France’s presidential candidates battled for the working-class vote in a day of sometimes violent protests ahead of next Sunday’s election.
As May Day workers’ rights marches were being held across the country, the National Front’s Marine Le Pen attacked her rival Emmanuel Macron as an “enemy of the people” who represented finance and “savage globalisation”.
The rancour and confusion of the campaign spilled on to the streets, with some trade unions refusing to back Mr Macron against the far-right Ms Le Pen and clashes between riot police and masked youths in Paris. Some protesters threw Molotov cocktails, wounding at least three police.
Seeking to exploit the divisions among the left, which rallied to support the centre-right Jacques Chirac in his race against her father 15 years ago, Ms Le Pen has sought to frame this year’s contest against Mr Macron, a former Rothschilds banker, as a confrontation between the elite and ordinary workers.
On Monday she asked if far-left workers were really going to vote for Mr Macron, whom she accused of wanting the “uberisation of society” — an apparent reference to the dilution of traditional workplace rights — and of seeking to “throw communities against each other”.
While Ms Le Pen is expected to lose Sunday’s run-off, 55 per cent of manual labourers say they will vote for her, according to Ifop, a pollster, and she has intensified her campaign to convince working-class leftwingers to rally to her cause, or at least abstain. Abstentions typically help the FN, whose diehard supporters are more likely to vote.
Over the last week Mr Macron has found himself on the defensive several times, notably when Ms Le Pen hijacked his visit to a factory in northern France. She used the case as an example of the travails globalisation causes the working class and promised new trade barriers to protect workers.
In his own May Day campaigning, Mr Macron sought to remind voters of the National Front party’s past, paying homage to a Moroccan man thrown to his death in the river Seine by far-right skinheads after a 1995 FN May Day rally.
The latest polls show a victory for Mr Macron, with 60 per cent against 40 per cent for Ms Le Pen. But some of his backers remain worried that a very low turnout or a serious blunder could still turn the tide. A strong showing by Ms Le Pen would also weaken Mr Macron’s position in the legislative elections next month and make it more difficult for him to govern.
The disarray of the left was clear on the streets of France’s big cities on Monday. While some unions called on voters to support Mr Macron, many from the biggest confederations, such as the 122-year-old Confédération générale du travail, marched against both candidates. In Paris’s Place de la République, some held up the banner: “Plague or cholera: we don’t want either.”
By contrast, in 2002, the first time that the National Front made it through to the second round of the French election, the unions came out in near-unanimous support for Mr Chirac against Ms Le Pen’s father Jean-Marie.
The 88-year-old Mr Le Pen made his own May day appearance, giving a traditional speech before the gilded statue of his heroine, Joan of Arc, near the Louvre museum in Paris.
The former FN leader was expelled from the party in 2015 after he reiterated comments perceived as anti-Semitic. But in comments to a small band of supporters, he praised his daughter and criticised Mr Macron, whom he called a “masked Socialist”. Although Mr Macron has subsequently formed a new political party, he made his name as economy minister in the unpopular Socialist government of François Hollande. Mr Le Pen said: “He wants to dynamise the economy, but he is among those who dynamited it.”
Just over 20km away to the north of Paris, Ms Le Pen was making the same point in a crowded hall: “Emmanuel Macron is just François Hollande who wants to stay and who is hanging on to power like a barnacle,” she said.
In a 45-minute speech, Ms Le Pen did not once mention what is formally her party’s flagship policy of leaving the euro as she attempts to soften her stance on the issue in a bid to appeal to centre-right voters this week.