The "Pink tide," as the all-conquering Socialists are called, came to parliament today, completing its takeover of French political institutions by installing one of its own as speaker of the National Assembly. i
Decked out in what in many instances looked like new suits, the 189 National Assembly freshmen seemed the essence of what the French call "illustrious unknowns." More than a third of the assemblymen are newly elected, the most of those are Socialists. They carried the black attache cases handed out as standard parliamentary issue.
As visitors in the packed gallery looked on, ushers in white ties and tails showed the newcomers -- and their veteran colleagues -- to their tiered seats in the crimson-and-gilt neoclassic chamber of the Palais Bourbon.
In balloting without surprises, Socialist Louis Mermaz was elected speaker by 295 votes to 149 for his right-wing rival. The choice of the 56-year-old former history teacher seemed only fitting. The Socialists enjoy an absolute majority in the 491-seat body, and nearly 60 percent of the Socialist deputies are teachers by profession.
For some commentators, their numbers reflect the free time and guaranteed employment that teaching provides. For others, they are seen as representatives of a middle class that had been frozen out of French politics for a generation by slightly a higher middle class that constituted the bulwark of the now defeated center-right coalition.
Once the National Assembly gets down to serious work during the month-long extraordinary summer session, the deputies will sit according to party affiliation, with conservatives to the right and the Socialists and Communists to the left.
Today, however, they were seated alphabetically, the new beside the old. Seeing nationally known politicians up close -- rather than on television -- "cuts them down to our size," said Gerard Istace, a bearded Socialist deputy from the Ardennes area in eastern France.
In his maiden speech, Mermaz struck a familiar Socialist note: "We must today give back to parliament its rights and dignity."
He recalled that President Francois Mitterrand "on many occasions denounced the concentration of powers" which the left has charged characterized the other Fifth Republic presidents -- Charles de Gaulle, Georges Pompidou and Valery Giscard d'Estaing.
The eldest of the 491 deputies, 89-year-old Marcel Dassault also addressed the chamber, in a quavering voice. The Socialists have vowed to nationalize his renowned airplane firm.
In a rambling speech that he explained was the view of an engineer rather than a politician, Dassault lectured his somethimes incredulous colleagues on unemployment.
He complained that French and German motorcycles were used in Mitterrand's motorcade, that there were no more French camera firms -- "although a Frenchman, Niepce, invented photography" -- and that French lumber was used by Belgians and Italians to make furniture.
If the government only would back such investment in industry, Frenchmen could buy French goods, save foreign exchange and boost exports, he argued. To stimulate such interest, a giant Paris fair was needed, of the type that in the last century graced the skyline with the Eiffel Tower.
"I am a Frenchman who wants his country to get over the world economic crisis, and end unemployment, as quickly as possible," Dassault said.
That was a major theme of the Socialists, who called the assembly into special session to pass priority legislation. On the agenda are the budget and key moves concerning a far-reaching amnesty, the judicial system and decentralization of a state which for centuries has served as the centralized model.
"We have all the aces in our hands," a Socialist said in the historic Room of the Lost Steps, where journalists and legislators have conducted their business in marbled splendor for more than a century.
He ticked off the awesome responsibilities: the first time under the Fifth Republic and the left has enjoyed a majority, the first time Communist ministers are in government since the immediate days after World War II, the first time the Socialists have so outclassed the Communists and all other parties.
"We don't have the right to make mistakes," he said.
But many conservatives, such as Gaullist party leader Bernard Pons, seemed convinced that the Socialists could not but fail.
Pons predicted trouble because of what he called the Marxist tinge of the Socialist legislative program, the presence of so many teachers, who were overly "idealistic" and "rigid in their dealings" and the "fairground atmosphere" of the Socialist victory.
"It's 1968, but this time it's legal," Pons said, summoning forth the image of the groundswell of strikes and discontent the shook French society and almost unseated de Gaulle.
Pons feared the leftist deputies would move further and faster on controversial legislation, especially nationalizations, than even the government itself wanted.