It is a crucial week for the Yellow Vest protests in France. Big mobilisations on Saturday showed the potential for an even more powerful movement to defeat neoliberal French president Emmanuel Macron.
The most important development was the emergence in a few areas of workers marching as organised workers and calling for support for strikes set for Tuesday.
The theme for “Act XII”, the 12th successive weekend of Yellow Vest protests, was anger at the brutal treatment of demonstrators by police and the CRS riot squad. Marchers remembered those who have been killed or suffered appalling injuries by the cops’ use of flashball guns, tear gas grenades and other weaponry.
Around 10,000-15,000 took part in protests in Paris on Saturday. The most popular slogans were, “They kill, they wound – down with the CRS,” and, “5 February, unlimited strike”.
Thousands took to the streets in other cities and towns including Tours, Valence, Marseille, Besancon, Strasbourg, Rouen, Lille, Toulouse, Saint-Quentin, Caen, Valence, Grenoble, Montpelier and Bordeaux.
Jerome Rodrigues, recently maimed by a police flashball, was on the Paris protest. He said, “I am the 20th person to have lost an eye so it is important that I come, if only to support this event and reassure all those who supported me.”
Because the day focused on police violence, there were some reports in advance that the cops would be less ferocious than usual. Instead they acted as brutally as ever, firing flashballs, tear gas grenades and water cannon that injured scores of people.
A video of police in Bordeaux dragging an unconscious Yellow Vest face down and inflicting injuries was widely shared. So was one of cops beating a journalist with truncheons.
Alice, a classroom assistant, told Socialist Worker, “If this scale of police attacks was happening in Venezuela the media across Europe would be full of it. But do you know about it in Britain, do they know about it in Germany?
“No, instead the authorities try to blame everything on the protesters. It won’t work, it hasn’t worked.”
Despite massive police assaults, several hundred Yellow Vests held the capital’s Place de la Republique for hours as part of an attempted “Yellow Night” to occupy public spaces.
In Paris and several other cities anti-fascists identified and then removed far right thugs, including those who had attacked the revolutionary socialist NPA section last week.
The authorities’ claim that the movement is “out of breath” is false. But to win it has to grow bigger.
The main union federation, the CGT, and Solidaires, a smaller federation, the school students’ union, the university students’ union and union branches from some other federations are calling for strikes on Tuesday. This could mark a real shift.
The CGT now speaks openly of the importance of the Yellow Vests movement that has “mobilised attention and revealed a renewed confidence in collective action”.
But it won’t be easy to overcome the previous failure of the union leaders to back the movement. And the CGT is speaking only of a 24-hour action and then another day next month.
That is a long way short of what’s needed—a continuing general strike. However, every sign of unity this week is very important.
The far left Revolution Permanente (Permanent Revolution) website reports, “The initial prejudices of the Yellow Vests against anything that looked like a party or a union, and the instinctive mistrust from the workers’ organisations with regard to a new and many-sided movement has begun, on both sides, to crumble.”
In Chateauroux in central France on Saturday unions marched openly with their banners as part of Act XII.
Laurent, a Yellow Vest from the region, told Socialist Worker, “I hope we’ll be all together again on Tuesday. Together we can get rid of Macron.”