Nearly two thirds of French people see a class struggle being waged in their country, according to a new poll. That’s nearly 20 points up from the late 1960s, according to pollster IFOP . Among the blue collar workers this perception rises to 67%, against 59% for white collar employees.

Reacting to the survey results, Thomas Piketty, an economist, forsees the possibility of a return to class structures of the 19th century. ‘One thing is certain, the class struggle exists and we can see this every day, ‘ tweeted Gérard Filoche, on the left of the governing Socialist Party. He’s in the majority among socialist supporters, 71% of which feel the country is beset by class conflict.

Among the radical Left Front – whose candidate Jean Luc Melenchon mounted such a challenge to Francois Hollande in the battle for Elysee Palace last year that the socialist leader was forced to adopt the 75% tax on the country’s burgeoning club of millionaires – the figure rises to 80%.

There are more than 2 million millionnaires in France, making the country Europe’s supreme fat cat hotspot in Europe and third globally, after Japan and the USA. Until being overtaken by Spain’s Amancio Ortega, Frenchman Bernard Arnault (now busily trying to shred his French passport to lower his tax bill) was Europe’s richest man.

At the other end of the scale some 2.5m workers got a pathetic (below inflation) 3 cents an hour rise on January 1 – a net increase of 3.50 euros a month for a full time worker.

This is part of a picture of rising poverty – 10.1% of the active population over 18 is poor – and widening income inequality. In the France of former President Nicolas Sarkozy, the top 20% of the population expanded its share of national income at the expense of the bottom 20%

Meanwhile big business, already benefitting from 70 billion euros annually, are in line for another corporate welfare cheque of 20 billion euros to fund their social security contributions, and could soon enjoy the fruits of a more compliant labour force under ‘reforms’ that involve weakening protection against dismissals.

‘The conclusion we can draw is that we do not live in a society at peace with itself. The crisis has increased inequality. This only exacerbates tensions,’ notes Jérôme Fourquet, from IFOP.