The holiday season hasn’t ended the Yellow Vest revolt in France.
What began as a protest over the price of fuel has become a social movement that has forced the government of President Emmanuel Macron to retreat. More protests are planned for Saturday and it looks likely that the movement will continue to batter him in the New Year.
Major protests took place for the sixth Saturday in a row on 22 December. They were smaller than previous mobilisations but even official figures showed 40,000 people joining demonstrations and 200 traffic blockades.
In Paris Yellow Vests had said on social media they would gather at the Palace of Versailles outside the city. Thousands of police and other forces gathered there to repulse them.
But at the last minute Yellow Vests changed their assembly point to Sacre Coeur Cathedral in Montmartre. They then found their way into the centre of Paris, to the intense frustration and anger of the authorities.
Exclusive luxury shops had to close on the last Saturday before Christmas.
Helene, a scientific worker, told Socialist Worker from Paris, “We led the police a dance. We are not going to just line up where they want us to so they can hurt us.
“Our strength is our numbers but also because we are absolutely against going back to the situation a few months ago where ordinary people were treated like dirt. We have won a bit of respect, we want more—and Macron must go.”
There were big mobilisations in many other cities including Caen, Bordeaux, Nantes and Toulouse. There were also blockades on the borders with Spain, Italy, Belgium and Germany.
In one or two areas the smaller size of the mobilisations enabled the voice of the fascist right to be heard more loudly. Any such appearance has to be fought.
But it is far from typical. A major survey of protesters in Le Monde newspaper found only two of the 166 people interviewed mentioned immigration as an issue that was important to them.
The survey found the most popular demands were over poor living standards and bad housing. One participant said, “I want my children to have food on their plates in the last two weeks of the month, not just potatoes.”
Another, a student, added, “I can’t afford housing, I live in a friend’s outbuilding.”
The survey also found “a high proportion of often working class women” involved.
The movement has sunk deep local roots and it cannot be reduced to how many people march on any particular day.
French media had reports from across the country of Yellow Vests maintaining their roadblocks all over Christmas and describing their happiness at being with their “second family” of protesters.
On the roundabout at Somain in northern France, 61 year old Therese said, “I was hoping that a movement like this would emerge. Here, we help each other, we are not in an individualistic society.”
John Mullen is a member of the anti-capitalist network Ensemble. He said that in the days before Christmas, “At some roadblocks the movement collected for food banks, at others they set up mock guillotines. One of Macron’s MPs turned up for work to find her offices had been repainted in bright yellow.
“New initiatives are to be noted every day. There was a picket of Monsanto offices, another at the home of the chair of the main boss’s organisation, the Medef, and a blockade of the major wholesale food market at Rungis outside Paris.
“When Yellow Vests blockaded the tax office at Figeac, some of the workers came out on strike in support of them.”
There have been general meetings (assemblies) of protesters and those who support them in several areas.
The far right, and calls for an end to immigration or harsher curbs on Muslims, are hardly ever heard. Instead there are left generalising demands for greater democracy, better pay, taxing the rich and cheaper services.
Marcel from Clermont-Ferrand told Socialist Worker, “We had our first assembly in mid-December. There were several hundred people there and we were united in calling for Macron to go and for ordinary people to have their voices heard.
“One person attacked migrants, but they were shouted at.”
Macron first suspended then abolished the fuel tax increase that sparked the protests. He made various promises on the minimum wage and pleaded with private sector bosses to hand out Christmas bonuses.
He then tried to draw back from some of his concessions, prompting further fury. He even pledged a bonus for the cops, tried to wriggle out of it, and then humiliatingly had to pay it anyway.
This led to demands for the same cash for teachers, health workers and workers everywhere.
The enforcers of the European Union (EU) budget are worried about Macron’s retreats.
Last week EU budget commissioner Gunther Oettinger said Macron has “lost authority with his budget for 2019” by increasing spending because of protests.
Oettinger said Macron will be allowed a French budget deficit above the EU’s 3 percent ceiling in 2018 “as a one-time exception”.
However, Oettinger demanded there be no further retreats and that Macron “continues his reform agenda, especially in the labour market”.
That will mean continuing pressure on wages, pensions and workers’ living standards—precisely the factors that led to the Yellow Vests.
In 2019 the protests are likely to revive, and to merge with continuing battles in schools and universities.
Their success will depend on maintaining the militancy of the movement and seeking to develop links with strikes.
Unfortunately nearly all union leaders have completely failed to match the Yellow Vests’ determination and their very welcome “disrespect” for the authorities and “the usual way of doing things”.
The Yellow Vests have inspired people across the world. They can win more.
Campaign to defend arrested protesters
Police tear gas and “flashball” attacks have injured over 2,000 people during the Yellow Vests protests. Dozens have lost an eye or suffered fractures. Some ten people have been killed by the cops or on road protests.
But state repression has not broken the Yellow Vests.
An important demand is that the hundreds arrested and facing long jail sentences are released and charges dropped.
The government is trying to target those it thinks are the movement’s leaders.
Eric Drouet, a high-profile Yellow Vest, was seized in Paris on 22 December.
He was charged with “illicit organisation of a demonstration on the public road, carrying of prohibited weapon of category D, and participation in a group formed for the purpose of violence or degradations”.
He was held in a police station but was released after furious protests.
However he was arrested again on 3 January.
Drouet’s lawyer Kheops Lara denounced “a completely unjustified and arbitrary arrest,” which leaves Drouet facing up to six months in jail and a £6,000 fine. Lara explained: “His ‘crime’ was to place candles on Concord Square in Paris to commemorate the fallen Yellow Vests who died from various causes during protests and blockades of highway intersections. Then he wanted to come together with a few friends and loved ones in a private area, a restaurant, to discuss and share viewpoints.”
The Paris prosecutor’s office alleges that Drouet organized “a demonstration without prior notification”.
New scandal hits Macron
A new scandal has hit President Emmanuel Macron.
A few days before he visited French troops in Chad, Le Monde newspaper revealed that his former aide Alexandre Benalla had also been there to meet a top official.
Benalla had lost his job and faces criminal charges after he was filmed assaulting protesters at a May Day demonstration. He was not a policeman but was wearing a police helmet and insignia.
Despite now holding no official position, Benalla travelled to Chad on a private jet with 12 businessmen and stayed in a luxury Hilton hotel in the capital N'Djamena. He then met Oumar Deby, the brother of the Chadian president, who is also charge of country’s directorate dealing with minerals and oil.
Macron was forced to say Benalla had no official role.
Benalla then said he was “shocked” and “scandalised” by statements from the French presidency. “I will reveal all,” an angry Benalla pledged.
Killed or injured by the cops
Over 2,000 people have been injured by police since the protests began. This is a partial list of those killed and seriously injured by the police. The frequently-mentioned “defensive bullet launcher” (LBD) is a “sub-lethal weapon” used by several elements of the French security services. It uses a grenade-like object fired from a specially-designed gun. The most notorious type is called a “flashball”.
- Zineb Redouane, 80, killed by a tear gas grenade in the face, Marseille, 1 December.
- Jerome H. Lost his left eye, hit by LBD-40 flashball, Paris, on 24 November.
- Patrick, lost his left eye due to a flashaball, Paris on 24 November
- Antonio, 40 years old, living in Pimprez, seriously injured by a tear gas grenade, Paris, 24 November.
- Gabriel, 21 years old, apprentice, living in the Sarthe, had his hand ripped off by a tear gas grenade, Paris, 24 November
- Siegfried, 33, living near Epernay, severely injured by a tear gas grenade, Paris, 24 November
- Maxime, suffered burns and lost her hearing because of a tear gas grenade, Paris, 24 November
- Cedric P, apprentice, lost left eye after he was hit by LBD-40, 27 November.
- Guy B, 60 years old, jaw fractured by a LBD-40, Bordeaux, 1 December.
- Ayhan, 50 years old, technician living in Play-Les-Tours, his hand ripped off by tear gas grenade, Tours, 1 December.
- Benoit, 29 years old, seriously injured in the temple by a LBD-40 shot, Toulouse, 1 December. In a coma for nearly four weeks.
- Mehdi, 21 years old, was seriously injured by police in Paris on 1 December.
- Maxime L, 40 years old, double fracture of the jaw due to a LBD-40 shot in Avignon, 1 December.
- Frederic R., 35 years old, hand ripped off by a tear gas grenade, Bordeaux, 1 December.
- Doriana, 16 years old, school student, fractured chin and two teeth broken by a LBD-40 shot in Grenoble, 3 December.
- Issam, 17 years old, high school student living in garges the gonesse, had the jaw fractured by a shot of lbd 40 at garges-Les-Gonesse on December 5, 2018.
- Oumar, 16 years old, school student, forehead fractured by a LBD-40 shot in Saint Jean de Braye, 5 December.
- Jean-Philippe L., 16 years old, lost left eye due to a LBD-40 shot in Bezier, 6 December
- Ramy, 15 years old living in Venissieux, lost left eye due to LBD-40 shot, Lyon, 6 December.
- Antonin, 15, jaw fractured by LBD-40 shot, Dijon, 8 December.
- Thomas, 20, student living in Niîmes, had sinus fractured by LBD-40 shot, Paris, 8 December.
- David, a stone worker, had his jaw fractured by a LBD-40 shot in Paris, 8 December.
- Fiorina L., 20 years old, student living in Amiens, lost her left eye due to a LBD-40 shot in Paris on 8 December.
- Antoine B, 26 years old, hand ripped off by a tear gas grenade, Bordeaux, 8 December.
- Jean-Marc M, 41 years old, horticulturist living in Saint-Georges D 'Oleron, lost right eye due to LBD-40 shot in Bordeaux, 8 December.
- Antoine C, 25 years old, graphic designer living in Paris, lost left eye due to LBD-40 shot, Paris, December.
- Constant, 43 years old, unemployed, living in Bayeux, nose fractured by LBD-40 shot, 8 December.
- Clement F., 17 years old, cheek injured by shot LBD-40, Bordeaux, 8 December.
- Nicolas C, 38 years old, left hand fractured by LBD-40 shot, Paris, 8 December.
- Yann, had shinbone fractured by LBD-40 shot, Toulouse, 8 December.
- Philippe, internal bleeding and fracture of the spleen after LBD-40 shot, Nantes, 8 December
- Alexander F, 37 years old, lost right eye due to LBD-40 shot, Paris, 8 December.
- Marien, 27 years old, double fracture of the right hand due to LBD-40 shot, Bordeaux, 8 December.
- Fabien, cheekbone and nose fractured by a LBD-40 shot, Paris, 8 December.
- Lola, 18 years old student, double fracture of the jaw, teeth displaced by LBD-40 shot, Biarritz, 8 December.
Amnesty International has condemned the police tactics.
Rym Khadhraoui, Amnesty International’s West Europe Researcher, said, “As the clouds of tear gas lift, a clearer picture has emerged which shows police have used excessive force against largely peaceful protesters, journalists and even children.”
Thanks to Serge Marquis and others.