Thousands of French “Yellow Vests” protesters were met by police assaults, riot cop attacks and tear gas in Paris on Saturday.
The authorities had banned demonstrators from gathering in certain parts of the capital close to the most prestigious areas and the presidential palace. But they defied the orders.
They were met with state violence designed to crush a movement that threatens to engulf president Emmanuel Macron—widely derided as “president of the rich”.
The protesters are focusing a feeling of utter disillusion with the present set-up. As one protester in Cadenet in south east France put it, “We can’t take it any longer. We are stifled, we the little people, the toothless, the ones who are called lazy but who work like fanatics.”
The movement, named after the hi-vis jackets people are required to keep in their cars, exploded into view a week earlier. Nearly 300,000 people blockaded motorways, roundabouts and toll booths last week. There were mass arrests and two protesters were killed.
The original demands were against a rise in the price of diesel and petrol. Early support came from the mainstream right and the fascists of Marine Le Pen’s Rassemblement National (National Rally—the renamed National Front).
But as the protests happened they took on a wider opposition to Macron’s attacks on working class people. And, at least in many places, they generalised politically away from right wing politics.
There have been examples of sexist and racist behaviour at some blockades. These have to be fought without compromise.
But there were not many such incidents. And there has been clear opposition to them from most protesters.
In a statement issued on Friday, the Yellow Vests co-ordinators said, “It is important that every person who wishes to participate in this movement be able to do so, no matter their skin colour, country of origin, sexual orientation, gender or religion.
“The Yellow Vests are not the sheep of nationalists, fascists and other extremist movements, just as our movement is not represented by any party or union.
“We denounce the government for taxing the poorest to enrich the ultra-wealthy. We denounce the repressive measures the state has put in place. No to police violence.”
Philippe Poutou of the revolutionary socialist NPA party tweeted on Saturday, “In Paris’s Champs Elysees, we’re seeing an explosion against the violence of the policies of Macron and the previous governments. It is against the enrichment of the possessors to the detriment of the population. And it's not over.”
In some places rank and file trade unionists have pushed for a “Red Vests” movement parallel to the Yellow Vests and designed to snuff out any right wing leanings. This follows shows of workers’ support for the movement.
According to La Voix Du Nord website, some Amazon workers on strike at Lauwin-Planque in the north of France joined with “Yellow Vest” protesters on Friday.
And trade unionists striking in oil refineries are also mingling with the Yellow Vests. The Marsactu website reports, “At the Total site in La Mède the CGT union rep says, ‘no petroleum product is entering or leaving the depot’. He adds that the roundabout access to the site, where Yellow Vests have already installed a blockade, is now also occupied by 150 strikers.”
After police removed roadblocks outside the Esso oil refinery in Fos-sur-Mer, 30 miles from Marseille, strikes hit at least four refineries.
In another positive sign, on Saturday Yellow Vest protests in Paris applauded a big march, mainly by women, against sexual assault and sexual violence.
The main union federation, the CGT, has called a day of demonstrations on 1 December. This is partly to try to regain control over what is happening having denounced the Yellow Vests.
The government knows it is in deep trouble. That is why it is hitting back to beat and slur the protests in an effort to smash opposition.
But it may be helping to build a movement that can defeat it.