A former hotel maid who fought for the rights of her colleagues has become a symbol of the recent revival of France’s left wing, which is expected to emerge as the main opposition force in the French parliament for President Emmanuel Macron’s government .
Rachel Kéké (48) is ready to win elections as a legislator when France holds the decisive second round of the parliamentary elections on Sunday. She placed first in her district with more than 37% of the vote in the first round of elections. Her closest rival, Macron’s former sports minister, Roxana Maracineanu, received less than 24%.
Macron’s centrist alliance is projected to win the most seats in the National Assembly, but fails to secure an absolute majority. In that case, a new coalition composed of the hard left, the Socialists and the Greens could make Macron’s political life more difficult as the National Assembly is the key to voting in laws.
Kéké, a black mother of five who is from the Ivory Coast and settled in France 20 years ago, looked confident this week as she visited Fresnes, a suburb southeast of Paris, to hand out pamphlets near a primary school and people to encourage her to vote Sunday.
Kéké, who obtained French citizenship in 2015, knows she represents more than the face of her own campaign. If she wins a seat in a parliament dominated by white men, many of them holding senior management positions, it could represent a turning point in the National Assembly that reflects a more diverse cross-section of the French population.
“I am proud to tell black women that anything is possible,” she told the Associated Press.
Kéké worked as a hotel maid for more than 15 years and eventually climbed the ladder to the next post and became a governor who led teams of cleaners. But after starting work for a hotel in the northwest of Paris, she noticed how the demands to clean hotel rooms threatened the physical and mental health of the people she supervised.
She thinks “it is time” that essential workers have a voice in Parliament. “Most of the deputies do not know the value of essential workers suffering,” says the candidate, who has recurrent movement tendonitis in her arm due to her cleaning work and still manages hotel housekeepers.
In 2019, along with about 20 chambermaids who were mostly migrant women from sub-Saharan Africa, Kéké fought the French hotel giant Accor to get better working and pay conditions. She led a 22-month, crowd-funded strike that ended in a pay rise.
The hotel workers’ grueling but successful struggle was very inspiring. Set up by the left-wing leader Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s party, Kéké agreed to take part in the parliamentary race “to be the voice of the voiceless”.
“People who take public transport at 04:00 are mostly migrants. I also stand for them, ”she said.
She joined Melechon’s party, France Unbowed, during the presidential campaign that led to Macron’s re-election in May and then became part of the New Popular Ecological and Social Union, the left-wing coalition that sought to overthrow the president’s power. to combat Parliament.
If elected, Kéké would be in a position to support one of the key items on the coalition’s platform: raising France’s monthly minimum wage from around 1,300 ($ 1,361) to 1,500 euros ($ 1,570).
She claimed her rival “did not stand a chance.” That’s not what Maracineanu, 47, the former swimming world champion who served in Macron’s government, thinks.
With a campaign Thursday in Thiais, a farmers’ market town in the suburbs of Paris, she energetically tried to convince often skeptical residents of the importance of Sunday’s vote. According to opinion polls, traditional right-wing voters are expected to support Macron’s candidates widely in places where their own party did not qualify for the second round.
“There are some (voters) who are interested in the election from a national point of view. “They want Emmanuel Macron and the majority to be able to govern,” Maracineanu said. “Some others are clearly against Jean-Luc Mélenchon.”
Maracineanu, born in Romania, arrived in France with her family in 1984 and was naturalized in French seven years later at the age of 16. She became the first world champion in French swimming history and silver medalist at the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney.
“I will not go to the National Assembly as a world champion, and Mrs Kéké will not go as a cleaning lady,” she said. “You go to the National Assembly to be an MP. Personal jobs are of course interesting and it’s worth talking about, but … the election is about an agenda. ”
Only one of them will be elected on Sunday.
The first round of the election gave a big boost to the left-wing coalition, which finished neck-to-neck with Macron’s alliance at the national level. The French president needs a clear, if not absolute majority, to implement his agenda, which includes tax cuts and raising the retirement age.
One unpredictable factor for both camps: the expected low turnout.
In the first round, less than half of the electorate went to the polls, reflecting disillusionment with Macron, the establishment and everyday politics voiced by many.
“I come from a country where you could not vote or when you did, it was useless, and it was always the same candidate who was elected under Romania’s dictatorship before 1989. “I know how important a democratic ritual is and that is what I try to remind people of,” Maracineanu said.
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