Socialist Worker

Yellow Vests protests in France defy state violence and rattle the government

by Charlie Kimber
Issue No. 2633

Yellow vests protesters block a road in Rennes, France, last Saturday. The sign demands Macron’s resignation

Yellow vests protesters block a road in Rennes, France, last Saturday. The sign demands Macron’s resignation (Pic: PA)

Protests that exploded across France forced the government into retreat on Tuesday. But the concessions may be too little, too late as the Yellow Vests movement has detonated a great movement of social protest.

Prime minister Edouard Philippe announced that a planned rise in fuel tax would be suspended for six months.

It came after thousands of Yellow Vests—named after the hi-vis jackets people are required to keep in their cars—protested in Paris last Saturday and threw up barricades.

Many on social media on Tuesday said the protests must continue until price rises were cancelled, wages raised, pensions protected—and President Emmanuel Macron forced out.

Police attacked protesters on Saturday with tear gas, water cannon, stun grenades, baton charges and mass arrests. Some people smashed shops and banks in response.

Health worker Angelique told Socialist Worker, “The police are beasts. The ­government is just out for the rich.

“They are getting what they deserve when we tear up Paris. They have torn up our lives for too long.”

Other protests took place in Nice, Strasbourg, Marseille, Rennes, Dijon, Bordeaux and many other towns and cities.

The state has hit back savagely. Dozens of people were injured on Saturday and across France there were 412 arrests, including over 300 in Paris. Hundreds of people have been placed in “preventive detention”.

But this didn’t halt the movement and President Emmanuel Macron is under extreme pressure.

A movement that began over the price of fuel has now raised many other issues and involved wide layers of ­working class people.

In some places strikers have joined with the Yellow Vests.


A big day of action by school students last week was strongest in areas where the Yellow Vests have mobilised. Students protested at about 100 schools on Monday as well, including in around 20 schools in the working class banlieues in Paris.

Last Saturday a demonstration of 15,000 trade unionists over unemployment mingled with the Yellow Vests.

On Monday ­striking ambulance workers blocked roads around parliament. They too were tear gassed.

Brahim, one of the ambulance demonstrators, said there were 150 ambulances involved.

And he said others will arrive from all over France to protest against the reform of the financing of medical transports. “The Yellow vests should join us,” he said.

The government has tried to blame “ultra left and ultra right troublemakers” for the revolt. But the vast majority of those involved are ordinary people.

Right wing paper Le Figaro admitted that most of those arrested on the Yellow Vests protests were “workers, mechanics, cooks, carpenters, farmers and plumbers, aged between 20 and 30”.

Rail worker Pierre came to Paris last Saturday with five workmates.

He told Socialist Worker, “I came to see if this was a real working class movement of the sort I could support. It was brilliant, we all thought so.

“We were all involved in the rail strikes earlier this year. They were good but they didn’t go far enough.”

“Now I feel we can bring Macron down.”

The revolutionary socialist NPA party said it stood in “solidarity with this mobilisation and hopes that it will continue”.

Right and left battle to shape Yellow Vests revolt

An array of political forces have tried to benefit from the Yellow Vests movement from its beginning.

The fascist Marine Le Pen has posed as its champion, but her message of division and racism has been largely rejected.

Some trade union leaders have tried to shepherd the energy and militancy of the movement behind their own, much meeker, protests.

But for the most part the Yellow Vests have maintained their independence from such forces. Because of the gap between traditional politics and the concerns of millions of working class people, we can expect similar examples in the future.

The Brexit vote in Britain had, in electoral terms, some of the same features.

The question is whether such movements will generalise to the left or to the right.

Socialists in France cannot influence this process by loftily criticising the contradictions and shortcomings of such movements.

They have to be actively involved.

Socialists call for strikes

The main French union federation, the CGT, is running to catch up with the Yellow Vests.

At first it was contemptuous of the movement, which began last month against rising fuel costs.

Now it says there is “legitimate anger in the population” and that “the CGT shares this anger”.

The CGT has invited “all employees of the private and public sectors, jobseekers, retirees, high school students, students to meet in general meetings, to debate demands and to collectively decide on action plans”.

It has called for “a great day of action on 14 December throughout the country”.

Strikes, more blockades and even larger demonstrations are the best way to build the movement.

But the CGT leaders have too often throttled real resistance.

Olivier Besancenot from the revolutionary socialist NPA party on Monday called for “millions to strike” to lay the basis for fundamental change in society.

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