On Saturday the French interior minister cheered on a massive escalation of state repression to defend the posh Champs-Elysees street in Paris against protesters. It underlines the crisis of the French government, which has been rocked by the Yellow Vest protests.
Demonstrators had not gone away, troops were on the streets, police inflicted grave injuries, and none of the protesters’ grievances were dealt with. But, said minister Cristophe Castaner, "Order has been maintained".
Last week dozens of luxury shops were attacked. This week the state mobilised tens of thousands of police and the army’s Operation Sentinel to oppose the nineteenth successive Saturday of Yellow Vest mobilisations.
The Sentinel military force was created after the 2015 Paris terror attacks. They are dressed in uniforms, bullet-proof vests and armed with assault rifles.
The military governor of Paris, General Bruno Le Ray, said these soldiers would be permitted to “open fire” against Yellow Vests if they decided lives were under threat.
An interior ministry source chillingly told Le Parisien newspaper, “It will be necessary for us to take responsibility, even if a Black Block who sets fire to Fouquet's [restaurant] takes one and ends up quadriplegic".
Given such threats it is an extraordinary achievement, and a sign of the depth of the anger against the government of president Emmanuel Macron, that so many people were on the streets.
Even the official state count showed an increase in the Yellow Vests’ numbers—40,500 demonstrators across France compared to 32,000 the week before.
Yellow Vests said 127,000 took part.
They could not protest on the Champs-Elysees but instead flooded the area around Sacre-Coeur church in Montmartre.
This has a symbolic significance. Sacre-Coeur was built to "expiate the crimes of the Commune”. The Commune was the rising of Parisian workers in 1871 that briefly held power and gave a vision of a different sort of society.
Rail worker Alain told Socialist Worker, “Going to Montmartre was, at least for many of us, a way of saying that we are not giving in, we are not sorry and we are taking back Paris from the right and the conservatives.”
It wasn’t just in Paris that the state assaulted the Yellow Vests.
Christian Estrosi, right wing mayor of Nice, personally took charge of security arrangements in his city. He presided over 80 arrests and violent riot police charges that seriously injured a peaceful protester.
Genevieve Legay, a 73 year old protester, was left with multiple fractures of the skull.
The Yellow Vests have already given a voice to those who have been silenced, but we can win more if the strikes grow and are for more than one dayRail worker Alain
Her family's lawyer has announced they are taking the police and those who gave them their orders to court.
If Macron is allowed to get away with these measures, it is a threat to every protester and to every trade unionist.
Other forces need to join the Yellow Vests to support their demands and to protect the right to dissent.
A statement from many left wing organisations last week said, “A new threshold has been crossed in the authoritarian drift of the government.A democracy cannot accept that the army is facing the people as if it were an enemy, as if civil war was declared.The fundamental right to protest is now clearly under threat.”
Such words need to be turned into hard-hitting action—strikes and mass support for the Yellow Vests.
Alain added, “There was a day of strikes last week which was quite successful, but needs to be much bigger. This is a crisis. The Yellow Vests have already given a voice to those who have been silenced, but we can win more if the strikes grow and are for more than one day.”
A statement from the revolutionary socialist NPA party said, “The Yellow Vests movement shows the popular revolt against a world turned upside down. France’s top 40 companies made £80 billion profits in 2018 while 8.8 million people live below the poverty line in France.”
In recent weeks France has seen huge protests against climate chaos, in support of the Algerian revolt and for women’s rights as well as the Yellow Vests.
Bringing those together can beat Macon despite all his repression