On Tuesday, May 22, 2012, Jean-Luc Mélenchon, former French presidential candidate and now a candidate for a position in France's National Assembly representing the 11th Pas-de-Calais district, gave a speech at a Front de Gauche meeting in Strasbourg, which is translated in toto below. -- The speech was notable for its extended exposition of Mélenchon's views on popular sovereignty and its relation to company-owned property, and also for the enthusiasm of the reception accorded to Mélenchon in a region generally regarded as a stronghold of the right-wing Front National. -- To get a sense of the crowd, see this French TV news report on the speech....
DISCOURS DE STRASBOURG
By Jean-Luc Mélenchon
Le Parti de Gauche
May 22, 2012
[Crowd: "Jean-Luc ! Jean-Luc ! . . . Résistance ! Résitance ! . . ."]
Ahh... It's great to be together again, isn't it?
My friends, to those who are in front and also to those who are all the way in the back, what a source of pride for all of us that a call was enough for you to gather so soon and in such spectacular numbers. You have come out of personal dedication, because you have, yourselves, have freely decided, without anyone requiring anything of you, and without expecting any reward. You made the decision to come, and by doing so, your numbers swelling, what you have done is to create an event of considerable size, the likes of which has never been seen before in the entire history of the left in Strasbourg. [Cheers.] Because, during seasons of history that have lasted such a long time, this is and has been a territory that has been so fiercely and harshly fought over for the love of the republican homeland, perhaps Alsace and Strasbourg understand with less difficulty and better than others certain alarm signals that have to be made audible when, upon the old scars, the old wounds reawaken. Alsace! Look at us! We are France! Proud of being mixed! [Cheers.] France, proud of its values of sharing! France, which says that all man, all women, whatever their skin color, their religion, the origins of their fathers and mothers, are alike and equal! [Cheers.] Alsace, we are here! The republican pride of the homeland! [Cheers.]
In short, look them straight in the eyes, never bow your head. We're coming to say, to those to whom we want to deliver this message, so they'll know that we'll never give up, since they say that there are so many of them here, that never will we give in or leave them in peace when it comes to the value of the republican homeland. [NOTE: Mélenchon is alluding to the Front National. --M.J.] We are all equal! [Cheers.] Let it be clear once and for all! Wherever they are, we shall light, in the face of obscurantism and confused causes and all those obtuse hatreds, the light of argument and reason. To others, we say this: all those who are angry [fâchés] but who are not fascist [fachos], come and get angry with us! [Cheers.] Come and get angry with us! Not the blind anger that is wrong about who's the enemy! Not the stupid anger of someone who thinks of hitting his neighbor, but the intelligent, creative, positive anger that finds a way, that is capable of saying, without shilly-shallying, that France's problem is not the immigrant [l'immigré], it's the financier [le financier]! It's not the immigrant who closes the factory! It's not the immigrant who condemms others to poverty! It's financial capital, and its guard dogs, the Front National! [Cheers.]
The rest of us, since we're here, with hearts high, who want much and who know how with patience and intellectual discipline at every phase of the fight to take aim and keep our eyes on a target, knowing that one thing follows another, and that every moment has to be mastered -- we're the ones who tipped the balance on May 6 [NOTE: When François Hollande was elected president of France with 51.6% of the vote. --M.J.] even when our disagreements were well-known, even when we know full well what the noble dispute between us is that separates us from the Socialists. We've never lost sight of what's essential, which consists in distinguishing the adversary from the competitor, and it's because we have never asked for anything in exchange, negotiated nothing, quibbled over nothing, made no back-room deals, that we were able with heads high to decide. For it is the four million votes of the Front de Gauche that accomplished the defeat of Nicolas Sarkozy and the victory of François Hollande!
Don't think that in saying this I'm referring to the supposed effect of some speaker. I ask you to add things up and to think out to its logical conclusion the lesson of this event. Without asking for anything, aiming only for our own objectives, without asking for anyone's permission, we determined an historic decision. We broke the the axis that, in Europe, is condemning the peoples to the condition you're familiar with and that I'm going to talk about now. We broke the Sarkozy-Merkel axis. All we have to do now is to help our German comrades to get rid of Mme Merkel so that in all of Europe we can be rid of Merkelism, the senile malady of free-market Europe. [Cheers.]
Before that happens, as you know, from place to place, without hiding in any way, the Front de Gauche is announcing its revolutionary viewpoint for France. It says that it wants citizens, via a constituent assembly, to replace the absurd presidential monarchy with a secular Sixth Republic devoted to social justice. And if, of course, we are in favor of a parliamentary regime that takes back all the powers now conferred upon a single person. Nevertheless, since we want the people to be sovereign in everything, we refrain from saying more about what the institutions themselves will be, since we will leave it up to a constituent assembly when the time comes to accomplish a thorough reform of the French Republic.
My friends, in the end, as the great Jaurès liked to say, the entire political question can be summed up in one question: the sovereignty of the people. We proclaim that there is no limit to the sovereigny of the people. We proclaim that it cannot end in civil society, at the factory door, but, that, to the contrary, citizenship must enter the enterprise, since one way or another, we spend our lives there.
But, then, those who, like us, claim to represent the sovereignty of the people [NOTE: i.e., François Hollande's Socialist Party. --M.J.] have to stop talking and take action. And so, where we have just won this victory against the right, it's time to do justice to those who, in the course of those five never-ending years of reaction at every level, of destruction of social programs, and of challenge to our democratic freedoms, were in the front lines, who suffered in their personal and professional lives. I want to think right now of the best of us, of the most courageous citizens, the most committed, when it was so difficult -- the trade unionists! I ask the new government immediately to take at once the appropriate steps, and in particular, to Mme Taubira, the minister of justice, to recommend that the public ministry drop everywhere all the cases brought against trade unionists!
End the persecutions, like the one that victimized Xavier Mathieu, the trade union worker who stood up to the criminal bosses! [NOTE: Xavier Mathieu is a 46-year-old CGT delegate at the Continental AG tire factory in Clairoix in the Oise department in northern France (in Picardy) whose closing was announced in March 2009, eliminating nearly 2,000 jobs. Mathieu used direct action to resist the closing and was sentenced in February 2010 to pay a 4,000-euro fine, though he denied the acts with which he was charged. He was then charged again in June 2010 with refusing to allow his DNA to be collected. The case was thrown out, but France's ministry of justice appealed that ruling and in February 2012 after a new trial Xavier Mathieu was sentenced to pay 1,300 euros for his refusal to give DNA. --M.J.]
Stop the prosecution of Philippe Pichon, an honest, republican police officer, who, with their agreement, made public the spy files that were maintained against Jamel Debbouze and even Johnny Halladay! [NOTE: Philippe Pichon, 42, published in 2007 a book entitled Journal d'un flic that led to a reprimand, and when in 2008 he denounced the illegal spying to which Jean-Luc Mélenchon refers, he was dismissed from his position and prosecuted for revealing confidential information, violating professional secrecy, etc. --M.J.] This courageous and republican police officer who know how to practice civil disobedience when it was necessary to defend public freedoms should no longer be prosecuted! He must get back his job in the national police, to which he is an honor.
Finally, I ask the new president, François Hollande, in all your names, to amnesty all the trade unionists who were convicted over the past five years. And also, I again ask the new minister of justice that when new verdicts have handed down in favor of workers, as was the case for Somédical -- 32 times the boss was convicted, and those women who are there, making high-quality products, abandoned, betrayed by the criminal bosses who sold the products and the patents in order to manufacture in China -- well, those women, who were abandoned for more than seven months with no salary while judicial decisions were handed down. I ask for justice for them! We won! We should have our share!
All of you, my friends, listen to the great swell of history that is moving again. As we know it, the old continent, our European Union, is governed by people blinded by their own certainties, unable to imagine a future different from what they have done in the past, endlessly reproducing the same recipes at the very moment when they have failed. Look at them. At a time when Greece has already endured nine austerity plans, has seen fifteen general strikes, when for the fifth year in a row it's going to suffer a terrible recession that is bleeding it dry -- an unheard-of situation in a period when people are not at war, with the national GDP down 25% from what it was before the crisis. When the decisions applied have only worsened the problem and increased the debt, they propose nothing other than consensual suicide by asking them to continue applying the memorandum that they have just once again refused.
Listen to me, all of you. Our Front de Gauche in Greece -- not a party identical to us, but similar -- whose name is Syriza, a coalition of parties just as we are in France, was getting only 4.5% of the vote in 2009, but since it held the line, since it refused to put its hands to rigging the memorandum, since it refused to collaborate, first with Papandreou's socialist government and then with the government of national union with the extreme right, our comrades held the line, made themselves respected by the Greek people, as I want you to make yourselves respected by the French people, because you are unyielding, uncompromising, because you don't play the game, and keep the way open to the radical transformation of our society. That autonomy, that intransigeance, that masterful will, because they applied them, Syriza recently got 18% of the vote. The president of the republic invited our young comrade, Alexis Tsipras, who is 38 years old [NOTE: In fact, Tsipras will be 38 on July 28, 2012. --M.J.], who is an engineer, to form a government, and since he did not succeed in doing so, since he did not want to accept once again a politics of austerity to which all of the other parties represented in the assembly asked him to give in, because he didn't agree to give in, there will be new elections in the month of June that are coming almost at the same time as our own [NOTE: France will hold legislative elections on June 10 & 17, 2012. --M.J.], and polls say that he will get 28% and therefore, that will be called on for the first time at this moment in history to be those who break the chains of austerity in Europe! [Cheers; the crowd chants "Résistance!"]
Yes. At the moment when the Greek people, with Alexis Tsipras, are perhaps going to achieve this turning point, which is so amazing, so spectacular, I say to you that I deplore that, at a moment when Alexis made a visit to France to be heard and greeted, he was heard and greeted by no official representative of the government of the party of the majority. [The crowd jeers.] I do not say that it was necessary to meet with him to express agreement with him, when they're not. But I say that in Europe, union and fraternity and internationalism should lead us to listen to all those on the left who propose a way out of the crisis in which we find ourselves. I denounce this fact, that the French government, in the person of the minister of foreign affairs, and believed to be intelligent, like others, threatened the Greeks by saying that they cannot make political choices that are contrary to what is contained in the memorandum, or they will be denied money that Greece is waiting for to pay its civil servants and its expenses. I say it clear and loud: these threats are absurd. They are unworthy and unacceptable. But above all, they are totally counterproductive. If Greece collapses, the accident that its bankruptcy would represent would hit France full-force, since France has 60 billion euros worth of Greek debt. It would drag down all of Europe, with more than 300 billion, since that is the absurd and imbecilic method that we've been denouncing since the beginning -- that the European Central Bank lends to private banks who then lend to the state, and along the way pick up monstrous sums as profits. That's what's been leading us -- that absurd method!
My friends, France can do something about this. On May 29 the Irish are going to vote on a referendum about the treaty that M. Sarkozy left us as a legacy, after having signed it with Mme Merkel. We ask, on approximately the anniversary of the vote of the constitutional treaty in 2005, we solemnly ask that once again this treaty not be simply fixed up in the margin with some mumbo jumbo in which they repeat the mantras of free-market economics, crossbred with a few additional layers of varnish about growth. We want a referendum, because we want to say "No!" to the Merkozy treaty.
I am issuing a warning. Europe, and the European Union, are a great, beautiful idea. This is not the first time that people have tried to make Europe. All the preceding tries failed. Why? Because they all had the same defect. None of them put their confidence in the people, and in democracy. Now, once again, a method of European construction is encountering the same impasse, claiming to run everything, without consulting the people, and when they consult them, whatever they say, paying no attention to it. This method is going to ruin the great and beautiful idea of the European Union, on which peace on the old continent depends. I say this solemnly here, in Strasbourg, seat of the European Parliament and, in a way, the sentimental heart of Europe.
If I have evoked this question of political sovereignty, if I have evoked it at the European level, I want now to say a word about a dimension that in general we never speak about in talking about popular sovereignty. I want to speak of business. Younger generation, your role is to follow upon the generation before you that advanced social justice and democracy in civil society. The republic and democracy must be introduced into business. [Cheers.] The people is not the problem. The people is the solution. Listen to me. There must be new rights in companies if we are going to protect them from the rapacity of hedge funds, LBOs (leveraged buy-outs), and criminal bosses, from those who couldn't care less what is produced, how it is produced, who pay no attention whatsoever to the available imaginative and creative potential of those who are at work -- engineers, highly qualified technicians, women and men who ask only to do their jobs well and to put their savoir-faire to work for all. Business has to be liberated from the chains of finance because that liberates the human mind and human creativity.
How do we do that? And that's why you need déptués from the Front de Gauche. Listen to me carefully. If you elect, because you're told that with the sluggish formula of papa-style politics, since we have a president, we have to elect unquestioning supporters, the same copy three hundred times, the same politics, all of them glued to their phones, who will be very obedient and very disciplined in hopes that one day they'll be called to accede to the acme of politics, which consists in becoming a minister. [The crowd jeers.] Well -- but that's their right! -- I was one ! -- don't hiss at ministers ! They have the right! But you, you have the right to say to yourselves that you'll feel easier in your mind if you have on the benches [of the National Assembly] alongside the unquestioning supporters a few with a lighter step who in any eventuality are ready to move ahead, to take the offensive, you need to have in the legislature people as stubborn as mules with heads as hard as a rock who can stand up to anything! Who won't give in! Who'll resist all their blandishments! Who they'll be completely wasting their time coaxing! And who, bolted to their program, come with bills that won't be proposed by anyone if we don't propose them. I tell you that if you want a proposal for a law against stock-market layoffs, our comrade, the senator from the Pas-de-Calais Wattrin has proposed one in the Senate. If you want, after we failed to pass it the first time in the Senate by only four votes, if you want it to be proposed in the Assemblée Nationale, have confidence in someone who wants to do it, and who'll be afraid of nothing when the moment comes for doing it -- that is, one of those three [pointing at the candidates sitting on the stage], or all three.
Because if it's them, I can guarantee that the others are going to remain hidden underneath the table rather than propose something that might bother the nice little music that's already starting to bore us. If you want there to be a right of veto for workers' delegates in works councils because you know that this is not a problem but rather good fortune for a company, because if there had been a right of veto, the women trade unionists who had caught on that there was a wolf in that matter of Samsonite, the business would not have been carved up along with its pension funds, and so on. [NOTE: In 2005, a factory in Hénin-Beaumont, where Jean-Luc Mélenchon is a candidate in the June elections, was purchased from Samsonite for a symbolic one euro in return for promises that it would be reconverted into a photovoltaic battery factory. But in 2007 it was closed, in spite of the earlier promises of the new managers. Some 205 workers were laid off. In June 2009, a court in Paris convicted the company's secretary general to two years in prison, the CEO to one year in prison, and a consultant to 18 months in prison. The lawyer of the fired workers accused Samsonite of having concocted, with Bain Capital, the company founded in 1984 by Mitt Romney, a take-over plan that was only a means of getting rid of the factory before selling the company. He said Samsonite and Bain Capital were manipulators and beneficiaries in the affair, and that stockholders made several million euros by later reselling Samsonite. This week the ministry of justice has asked an appeals court to confirm the convictions of the businessmen involved, whom Mélenchon often denounces as "patrons voyous." --M.J.] My friends, the workers are always in the best position to be vigilant with respect to finance. The workers are in the best position to be vigilant with respect to all the environmental questions, because the first woman, the first man who suffers bodily because of disdain for safety rules and because of disdain for enivironmental laws, is the woman, the man, who's at work. They're the most vigilant sentinels and they should have the power. [Cheers.]
Finally, when up against capitalist property, whose principal driving force, cupidity... who thinks anyway, in the most obtuse way imaginable, that young boys and young girls who today are finishing their advanced studies, no matter what school they're graduating from, or else that the young man or the young women who finishes their bac professionnel or their BEP (brevet d'études professionnelles), the élite of the trained working class, that these young people are really preoccupied by one overriding interest, the desire to make money? It's not true. What they all have in common is that they love their work, work well done, quality production, something well made, well before the appetite for money. In life, the value of a product comes from work well done. Explain why so many people suffer so much at work, when they not only push them to work at a pace that is ridiculous and unbearable, but when they're pushed to do things they don't want to do because they seem to them cruel and absurd, whether they're executives, or whether they're workers on the line. If they suffer so much at work, it's not only because of the material conditions of work, but often because of the psychological, emotional, and moral conditions of work. Work is not only, as some say, a torture. It's also something in which one can complete oneself as a woman or a man. All of us know that -- [but especially] you, who have no other way of living than to live from your work, and who suffer so much when you are refused the possibility of working and earning your living with dignity. Because we're not asking for anyone's help. We lay claim to solidarity when we are in need, and the rest of the time we want to live by ourselves without asking anything of anybody. [Cheers.]
It's for all of these reasons that it is necessary, when up against capitalist property, that the collective property of the workers themselves be born. How can we do this? Well, when the boss no longer thinks he's able to manage the enterprise and he claims to be selling for a single euro [NOTE: This is a reference to the Samsonite affair; see the note above. --M.J.], when he runs away, when he sells it for a song, when the state in the name of the general interest determines that a business must not be sold for next to nothing because what it produces corresponds to something in the general interest and to the very sovereignty of the country, as is the case in very many businesses, then the workers of a company, whoever they may be, whether in the domain of services or manufacturing, must be able, if the majority of them agree, among themselves, to constitute a workers' cooperative, and they must have a preemptive right over the business itself. [Cheers.] The social property of the business should be defended by you without shame and without embarrassment, because we say that workers, when they group together, when they make plans, are, all together, more intelligent, more inventive, more capable, than three or four eggheads in an office, flanked by financiers whose exclusive preoccupation is drain off profits.
If you understand that what I am telling you is not the sum of beautiful dreams that have to be forgotten when this meeting is over, this gathering, which is so incredible and so unprecedented, if you know that it is a message that must survive and become a material force -- because ideas become a material force -- when, as now, you gather in the hundreds to bear proudly, clearly, unambiguously, unashamed of your ideas and your hopes -- then, then, you are irresistible. What I am calling on you to do is not to write a letter to Santa Claus -- a sympathetic character, since he wears red -- I am calling on you to mobilize wherever you are -- young people, in your high schools and your universities, workers, both women and men, wherever you are, all the others in civil society -- mobilize, because with your ballot you have the possibility of advancing the cause in a spectacular manner.
I am very grateful to you for having already understood this message at the first attempt [to communicate it], not by voting for me, who am nothing in this story except your spokesperson, but who through your ballots surprised everyone by bringing together four million votes, and by being so strong here in Alsace, where people told me: "Ah... since you say all the things you say about the children of immigration and of Arabs, and because, in addition you say what you say about about the concordat, you're lost. [NOTE: This refers to a part of local law in Alsace which recognizes and organizes Catholic, Lutheran, other Protestant, and Jewish communities, and which Mélenchon argues should be extended to Muslim communities in Alsace-Moselle. --M.J.] Well, it's not so! No! Fraternal Alsace exists! Here it is! I call on it to make itself heard, the beating heart of Alsace, which says, as we do, that in life there's more than money. We know it better than others, who are so lacking in it among us. But there are higher values than free and fair competition -- there is solidarity. There is a value higher than the war of all against all -- there is fraternity. There is a value higher than the suspicious gaze of hatred, and that higher value is called love. [Cheers.] That is why I am calling on you to get ready intellectually and morally, politically, with the same discipline that so far, with the same freely given constancy, each with the marching order of not waiting for marching orders, each person taking upon himself or herself the force of action and their own decisions, each person being his or her own campaign manager. Get a move on! Think of your Greek comrades who, perhaps, are saying: "Ah, if we had been better prepared we would be better able to confront the breaker that's going to hit us, when we carry out the responsibilities, democratically, because the ballot box has conferred those responsibilities on us, of the government of Greece." Get ready, in your turn, Front de Gauche -- some day, and the sooner the better, for a government of the left, that is, your own government, to be called, to confront the duties that France will have to face. This is the message that I want to make heard, in all its outrageousness, its pride. Here, in Strasbourg, in this public place, where other historic speeches whose content turned out to be true have been pronounced.
Here is what I have to say to you: The Front de Gauche is your insurance policy on the left. We'll never confuse the competitor with the enemy. We are independent and will stay independent. We are masterful from a sense of duty and obligation. Never, in the parliament, will a Front de Gauche député vote a single time for a vote of no confidence brought by the right. The left is the left, the right is the right. For all that, without ever being impatient, we shall never be naive. That is, in every circumstance, and in particular when it's a matter of the budget, and in particular when it's a matter of the document that we have to submit to the European Commission, for as you know, from now on France's budget has to be submitted to the European Commission -- [Scattered jeers.] -- indeed! -- and when the comments come back, the Front de Gauche députés will *never* vote for the directives and the orders given by the Commission to reduce public services or public spending in France! [Cheers.]
I hope that the messages that I have just given you, perhaps while abusing your very great patience, you who have remained standing for such a long time [Applause.] -- I hope that these messages will make their way, flying from mouth to heart, from one end of our communes, our neighborhoods, our factories, to the other. Tomorrow you will be able to be proud to have been here tonight in Strasbourg, which people said -- of which it was said that they forgotten, in Strasbourg and Alsace, that the red is in the tricolor [flag] and that it's the part that flutters ahead, and shows where the movement is, while the white is there, clueless, hardly moving, as ponderous as the established order and, so to speak, just as useless. [Laughter; cheers.]
So here, if you hold me in your esteem, and I have the impression that I have earned some esteem among you, then, in Strasbourg, remember that, in a few days, my name, in your polling places, is Josiane Nervi-Gasparini. My name is Antoine Splet. My name is Marc Baader. [NOTE: These three Front de Gauche candidates were on the stage during the speech by Mélenchon and spoke before him. --M.J.] And all of us say to all of those who are listening to us: we are the cry of the people. Long live equality! Long live the Republic! Long live the republican homeland of the French given to all its children! [Cheers.]
Translated by Mark K. Jensen
Associate Professor of French
Pacific Lutheran University
Tacoma, WA 98447-003
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