May 1, the tradition fête des travailleurs et travailleuses, turned out not be quite as apocalyptic as the authorities had warned, perhaps exaggerating a bit in order to frighten away potential marchers. Neither was it the convergence des luttes that Jean-Luc Mélenchon had called for. Most of all, it did not signify a renewal of the trade union movement, as Philippe Martinez, the leader of the CGT, had to be exfiltrated from the line of march, or rather one of several lines of march, by his security service when he was caught between the CRS and a contingent of Black Bloc anarchists. Meanwhile, Marine Le Pen hid out in Metz, where she bizarrely denounced the EU (which she now, with her customary habit of acronymic punning, calls “l’UERSS”) for perpetrating an “economic, social, and identitarian Chernobyl,” while her father as usual paid homage to Joan of Arc at the place des Pyramides, but now to general indifference.
In short, this year’s May Day signified nothing so much as the chaotic political landscape that Macron faces in the wake of the Gilet Jaune uprising and the Grand Débat National. The parties of the Left remain in devastated disarray, and yesterday’s chaos demonstrated once again that Mélenchon’s dream of uniting them under the banner of LFI is a fantasy. The Yellow Vests continue to produce marchers without achieving any clarity of purpose, and increasingly they are instrumentalized by the Black Blocs bent on violence. The unions, whose partnership Macron needs to push ahead with his program, seem as disoriented by the protests from below as the politicians themselves. They find themselves on unfamiliar terrain, literally–being forced to march from Montparnasse to la place de l’Italie (where a degeneration of the demo led to an invasion of the Salpetrière hospital) instead of Bastille to République–as well as figuratively. Just as Macron seems prepared to renounce his Jupiterian idea of the presidency, society seems to be dissolving into dust, atomizing itself in a way that may require a Jupiterian response to hold things together.
Taken together, the signs are not encouraging. This May Day seems to have been a collective expression of Mayday, the international distress call (from the French m’aidez!). “Things fall apart, the center cannot hold, mere anarchy is loosed upon the world.” But at least spring is here. Aidez-nous!
Photo Credit: Scott L via Wikimedia commons, “LAPD May Day Protests“, CC BY-SA 2.0