The French Yellow Vests movement has met the threat of state repression with increased numbers on the street.
President Macron was set to begin a “national debate” this week that he hoped would blunt the revolt against him. But far more people took part in demonstrations last Saturday than on the previous two Saturdays.
The interior ministry estimated there were 32,000 Yellow Vests on 29 December, 50,000 on 5 January and 84,000 last Saturday.
Rail worker Yves from Paris told Socialist Worker, “I have been part of the Yellow Vests from the start. I worried that Christmas and New Year would stifle the mood, but it’s back and it’s strong.
“We should use Macron’s debates to protest against him, and to make the movement so big he has to go.”
Many observers think the real figure for “Acte IX”, the ninth successive week of protests, was over 100,000. There were major mobilisations in Marseille, Paris, Toulouse, Nimes, Lille, Rouen, Strasbourg, Montpellier, Le Mans, St Etienne, Lyon and Nantes.
Some protests saw new militancy. A demonstration in Bourges of 15,000 defied the police and penetrated the city centre for the first time.
Many marchers said they had been pushed to return to the streets, or come out for the first time, because of threats from Macron on the right to demonstrate. Others described their anger at the state pursuit of Christophe Dettinger.
Dettinger is the former professional boxer who fought back against police when they assaulted protesters. He faces serious charges, and a fundraising campaign for his legal costs was shut down after outrage from government ministers.
Macron also compounded the sense he is utterly arrogant when he said last week, “Too many of our citizens think they can get something without making the necessary effort.”
His obnoxious comment came as figures were released showing that French shareholders—overwhelmingly the rich—received some £51 billion in dividends last year.
No wonder a recent opinion poll found 77 percent of respondents thought politicians inspired “distrust”, “disgust” or “boredom”.
The trade union bureaucracies are still remote from the movement. But rank and file workers are beginning to take on a greater role.
In Paris orange-jacketed rail workers joined the march last Saturday. In La Souterraine, north of Limoges, trade union activists and Yellow Vests protested together last week at a Leader Price store facing closure (pictured).
A new group, the Red Pens—teachers campaigning against government attacks on education and for better pay—has not officially called for joining the Yellow Vests.
But in Paris and Lille some of its members joined marches.
Feeling the pressure, leaders of the CGT, the main union federation, refused to meet Macron for talks last week. But Laurent Berger from the CFDT did meet Marcon—and he disgracefully denounced the Yellow Vests as threatening to bring totalitarianism.
Even larger protests are expected this Saturday.