gauche et les cités, enquête sur un rendez-vous manqué. Éditions La Dispute.
[The left and the working class housing projects: an enquiry into a meeting that did not happen. Published by Editions La Dispute.]


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