The Yellow Vest movement in France roared back into action with renewed vigour last Saturday.
“Act VIII”—the eighth successive week of protests—saw 50,000 on the streets according to the interior ministry. Its reports are increasingly unreliable, and many estimates are much higher.
But this is well up on the 32,000 reported by the ministry the previous week.
Very heavy policing blocked many demonstrators in Paris.
But some Yellow Vests used a fork-lift truck to smash down the door to a ministry building containing the office of Benjamin Griveaux, the government spokesman. He fled.
Barricades went up in several cities.
Marianne, a school support assistant, was part of the protests in Caen in northern France.
“It was brilliant, with lots of people and some who have never been part of earlier ones,” she told Socialist Worker. “The city was lit up by the fires of the Yellow Vests. There were lots of women involved, finding their voices.”
She added, “This is more than just a protest, it’s a demand for fundamental change. Macron said the movement was out of breath, but it feels to me that we have new life.”
President Macron denounced the “violence” of the protesters, and there is a crackdown on those who defend themselves against the cops’ aggression.
Former professional boxer Christophe Dettinger handed himself into police after he struck a police officer. Dettinger said he acted after his wife and a friend were tear-gassed and he saw people hurt by “flashball” rounds.
He faces harsh penalties. It’s different for the police.
In Toulon police commander Didier Andrieux was videoed striking a protester’s head after he had been arrested.
Two years ago Andrieux was accused of hitting one of his colleagues, breaking his nose and brow bone.
He received only a reprimand. No legal proceedings followed after he said it was a mistake and he had meant to hit a cabinet.
The state is now defending him for his latest act.
State prosecutor Bernard Marchal refused to open an investigation. He said, “There was an insurrectional context before and after this video, in which it was impossible to arrest anyone without violence.”
Macron is also pushing harsh new laws against demonstrations.
There is a battle for the soul of the Yellow Vests. Various fascists in Britain have tried to claim it.
But all the signs are that the Yellow Vests have in general moved to the left, not the right. The movement is an inspiration. Unions need to call strikes in its support.
‘The key issue for the left is how we intervene’
Selma, a member of the revolutionary socialist NPA in France, spoke to the Socialist Workers Party conference last week.
“President Macron is more and more unpopular,” she said. “He’s scared to go outside and he’s hiding from the population.
“I recently heard a young woman in Paris saying his head deserves to be cut.
“The Gilets Jaunes movement shows that austerity can be challenged. People are not intimidated anymore and are condemning state violence.
“The most important political gain is that people feel they have the power to decide by themselves what to do, not just expecting reforms from the state.
“Class confidence is being built. This movement is opening new opportunities for the left.
“Local assemblies are challenging bourgeois democracy. One of the elements of the movement that has pushed it towards the left are the young.
“The fascists are trying to steal this movement but local Gilets Jaunes groups are challenging these people.
“Fascism is on the rise because of Islamophobia. The revolutionary left has to be able to challenge these ideas.
“An anti-racist movement is critical.
“In France feminism has been used against Muslim women in the name of progressive ideas. But there is also a new generation of people.
“And we managed to challenge Islamophobia within the feminist movement.
“Specific campaigns against racism are vital to rebuild solidarity.
“The key issue for the left is how we intervene. The main weakness is that we don’t have a revolutionary party that is well enough organised.”
‘We’re as angry as ever’
The Yellow Vest movement is rooted in relentless campaigning in local areas.
Mike Healy reports from the Charente area in southwestern France.
“I spent Saturday afternoon on the roundabout in Chasseneuil-sur-Bonnieure with other Yellow Vests.
“This is a major roundabout between Angouleme and Limoges.
“There were about 40 of us and we had a great time blocking the entrances to the roundabout on rotation for ten minutes each.
“Some people have expressed concern over the possible right wing influence on the movement.
“I wear an A4 sheet on the back of my yellow vest that says, ‘No to Macron, No to discrimination’ and calls for unity between everyone impacted by Macron’s reforms.
“When I arrived at the roundabout a number applauded the sentiment and a few took photos.
“The movement is up and running after the holidays. It is as big and as angry as ever. Women are coming to the fore.”