Two things now grow around the rusting carcasses of the last blast furnaces in this French steel town: weeds, and votes for populist Marine Le Pen.
For months, labor leader Walter Broccoli fought to keep the fires burning, fearing that failure could drive enraged workers toward Le Pen and her virulently nationalistic politics. He never imagined his own son would become part of the stampede.
He says they’ve not spoken in the three years since he discovered to his horror that David Broccoli registered as a candidate in municipal elections for Le Pen’s anti-European Union, anti-immigration National Front.
“I said to myself, ‘Impossible! What’s happened to him?’ I called him up. We argued. He told me, ‘That’s the way it is’ and hung up on me,” Walter Broccoli says. “I’ve had nightmares where I saw him dressed in an SS uniform, all in black, with a cap. I took it very hard.”
Yet the National Front is now an inescapable part of the landscape in France’s industrial eastern rustbelt. Le Pen is projected to win millions of votes Sunday in the first round of France’s two-stage presidential election, likely catapulting her to within one step of an electoral earthquake that would shake France and the EU to its core.
For some disgruntled working-class voters, a ballot for the anti-establishment Le Pen is a yell of protest — their nuclear option against the political mainstream.
Steelworker Pascal Grimmer says she’ll get his vote because he’s “angry with politicians, filled with rage,” and “she is the candidate who most scares the others.”
He hopes an electro-shock-high score for Le Pen will jolt mainstream politicians “to ask themselves, ‘What do people want?'”
“You reap what you sow,” he says. “Our politicians have treated the French people like idiots.”
Last time, Grimmer voted Francois Hollande, the Socialist whose presidency, now in its final weeks, lasted just one term.
Grimmer was impressed when Hollande came stumping during the 2012 campaign for…