Upon arriving at Grenay you see two huge mountains of coal slag and one-story houses made of brick, like the ones in Germinal, the film and the novel that narrate the harsh history of this mining area in the north of France. “I’ve seen the movie and I know the book, but they don’t have to tell us. It is what we have experienced”, Antoine Ibba tells us.
A miner, son and grandson of a miner, Antoine grew up in an environment far from the postulates of the extreme right. “I was raised on the left. My head told me that the left is working class. We were all miners, workers… We helped each other. We were a family,” she assures. However, today, at the age of 72, he is the local leader of Regrouping National, Marine Le Pen’s party, which got 55% of the votes in the town in the first roundand gets along very badly with the mayor, the communist Christian Champiré.
“It makes me desperate, it makes me desperate. We have tried to show that there were other options, but when I talk to people and they explain their situation, I understand them”, admits Champiré, who laments the decline of the area. “Pas-de-Calais, and in particular its mining basin, was for a long time an extremely rich region, with a lot of industry and employment. in 50 years has gone from being the second richest in France to being the pooresttied with Corsica”.
Why does a town with a communist mayor vote mostly for Le Pen?
The question is clear: Why does a town with a communist mayor vote for Le Pen? The truth is that it is not a unique case in the mining basin. Donis, denim jacket, gray beard of an old rocker, smokes rolling tobacco. In the middle of the afternoon, on the terrace of the tobacconist bar next to the Town Hall, he not only understands the vote for Le Pen, but also implies that it is his personal choice. “This is not extreme right or fascism. Fascism is what there was in Spain with Franco. Nobody believes that. Maybe with his father, but not with Marine”.
Like Michelle and Jean Pierre, a retired couple who watch their grandchildren in the park. “No work. The mine, the steel mill, have closed and the people vote for things to move. They want change. Maybe it’s worse, but they want to try it”, argues Jean Pierre. “He had never been on the right, he had always been a socialist, but we have been disappointed in them, especially in Hollande. Mitterrand has already given us some incredible slaps, copays in hospitals, technical control in automobiles. That is not a problem for the rich, but for the workers, yes.
At first sight, in Grenay there is no misery, perhaps a certain decadence. The streets are clean, people dress more modestly than in Paris, but decently. The official statistics do reveal, however, certain squeezes. Registered unemployment stands at 11%, four points more than the national average. According to the mayor, the real data would reach 20%. Decades of voting for the left have not prevented the closure of the mines or the steel industry. In Grenay, as in almost the entire Nord-Pas de Calais mining area, there is no misery, but there is no future either. And the past fades.
“There are many families here whose parents, grandparents or great-grandparents were deported, murdered, shot during the Nazi occupation. But To those of today it does not seem a paradox to vote for the extreme right. The common thread has been lost”, he explains. Gregory Picarthistorian and official of the City Council, who has written a book about the local resistance in the Nazi occupation.
Antoine Ibba, the son and grandson of miners who came from Italy, believes that the Communist Party wins the municipal elections in his town because it dominates the associative fabric, but he is convinced that Le Pen is going to sweep Grenay again this Sunday. “I know Marine, she is my friend, she looks at her and she makes me cry. I am a worker in my own way, an emigrant. When I hear her talk about her, it gives me hope. What hope does Macron give? To say that Marine is from the extreme right. What does she mean?
George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.