Feature by John Owen who was part of a delegation to the Fête de Lutte Ouvrière, a socialist festival that took place from 7th – 10th June.
A delegation of 15 comrades from grand Bretagne (Britain) wended their way over to the LO festival, 60 km north of Paris, in the secluded wood of Precles, to the grounds of a chateau donated to the LO group in 1981. Ever since then a festival of labour socialists debate and festivities for the whole family has been held.
The whole of the French left was invited and there are no restrictions on attendance. The entrance fee is 15 euros for the 3 days – cheap as chips. The figures went from about 5000 on the Friday as we set up camp to 20 to 30,000 as members of the public strolled in on both Saturday and Sunday. They ferried people to the site on continuous shuttle of five coaches leaving every half hour to St Denis the nearest metro tube station. Those with cars parked in a field nearby. This was filling up as we arrived.
There were tents and marquees, in fact every available space full of debates, discussions and attentive listening people. All of them involved, giving vigorous interventions, but without rancour or hostility.
The whole experience was conducive to resolving issues, the speaking and elaborating of current questions, in a practical open and honest way. Very healthy indeed. We have something to learn thought I.
As I aimlessly wandered the site from the big stage or the place du grand podium where bands, acts and speeches were made, throngs of people enjoyed the entertainment which was mostly upbeat stomping music that seemed to go down well. Groups from all the world over. Comedy acts for children great stuff. All of this provided despite the intermittent rain. Right across from here was a long walk to the hub of it all, the chateaus which held a library of several thousand socialist books and literature.
But for me, crucial as it was also, where we queued for our breakfast. A curious method of grilling double egg bacon on bread tea coffee or juice, costing four euros. Closest thing to a full English.
We had left Leytonstone in London and arrived across the sea on the ferry with storm warnings predicted.
We duly set up tents in our allocated space and as night came with rain we got ready for storms. The alarm bells went as code red hurricane warnings was declared in Paris, 70 mph gales, everything was on standby. The eye of the storm was passing directly over us. We were evacuated to a stall area to sleep. Safely under a structure more robust than our flimsy tents. Others slept in the chateau. even more slept cramped in the vans they arrived in.
Our contingent were manning a stall allocated to us on the cities politique 2 large auditorium areas set up for debates. Two semicircular open air amphitheatre spaces, as the arguments raged translations across the divide from each group echoed in the air. It all seemed strange. But we got used to it. It seemed both comic and dramatic at the same time my rusty O level school French could not keep up with the fast and furious discussion.
There were two giant 60 foot inflatable screens showing the great film 3 billboards. Afterwards discussion and debate morning noon and into midnight hour I you required your fill of cinema. As I wondered I saw archaeological exhibitions fossil bones from dinosaurs excavated locally, nature trails for children, science experiments village, a medieval village, a blacksmith and forgers a suit of armour clad re-enactments group.
All the stalls were allowing kids to play too, you could even make your own sword or other vicious clobbering devices. There was hogs on the roast spit, there were artistic galleries open music classes much more than I could absorb. Circus performers, theatre groups, giant skittles where humans were the pins (children of course) and all the while the place felt safe for children to run around as anxious parents still looked on, but the mood was pleasant, relaxed and of full festival mode. I expected dull, dry doctrinaire, po-faced kids not wild joyous happy folk meandering the entire place.
We held our debates on the Gilets Jaunes movement or yellow jackets protest movement with a speaker from the group. Roberto spoke English and French, he was explaining very well the social significance of the group and why it needed to be supported. Then our turn for the next discussion on the Brexit issue and the call for a second referendum.
A number of labour party members wearing red T-shirts , where there and one of their friends spoke against the 2nd referendum as a solution. She began declaring we had to respect the will of the people and the outcome of the vote. The recent candidate for Peterborough, union activist Lisa Forbes, labour victory. election result were nationalist politics were defeated and class politics prevailed, showed depth of feeling for a future socialist labour government was still on the cards. Some however disagreed. in fact all the wise acres and doubting Thomas’s were predicting Corbyn was finished and nationalism was on the ascendancy. All proven were proven wrong.
Yet despite the sceptics drawing negative conclusions from the Euro election results, labour’s appeal to the working class voters was strong. no matter what witch-hunt tactic or bogus red herring anti-Semitism campaign, kicked up by the right in the labour party and aided and abetted by the Tory press. The truth got through to voters.
The whole camp should be described as a Monet style impressionistic picture of this socialist village. It was gloriously decked out in red flags and banners from beginning to end, thousands of them in all the languages of the world. These were emblazoned with workers of the world unite. Such a great sight to see in the sunshine as tens of thousands of people attended. Something we urgently need to consider organising here in Britain to help rally the cause and inspire hope in the people for change.
If lessons can be learnt at all for the British labour movement it is that the cause of labour is international. No boundaries, borders, blocks on free movement, on people getting in or out. Yes there are national differences, be it culture, language and other nuances, but socialism is a world outlook for the solution to the world’s problems and needs. It is international to the very core.
We have to clasp hands with our brothers and sisters on the continent, struggle for the world revolution, not confine ourselves to narrow national petty squabbles and English peculiarities. These limitations are fatal to the spirit and essence of the labour movement. Their cause is our cause. Long live the world socialists revolution. Vive La France, Vive La Grande Bretagne, solidarity with the gilets jaunes movement.
We can best support the movement to give solidarity to the yellow vest protest by building up our own activities and to get something going here on a similar scale. Like amongst deliveroo riders and couriers union rights for all and non to zero hours’ campaigns.