Farmers and their supporters protest in Rennes (Picture: @ConfPaysanne)

Across France farmers have risen up in some of the most coordinated and militant protests for years.

In France, Germany, Poland, Belgium, Spain, Netherlands, Romania, Italy and Greece farmers are protesting with tactics such as blocking roads with their tractors, dumping manure near public buildings, spraying liquid shit on police stations, herding sheep to close down towns—and more.

In some countries the slogans of the far right are strongly dominant.

In others it’s much more mixed and the left can challenge to shape and win over sections of the movement.

In Germany, the far right AfD party is strong inside the mobilisations, but some farmers also joined the mass protests against the AfD.

Farmers everywhere say they are weighed down with debts, squeezed by powerful retailers and agrochemical companies, battered by extreme weather, undercut by foreign imports and are forced to rely on a subsidy system that favours the big players.

The biggest and most sustained revolt has been in France. Tens of thousands of farmers have blocked motorways for several days.

The government feared to denounce the immensely popular movement, or to unleash the riot cops it normally uses against strikers or protesters who cause disruption.

Instead president Emmanuel Macron split the farmers, making concessions to the big producers.

The richest farmers, who control the main unions, announced the “suspension of the protests” last Thursday.

The Peasant Confederation, the most left wing farmers’ union, called for protests to continue.

It said, “There’s nothing concrete on income, that is the tragedy of these announcements in the face of such mobilisation.”

It denounced “the promotion of genetically modified crops and the continued massive use of pesticides”.

The issues raised by French protests are far from solved. And farmers say they will be on the roads again if the government doesn’t deliver within three weeks.

Farmers are sharply divided between the ones with large landholdings who employ lots of workers, and the self-employed, small producers who rely almost entirely on family labour.

Emile Dubois is a vegetable-grower whose farm is “just about big enough to stop me and my kids starving”.

He told Socialist Worker, “What do the government’s concessions mean to me? A big farm is delighted that the limits on pesticides are delayed.

“For me it makes very little difference. They are glad the requirement to leave land uncultivated is not to be extended. To me that’s nothing.

“I have been on a blockade for four days, night and day, with my tractor over income, income, income. There’s no help on that. I know we need to stop climate change, I want dignity and a proper living where I can survive by working for 50 hours a week, not 60 or 70.”

Nobody should believe the promises from Macron’s regime.

There are already detailed rules— the “Egalim” laws—that are supposed to protect small producers and stop profiteering by supermarkets and big wholesalers.

But the monsters of the agrifood industry—Lactalis, Nestlé, Danone—and the retail chains—Leclerc, Carrefour, Intermarché, Système U, Auchan— spurn such restraints.

The farmers’ revolt shows how ruling classes survive by divide and rule. Macron has faced waves of resistance.

But he is still there because unions and political leaders keep separate the different strands of the fightback.

A year ago a mighty movement saw millions repeatedly march against attacks on pensions.

But union leaders held back the escalation and generalisation into the other areas that could have toppled Macron.

Then in June, just as the union leaders had folded the pension strikes, the cities exploded with angry revolt after the cops murdered Nahel M.

He was a young man from a migrant background whose assassination became a symbol for all of the cops’ repression and racism.

But the unions hesitated to restart their struggles let alone to back fully the urban uprisings.

On Thursday of last week, the government was in crisis as thousands of farmers blocked roads, laid siege to Paris and confronted the police.

At the same time teachers struck nationwide over more selection in schools, other attacks on students and pay and conditions.

In the southern city of Toulouse where the farmers’ protests began, a huge education demonstration saw thousands on the streets.

As teachers walked out, school students rampaged through Paris and other cities chanting, “Whose school? Our school”.

And at Roissy airport near the capital, hundreds of workers walked out to support a sacked union rep. That was all on Thursday.

A week and a half earlier, tens of thousands of people had marched against the new anti-migrant laws pushed by interior minister Gerald Darmanin.

The CGT union federation has rightly called for workers to support the farmers. And some of its officials joined the tractor blockades.

But there’s no push for the fighting unity that could bring together the farmer’s family on £800 a month, the 58-year-old shop worker fearing she will never see her pension and the young Algerian facing harassment from the cops.

Such unity is never easy, but it could be built by a programme of struggle against Macron and big business and money for workers and the poor, not the elites.

At the Roissy airport protest CGT union rep Nicolas Pereira was right to say,

“If we stay controlled by fear we will get eaten. Other sectors are mobilised in the face of repression but also in the face of the rise of the far right. We must push for unity, that’s what the employers fear the most.”

Far right fakers want to gain

The right and the fascists have tried to gain from the farmers’ revolt.

Eric Ciotti, leader of the conservative party Les Republicains, came forward last week with a demand for a farmer’s minimum income of 1,500 euros (£1,280) a month.

It would be financed, he said, by stopping medical care for undocumented migrants.

It’s a disgusting demand to target migrants as the enemies of other ordinary people.

It shields the rich and the corporations by scapegoating the poor. Even one of his own MPs said, “It’s huge bullshit, it just sets up Le Pen.”

Marine Le Pen’s RN party poses as the farmers’ friends. It mainly looks for votes among workers and the middle classes, bitter at their poverty and resentful of elites.

But its leaders have also talked about rural areas as the source of the “real France”, with fewer migrants and more “blood and soil”.

Jordan Bardella, the president of the RN, pulled on green wellies and rushed to the farmers’ protests.

He said “the disappearance of our agriculture” was “the greatest social crisis in the history of the Fifth Republic”—which began in 1958.

But he refused to back protests, fearing that this might escape the right’s control, upset the cops, and fuse with other movements.

The RN’s push is backed by a slew of media commentators who use the farmers to push an “anti-woke” agenda.

In the Sunday Journal newspaper, Sonia Mabrouk sets the farmers in the context of a Europe that has “pulled the curtain on the ancestry of peoples”.

She sees the revolt as “the hour of revenge of the person who drives a diesel vehicle and smokes”.

Sabrina Medjebeur uses the media to contrast left-wing protesters— “The France of idleness, which destroys, pillages, and attacks even elected figures” with the farmers.

She says they are “the France of the rooted—which is despised, asphyxiated, suffocated.” But there are plenty of farmers who see the RN as opportunists.

Mathieu Favodon, a cattle breeder from Auvergne, told Mediapart website, “We have never seen the RN and all of a sudden we discover them among the cows when the elections are coming.

“If Bardella shows up here, I’ll send the dog first, then the pitchfork.”

Tear out system by its roots

The crisis in agriculture underlines that under capitalism food production will always be dominated by giant agribusinesses.

People’s needs for healthy food and protection of the environment come second to big business and the strategic interests of governments.

No amount of “regulation” will decisively overcome this. On a global scale, people starve when more than enough is produced for people’s needs.

They starve because they can’t afford the food that is available or, as in Gaza or Ethiopia, because governments impose hunger. On a European level major producers’ interests won out.

The forerunners of the European Union (EU) devised the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) as part of the Cold War against Russia.

The aim was to boost big producers, rely less on imports, be more prepared for military tensions and display “capitalist success”.

Rolled out in 1962, the CAP set minimum prices for agricultural products and levied tariffs on imports. This boosted farmers’ incomes, but meant high prices for workers.

It also led to surplus production— the infamous “butter mountains” that EU states destroyed or sold abroad. Other capitalists argued to dismantle production and let rip market forces.

Such interests prevailed. The CAP shifted in 1992. It ditched minimum prices and let in imports.

But because this threatened to wipe out European farmers, the EU introduced a dizzyingly complex set of payments to prop up agriculture.

Dressed up with warm phrases about ecological action, these delivered handouts to food corporations.

The World Trade Organisation backed up the EU.

Its policies shattered barriers to the food multinationals, increased hunger for billions of people and eliminated local producers.

As for the promise of cheap food, big agribusinesses and retailers have sent prices soaring.

Now there is a crisis of malnutrition and of small farmers going under, of food stuffed with additives while fresh crops are too expensive to buy.

Multinationals steal from people who buy in the shops and from many farmers.

The whole model has to change. Instead of the rule of profit, there has to be a system of democratic control that is sustainable, produces good food for all, and gives food workers a fulfilling life.

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