Apr 25, 2022 - Podcasts

France votes to avert a hard-right turn

French president Emmanuel Macron won re-election yesterday, defeating far right candidate Marine Le Pen. Macron also beat Le Pen back in 2017, but in this race her nationalist message gained more momentum, as France grapples with anger over cost-of-living increases, French involvement in Ukraine’s war, and more.

  • Plus, workers at big chains still earning less than $15 an hour.

Guests: Megan Clement, freelance journalist based in Paris; Olivier Knox, foreign affairs reporter for the Washington Post; and Axios' Emily Peck.

Credits: Axios Today is produced by Niala Boodhoo, Sara Kehaulani Goo, Alexandra Botti, Nuria Marquez Martinez, Alex Sugiura, and Lydia McMullen-Laird. Music is composed by Evan Viola. You can reach us at [email protected]. You can text questions, comments and story ideas to Niala as a text or voice memo to 202-918-4893.

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Good morning! Welcome to Axios Today!

It’s Monday, April 25th.

I’m Niala Boodhoo.

Here’s what we’re watching: workers at big chains still earning less than $15 an hour.

And first, today’s One Big Thing: French voters avert a hard-right turn.

French president Emmanuel Macron won re-election yesterday, defeating far right candidate Marine Le Pen. Macron also beat Le Pen back in 2017, but in this race her nationalist message gained more traction, as France grapples with anger over cost-of-living increases, French involvement in Ukraine’s war, and much more. Despite Macron’s decisive win, it was the closest France has come to electing an extreme right leader since 1944.

PRESIDENT EMMANUEL MACRON: I also am aware that many of our compatriots voted for me today, not to support my ideas, but simply to build a barricade against the ideas of the far right.

That’s Macron in his victory speech last night before a crowd of thousands in front of the Eiffel Tower - pledging to be a president for all of France. Freelance journalist Megan Clement has been covering the election and joins us from Paris. Hi Megan.


NIALA: What's the mood in Paris like this evening?

MEGAN: I think for a lot of people, it is relief. That this dam that we've asked people to build, to keep out the far right, has held.

NIALA: Can you take a step back and just tell us what was at stake here?

MEGAN: The stakes were very high. Marine Le Pen has worked hard to kind of soften her image in this campaign, but she is a far-right candidate. So the stakes were very high, particularly also with the war going on in Ukraine and what a Euro-skeptic I think it's fair to say President of France would have been like when France has the presidency, uh, of Europe at the moment. But the result in the end was pretty decisive for Macron.

NIALA: Where does he go from here then?

MEGAN: So the next five years are going to be very interesting because Macron can not run again. And a lot will depend on what happens in June when France votes for the parliamentary elections. Marine Le Pen called on all of her supporters to build their own dam against Macron in the parliament. The left wing candidate who came very close in the first round a couple of weeks ago has said he wants to build a left wing block that will counter Macron’s agenda. So he faces a real, a real test in June. And how that vote goes will really define how his presidency goes.

NIALA: Freelance journalist Megan Clement joining us from Paris. Thank you, Megan.

MEGAN: Thank you so much.

NIALA: These French elections have consequences for the rest of Europe and for the US. Here to talk about what Macron's win and its aftermath mean for both is Olivier Knox, a Franco-American journalist who writes the daily 202 newsletter for the Washington Post. I spoke to him Sunday evening, DC time. Welcome Olivier.

OLIVIER KNOX: Bonjour and thank you.

NIALA: What is your big takeaway from the election result that we saw on Sunday?

OLIVIER: The takeaways, I think are one that, that Macron romp to victory, two that Le Pen has never done as well as she did in this election and three, the thing that I'm watching for now is how French political scientists dissect the non-voters. Who didn't vote, who are they demographically, who are they generationally, where are they concentrated in France. We're all talking about just this profound societal unease inFrance, just the feeling again, that they're not that they're barely treading water economically, that millions are, are, are at risk economically. The French term is pregarite which implies basically a really fragile, unstable economic condition. There are millions of French folks in that, in that situation. And so again, who didn't vote and why I think is enormously important thing to watch.

NIALA: How does his outcome affect the war in Ukraine? Does it?

OLIVIER: Well, it is in some ways a validation of Macron's approach. You know, one of the reasons this election was so important was what could have happened. And what could have happened is the French voters, installing a new president who's historically had very warm connections to let them Vladimir Putin. She was one of the first major European politicians to endorse the Russian annexation of Ukraine's Crimea region. Uh, she has called for an end to sending military aid, lethal military aid to the Ukrainians. She wants to roll back the economic sanctions on Russia. She's talked about a strategic rapprochement between NATO and Russia. This would have been an astonishing u-turn. It would have been putting someone who's against the European Union, she sort of softened her, her message on that. But if you read closely, she's not in favor of the European Union, she wants to put a premium on French sovereignty.

NIALA: How else should Americans be thinking about how this outcome could affect us here in the US?

OLIVIER: I think this is going to be mostly continuity from Macron. I think he will continue to talk about the need for greater European, assertiveness, when it comes to matters of national security. He will continue to place the European Union at the center of his foreign policy, because that's the only way that a country like France can, can play in, in the same kinds of leagues as the United States and as China. Again, this is more about what was avoided than what was achieved.

NIALA: Is it tempting to draw parallels between what's going on in France and here in the US?

OLIVIER: That's always extremely dangerous. It's not an American Presidential election. Sure there are some important things to look at. You know, the strength of populism, of right-wing populism in France and elsewhere something to look at there. There were two setbacks this weekend for right-wing populism, Le Pen lost, and then in Slovenia as well, there was a, a vote where the right wing populists lost. So, um, you know, it's very, very dangerous to draw direct parallels, but you can sort of see some of the forces of right wing populism on the ebb at least in Europe.

NIALA: The Washington Post’s Olivier Knox. Thank you so much.

OLIVIER: My pleasure.

In a moment, we’re back with why wages are staying low for the majority of big chain workers.

Welcome back to Axios Today, I’m Niala Boodhoo. Just as the high cost of living was one of the biggest issues in the French election, rising costs are on the minds of Americans, too – as inflation’s spike takes a toll.

But for many workers at large American companies, wages are staying below $15 an hour – despite widespread labor shortages and record low jobless claims. Axios markets correspondent Emily Peck is here to explain more – Hi Emily.

EMILY: Hello.

NIALA: So according to the data you looked at, how many workers are making less than $15 an hour if you're thinking about retail, fast food hospitality in those big companies.

EMILY: So the data set I looked at is really robust and interesting. This data set was about 21,000 hourly workers surveyed representing 66 companies, the big ones: Amazon and ups, Walmart, Starbucks, McDonald's, Subway, and workers had to report, you know, how much they're paid. The majority are making less than $15 an hour. So 44 companies out of the 66.

NIALA: And on top of that low, hourly wage rate, how many workers are struggling to make ends meet because they can't get enough shifts to be full time. Which also to me does not make sense if there's not enough workers, why aren't people able to be employed for a 40 hour work week?

EMILY: Really it's because employers don't want to provide the benefits that go along with full-time wages, right? Like you have to clear a certain hourly hurdle to get health benefits or sick time at a lot of these companies. And if you can keep workers below that threshold, you can save yourself a lot of money. It's cheaper to have two workers working like 28 hours a week than one working, you know, 40 or more.

NIALA: Is $15 an hour, which I mentioned because activists have been pushing for that as the federal minimum wage for a decade now, is that still a living wage in 2022?

EMILY: I mean, you could argue it wasn't even when they started pushing for this, but yeah, someone working full-time at $15 an hour is gonna earn a little more than $30,000 a year. And that's less if they need sick days. And many of these workers do not get sick days, you know, paid sick days. And meanwhile, we have record high inflation's really eroded the power of that $15. Today's $15 is the equivalent of $11.97 when Fight for 15, you know, got underway in 2012. I mean, if you took inflation into account, you'd have to call it Fight for 1880, $18.80.That would get you the same purchasing power as $15 back in 2012. And you know, people will say, ‘well, no one really earns minimum wage’ or, you know, ‘this isn't really an issue because most people earn more than that’. But it, it really is an issue like these numbers represent millions of people.

NIALA: Emily Peck is co-author of the Axios markets newsletter. Thanks, Emily.

EMILY: Thank you.

That’s all we’ve got for you today! Text me your feedback and story ideas: I’m at (202) 918-4893.

I’m Niala Boodhoo - thanks for listening - stay safe and we’ll see you back here tomorrow morning.

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