The Gilets Jaunes (yellow vests) movement in France is at a turning point. In the face of building radicalism, which now threatens the very survival of his government
The organised working class has begun to enter the struggle (although the labour union leaders have dragged their feet), as have students, who are occupying their institutions in solidarity and raising their own demands. But despite Macron’s attempt to defuse the situation, the explosion of anger and frustration at years of austerity and inequality has acquired a logic of its own, and it will not be easy to put the genie back in the bottle.
The students have also begun to link up with the movement. Last week, student organisations at a number of major universities (including Montpelier, Nantes and Rennes) called general assemblies to discuss a new government project to increase student fees and the ongoing campaign to stop the introduction of selection criteria for university admissions, and limit access to certain prestigious courses. These assemblies raised the question of joining the yellow vests, partly to promote their own demands – which raises the possibility of a nationwide student movement in solidarity with the yellow vests.
Subsequently, over the past week, over 300 high schools have been occupied and blockaded around the country, including in the southern city of Toulouse and in Créteil in the Paris area. A number of high school students were arrested after riot police were called to the Jean-Pierre Timbaud high school in Aubervilliers in the northern Paris suburbs. Videos are circulating online of police firing smoke grenades at the teenagers, who are shown kicking them back as the police advance. Around 1,000 pupils, many wearing yellow vests, demonstrated in Nice, chanting “Macron resign!” and photographs from a student protest in Bordeaux show riot police using batons to beat the young protesters. In another demonstration in Marseilles, school students were protected from riot police by stewards from the CGT. University and high school students were also widely involved in the demonstrations on the weekend.
France: Yellow vest protest spreads and seeing a sinister turn as High school students have demonstrated all over the country this week, with a very violent response by the Police provoking serious injuries (they’ve arrested some 700 yesterday alone).
This video is from Mantes-la-jolie, a predominantly black-arab working class suburb, and those are high school students arrested by the police.
It was filmed by a cop who commented “here’s an orderly classroom!”.
Videos showing rows of French high school students on their knees, with hands on heads, some lined up against a wall with helmeted police officers armed with batons standing over them, have stirred waves of criticism online.
The footage captures the moment officers detained education reform protesters in Mantes-la-Jolie in north-central France on Thursday. The majority of them were teens from local high schools.
The movement is larger than the sum of its parts.
A mass grassroots movement has exploded onto the scene in France, aimed squarely against the Macron government. The left must help to give this radical movement a political expression.
In France, since mid-November, hundreds of thousands of people have participated in the yellow vests movement to protest against the rise in fuel taxes and, more widely, against the ever-increasing cost of living.
This movement is the inevitable result of a palpable economic crisis and the brutal austerity imposed by the current Macron government. Between cuts to social services, tax increases and other austerity measures, the yellow vests testify to the suffocation of the French population given stagnant wages and the continual rise of living costs.
But Macron, a former investment banker, isn’t using the tax to support or expand social welfare benefits — quite the opposite, in fact. It’s part of his broader plan to reform the French economy to make it more pro-business.
He’s been cutting spending to popular, longstanding social welfare programs and has been scaling back labour protections. For instance, he’s made it easier for companies to hire and fire employees and fought unions to end subsidies for certain sectors.
As New York magazine reports:
In May, thousands of high-school students joined unionists and civil servants to protest Macron’s plan to cut 120,000 civil service jobs in addition to a reduction in benefits for France’s railway workers, who are unionized, public-sector employees. Macron’s 2019 budget “includes an €18.8 billion reduction in payroll and other business taxes to encourage hiring and investment,” the Times reported in October. That’s a continuation of tax policies he premiered not long after taking office in 2017; a newly empowered Macron moved swiftly to cut taxes for corporations and for the wealthiest 10 percent of French households.
Last time I checked, ending labour protections, cutting taxes for wealthy corporations, and scaling back social welfare programs are not the policies typically associated with a “radical left,
The protests are also about Macron’s elitism and perceived disdain for the working class
While the protests may have started over the fuel tax, they have since morphed into a broader indictment of Macron’s handling of the French economy and his perceived elitist disregard for the effects his policies are having on France’s working class.
France’s economy is growing, but very slowly. Most of the growth is centered in its major cities, like Paris, and those on the periphery and in rural communities haven’t seen as many gains. What’s more, France’s rural population relies much more on cars than its urban dwellers do, which is why many in those regions seem the angriest with the gas tax.
Many people here are also keenly frustrated with their president. They see Emmanuel Macron as part of an elitist coterie that neither understands nor cares how they live, or how the decline of traditional industry has hollowed out their city and limited their prospects.
“And then there’s the disdain — he openly mocks people,” said Yves Rollet, 67, a Besancon retiree who was passing the time on Wednesday listening to a Bach concerto in his parked car. A yellow vest was visible through the windshield.
Rollet said he participated in last weekend’s protest because he was fed up with how Macron governs monarchically and is dismissive of poor and working people.
Rollet recalled an incident in September when Macron told a young, unemployed landscaper it should be easy to find a job. “If you’re willing and motivated, in hotels, cafes and restaurants, construction, there’s not a single place I go where they don’t say they’re looking for people,” the French president, a former investment banker, said to the young man.
“We called him the ‘president of the rich’ from the beginning,” Rollet said. Noting how often Macron, who ran as a centrist, employs the phrase “at the same time” in his speeches, Rollet added, “Well, he’s ‘at the same time’ the president of the right and the president of the right.”
As Macron put it in a Der Spiegel interview last year, “The French want to elect a king, but they would like to be able to overthrow him whenever they want. . . . You have to be prepared to be disparaged, insulted and mocked — that is in the French nature.”
But sociologists and anti-poverty advocates warn some of the frustration underlying the yellow vest protests is real — the inevitable result of decades of social fracture between rural France, increasingly devoid of resources, and France’s prosperous large cities.
“In these territories marked by the absence of a tomorrow, there’s a form of postindustrial despair that’s now gnawing at the middle and working classes who suffered the brunt of the brutal crisis [of] 2008 and the ensuing budget cuts,” said Niels Planel, a poverty reduction consultant who has done work in the region.
Why is the government not giving in? Because Macron fears, quite rightly, that any concession will encourage the struggle of the masses, which will lead workers to say to themselves: “to get something, you have to act like the yellow vests!” But on the other hand, by refusing to give any ground, the government runs the risk of enraging and radicalising the movement.
Experience shows that a government is confronted with this conundrum when the exasperation of the masses and their fighting spirit have reached such a fever pitch that they are on the threshold of a powerful social explosion. Certainly, no one can say if this explosion – or rather, a second explosion (the yellow vest movement is already explosive) – will actually take place. But the conditions are highly flammable.
And now, the ball is in the camp of the labour movement: the unions first, but also parties of the left. They must intervene in this movement, support it and, above all, rely on its momentum to build a general offensive against the Macron government.
Left to itself, the yellow vests may run out of energy and disperse in the long run. The government will probably not yield to the strategy of blockading roads, businesses and institutions. The government will “unblock” them, one by one, and will count on the movement to become fatigued.
Jad Krasnyy Perisian Revolutionary socialist writes:
“The Fuel Tax was only the straw that broke the camel’s back, people did not suddenly go insane and decide to set up barricades on the streets of Paris.
This movement emerges after a decade of a global economic crisis and server austerity policies that were adopted by all the European governments.”
In France as in everywhere else these policies have hit ordinary people, the poor and the working class in general. It is in this context that Macron is trying apply further very violent Neoliberal measures.
so we have the classic recipe of tax cuts for the rich, cuts to public services, privatisation of public services, tax on pensions attacks on workers rights as well as indirect taxation.
The “liberal” president is betting on a classic recipe of savage repressive violence on the streets, with barely veiled threats against demonstrators, and the dampening of the movement by mainstream political parties and trade union bureaucracies.
That the arrogant “Jupiterian President” (as he likes to call himself) has already made concessions, and is calling on other parties for help, show that he is in big trouble politically. Already, the yellow vests movement has revived flashpoints of struggle that had emerged in the past few years, like universities, high schools and the antiracist movement, and everyday new sectors are joining this generalised protest.
The yellow vests have, unknowingly, fanned the flames of rebellion of local working class sections against their conservative bureaucracies.
Will the movement continue to spread from grassroots of society and the working class?
Will the yellow vests movement, through which hundreds of thousands have come forward from the backstage and onto the scene of history, announce a terminal crisis for Macron and open a period of great danger for the French ruling class?
Macron’s Jupiterian rule is OVER! Socialist leader blasts Macron – ‘He doesn’t understand’
FRENCH President Emmanuel Macron’s Jupiterian rule is over, the leader of the French Socialist Party has said amid a nationwide revolt over rising living costs that has shaken the government to its core and prompted major policy reversals.
Olivier Faure told French parliament:
“The President does not hear the anger, he does not understand it. “Mr Macron cannot be held solely responsible for the crisis, but he has aggravated the situation in a matter of months. Most people want him to change course. Jupiter is over. “I too dream of a new world. And in this new world, the values of the Republic will be restored.”