As others cross themselves before a crucifix before leaving home, Bernadette glances at the red flag bearing the image of Che Guevara that hangs in her small apartment on the outskirts of Reims, in northeastern France. This 77-year-old retired seamstress has never been to Cuba and she knows that traveling to the island of her hero will be another unfulfilled dream. What does not prevent her, before closing the door of the house and grabbing her shopping cart, she launches a “hasta la victoria siempre” to give herself courage. Courage, value, is something you need to muster every morning. With a pension of 877 euros per month, after paying the basic bills, he has 15 euros per day left. With that he has to eat, dress and face the day to day. He trembles at the idea of a breakdown or any other unforeseen event that breaks his meager budget. At night, she has nightmares that her rent will go up, because she knows she won’t be able to afford it and she fears she would end up on the street.
The story of Bernadette (who jealously guards her surname) is told in a recently published book, A bowl of coquillettes et plus voilà (A plate of pasta and that’s it), the journalist from paris match Charlotte Leloup. It has had an unexpected echo, acknowledge both the author and its protagonist in conversation with EL PAÍS, in a France where the loss of purchasing power has become the greatest concern for millions of French people who this Sunday are called to the polls to elect a new president or president.
And they may not make it to the end of the month, but according to the polls, they will do everything they can to go to their polling station to vote. According to a recent study by the Travailler autrement foundation, 86% of the so-called “invisible” workers, those who have key jobs for society, but poorly paid, such as nursing assistants, delivery men, home help, cleaners, carriers, cashiers or vigilantes, and who account for 40% of wage earners in France (13 million people), say they are ready to vote this Sunday. It is not a mere promise: 80% went to the polls in 2017.
It is not surprising, therefore, that the candidates for the Elysee have redoubled their economic promises in the last days of the campaign. On Thursday, the main candidates, incumbent President Emmanuel Macron and far-right leader Marine Le Pen, said their first steps if they win the two-round race would be to improve the purchasing power of the French. Macron promised to maintain the tariff shield (limit its rise) on gas and electricity already in force and revalue pensions this summer to take into account the sharp rise in inflation. In addition, he said that he will raise their indexation so that they do not lose purchasing power. Le Pen, for his part, promised to reduce VAT from 20% to 5.5% “on all energy” and create a “basket of essential products” without this tax.
In the country that before the war in Ukraine boasted of having achieved one of the highest economic growth rates in Europe after the pandemic, 9.2 million people live below the poverty line (set at 1,102 euros per person or 2,314 euros for a couple with two children under the age of 14), according to the latest official data. Many are retirees like Bernadette, who don’t even reach that number and depend on the distribution of food parcels and other basic goods from organizations such as the Red Cross.
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People like Bernadette “live in the permanent anguish of the unforeseen. Telling yourself that if all goes well, you’ll make it to the end of the month, with difficulties, but you’ll make it. But if the washing machine breaks or if she has to buy some shoes… Unforeseen events make her anxious and even traumatize, because she doesn’t have enough room to manage them,” explains Leloup, who met Bernadette during a report on precarious retirees in 2018. .
In addition to Bernadettes, there are the “invisibles” from the studio of the Travailler Autrement foundation. 50% of these workers highly motivated to vote earn less than 1,500 euros gross per month, below the minimum interprofessional salary (1,603 euros gross, 1,269 net).
About 500 kilometers from Reims on the way to the Atlantic coast, in Oudon, on the outskirts of Nantes, Lucie Guéry and her fellow nurses are also looking with apprehension at the rise in prices, especially gasoline. Far from the big cities, in the so-called “medical deserts” (areas where access to healthcare is below the national average), which affect some 10 million people throughout France, the provision —from specialists to nurses— It is largely done at home due to the lack of nearby hospitals. Nurses like Guéry start from low base salaries that they can only round up with bonuses (such as for night shifts), not always accessible in rural areas, and they receive 1.25 euros net for each patient visit. With fuel at a price of gold —another of the concerns of the French who, outside of urban areas, depend on the car for everything— this type of visit has ceased to be profitable. Guéry says that fewer and fewer toilets are willing to do them.
Like other professionals, this nurse is exhausted after a pandemic in which she felt like she was “militarily recruited” without being asked and which has demanded an enormous personal and family “sacrifice” without great financial rewards. In this situation, the rise in prices has been the drop of water that has broken the camel’s back. Mother of two children, she has decided, at the age of 36, to reorient her career and leave nursing that she was so passionate about, but that she would not give to support her family if her partner did not earn well The life of her.
What Guéry does not intend to stop doing, like so many other workers invisible or “forgotten”, as recently called the Sunday Journal du Dimanche, is to go to the polls this Sunday, just like Bernadette. “Of course I am going to vote, I have always voted. This concerns the whole world, how could I say that I am not interested in voting?”, Says the retiree who prefers to define herself as “lower class” rather than being poor.
Neither of them, however, has yet decided who they will vote for. “No candidate inspires me more than another, except perhaps in terms of ecology. I don’t see anyone capable of solving all the problems”, says Guéry. Despite this, he will vote “because there are some worse than others” and he does not want “a [Éric] Zemmour or another extremist with all the conflicts there are.” “I will vote for the least bad. It will be by discard, not by conviction, ”he acknowledges. Also for Bernadette, most of the candidates offer “just words”. She is “hesitating between two”, whose identity she does not want to reveal. She will probably decide on the Sunday of the elections. To get inspired, she is thinking of taking the other photo of Che, the one she has on her bedside table, next to those of two children who died, of the 11 she has had. “I’ll put it in my bag,” Bernadette jokes before turning on the news to see if any candidate ends up convincing her more.
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