Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Marseilles, the multicultural birthplace of the Le Pen rebellion, signpost of the rightful rejection of neoliberalism that sadly spawned Trump

(Marseilles' Vieux Port)

MARSEILLES, France – The 20-year-old salesman spoke in hip, nearly perfect English. American rock ‘n’ roll played in the background at his store near this city’s magnificent Vieux Port.

“There’s a lot of racism here against Muslims, Africans,” said the native of south central France.  “It’s not only our fault. It’s their fault, too. The kids are not educated by their parents.”

He tells me stories of once being insulted and harangued by Arabs after they invited him to their table at a café. He tells of a friend who was attacked by Arabs.

“I have a lot of hate in me. How can I not be a racist?”

It’s Frenchmen like this Marseilles salesman who are helping fuel the presidential campaign of Marine Le Pen, whose National Front party was born here in Marseilles. Yet, this is a city that has long prided itself on its immigrant tradition, one that dates at least back to biblical times when, legend has it, Mary Magdalene herself migrated here and preached in the streets.

My visit to Marseilles coincided with a long-brewing fixation on the great Marseilles crime novelist, Jean-Claude Izzo, whose books help explain--but not excuse--the young salesman’s rage and the rise of the National Front.

“The only future for Marseilles lay in rejecting its own history,” Izzo writes in Solea, the last book in his Marseilles Trilogy.

Pushing that rejection has been the European Union, which cares little about Marseilles but definitely wants the city’s port to serve the neoliberal interests of the global corporations that rule the world today. Recent years have seen shiny, high-rise development along Marseilles' outer port area, but poverty and unemployment remain higher here than in much of the rest of France.

For Izzo, it's an amoral world that aligns global economic interests with organized crime.

“`Organized crime is inextricably interwoven with the economic system,’” his crusading journalist Babette Bellini says in Solea. “`The opening up of world markets, the decline of the Welfare State, privatization, the deregulation of international finance and trade: all these things have tended to favor the growth of illegal activity as well as the internationalization of a rival criminal economy.’”

What Izzo’s fictional character here has done is issue an indictment against the neoliberal economic model that has nearly strangled countries as far afield as Greece and Argentina, upended the lives of millions upon millions of poor workers by forcing them to cross international borders in search of jobs, angered and threatened native workers with that huge immigration, and thus fueled the populist uprisings that gave us Donald Trump in the United States and Brexit in England.

In my most recent book, The Strangers Among Us: Tales of a Global Migrant Worker Movement (LabourStart, 2016), 10 writers from across the globe, including me, describe how workers are standing up to the world’s neoliberal rulers and asserting their rights. It’s a hard fight against very powerful forces, however.

Teachers in Argentina have been on strike for more than a month to protest President Mauricio Macri’s pro-corporate agenda and his gutting of the social fabric that has seen annual inflation approach 25 percent and individual buying power decline by 11 percent last year alone. Teachers want a pay raise that will enable them to survive in Macri’s Argentina. Here’s wishing them success!

This blog has followed developments in Argentina since I visited that country during the 2015 elections that gave Macri victory. He has done his best to undo the good work done by prior presidents Nestor Kirchner and Christina Fernández de Kirchner in the wake of the 2001 economic collapse. That collapse was created by 1990s deregulation, foreign indebtedness and pressure from that neoliberal citadel, the International Monetary Fund.

A hopeful sign on another front came last December when a U.S. judge allowed victims of the Chiquita Brands firm’s ties to a terrorist group in Colombia to sue the company. The judge’s ruling allows the victims to make their case in the United States rather than in Colombia, where the company has ceased its operations.

Again, Labor South has written previously about Chiquita’s disgusting, immoral behavior in Colombia and other Central and South American countries, its use of the cancer-causing pesticide Nemagon on its fruit trees in Latin America, its ties to the anti-leftist, anti-union terrorist group United Self-Defense Groups of Colombia (AUC).  Nearly 700 members of the largest banana labor union in Colombia were murdered between 1991 and 2006.

France’s contentious presidential election takes place in May, and a strong showing from Le Pen is expected. The country’s history of tolerance and its revolutionary legacy have been tested by persistent high unemployment, a growing divide between the rich and everyone else, the murders of 240 citizens at the hands of terrorists since 2015.

“What credibility do the failing elites have to give lessons on what does or does not work?” a political counselor in outgoing President François Hollande’s administration told Nation magazine.

It's like echoes of the Weimar Republic amid the growing clamor of pitchforks and shouting voices outside the castle walls!

Hollande is ostensibly a socialist, but he’s one with a neoliberal capitalistic bent. In other words, he’s cut from the same cloth as former British labor leader and prime minister Tony Blair and U.S. Democratic wunderkinder Bill and Hillary Clinton, Big Money, elite-loving wolves in bleating-heart sheep’s clothing!

Whether France, England or the United States, the working class has no party representing its interests, and thus its turn to the right. British voters rejected the European Union because the EU has evolved into a neoliberal fortress like the IMC and World Bank, preaching austerity to average folks and tax benefits and cushy trade policies to corporate heads and their political cronies. Le Pen isn’t anti-government like Donald Trump, but she has capitalized on anti-immigrant resentment, a resentment that blames immigrants rather than the global power brokers who helped create mass immigration.

In the United States, workers struggle to make sense of their lives today.  Their biggest battle, as always, is with fear. That’s why workers at the Boeing plant in North Charleston, S. C., voted down a union earlier this year. It’s also the biggest obstacle pro-union workers face at the giant Nissan plant in Canton, Mississippi, in their effort to bring in the United Auto Workers to represent them.

Unsuccessful presidential candidate Bernie Sanders spoke eloquently to those workers in Canton last month, the only major politician to do so at their “March on Mississippi”. “All of our people deserve decent wages and decent benefits,” Sanders told them. “What this struggle is about is decency.”

Meanwhile, back in Washington, D.C., the Clinton machine still rules the Democratic Party and the Democratic National Committee.

Clinton-friendly Tom Perez won the DNC chairmanship over pro-Sanders candidate Keith Ellison and despite some initial gestures toward the Sanders camp showed his true colors by ignoring Democrat populist James Thompson’s strong congressional bid in Kansas while showering $8 million onto the campaign of Clintonite Jon Ossoff’s congressional campaign in Georgia.

Ossoff endorsed Hillary Clinton in last year’s primary, plus he studied at Georgetown University and the London School of Economics, and thus makes a nice fit for the meritocracy the Clinton machine has long envisioned not only for the party but the nation.

As for the rest of us, the Great Unwashed out there, well, we can just simply eat cake, as one famous French meritocrat from the past once told us.

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