Yellow Vest protesters fought massive police repression in France on Saturday.
A huge mobilisation of state forces restricted the protests.
But it won’t break blockades and strikes, and President Emmanuel Macron’s government is barely hanging on to office.
The state mobilised 90,000 police across France to prevent protests. In Paris there were 8,000 police supplied with 180,000 tear gas grenades and backed by 12 armoured cars.
Many shops were closed and boarded up, museums, galleries and tourist attractions closed, top football games cancelled and normally crowded streets deserted.
Repression started early.
Police fired tear gas at Yellow Vest protesters in Paris from 10am. They had arrested around 300 people in advance of the demonstrations and hundreds more were seized on the streets by 11.30am.
However rail workers, postal workers, anti-fascist groups and others gathered at Paris’s Saint-Lazare station and marched to join Yellow Vests.
There were some very big Yellow Vest protests outside Paris including in Marseille, Dijon, Bordeaux, Lille, Nantes, Strasbourg, Nice and Montpelier. In Toulouse protesters seized control of the city square and pelted police with materials from a construction site.
State violence has not broken the Yellow Vests in the last three weeks, and it is unlikely to do so now.
Dominique, a school support worker who was protesting in Paris on Saturday, told Socialist Worker, “The police are filthy, they are agents for Macron and those at the top. But all the attacks on us are making us more united.
“I saw people beaten, but I also saw people fight back. We believe we are more than them and we can be stronger. This makes me feel powerful.”
Government concessions—all of them too little and too late—have only boosted the fightback.
First the prime minister Edouard Philippe announced the fuel tax increase would be paused for six months, then that it would be dropped completely.
He also said electricity prices would be frozen for six months, the national minimum wage increased and there would be a “national debate” on taxation and public spending.
But protests have grown because they are not now about fuel tax rises but about the conditions of life for French workers and the poor.
Protesters in Basra, Iraq, who are also protesting over poverty, and poor conditions, have been inspired to wear yellow vests on their own demonstrations.
Polls show over two thirds of people in France support the Yellow Vest protests.
Young people are in revolt. Many schools are blockaded by students and, in some cases, their parents.
Sara, a school student in Bordeaux, told Socialist Worker, “We see our parents work very hard but get almost nothing. We want more than that when we see the rich take more and more.
“We want free education for all at every level and a life that is human, not reduced to a machine for profit.”
There have been major student mobilisations in Paris, Lyon, Nantes, Montpelier, Marseille, Bordeaux, Tours and elsewhere.
The police have responded brutally.
A video of school students being forced to kneel with their hands behind their heads by French riot police sparked particular outrage. Police taunt the young people in the video, saying, “Here is a class that is behaving.”
The students were demonstrating outside a school in Mantes-la-Jolie, west of Paris. They were attacked by police and 140 arrested.
Police said that those arrested at the Saint-Exupery school were suspected of taking part in an “armed gathering”—a complete fabrication.
Students in schools and universities across France are protesting at plans to reform the exam system which will limit opportunity and boost inequality.
They have also protested over a huge rise in tuition fees for students coming from outside France.
The cops and the authorities in general are terrified that the student events of May 1968 could return. Fifty years ago student resistance, and generalised anger at state repression against them, detonated the biggest general strike in history up to that point.
It is not ’68 today but there are radical and socialist ideas being discussed.
A Yellow Vest collective in Commercy, in north eastern France, has put out a video calling “for the formation of popular assemblies across France”.
It said the protesters want “a new order in which those who are nothing, and are spoken of with contempt, take back power from all those who stuff themselves, from the rulers and the powers of money.”
Not all Yellow Vests think like this. There is a battle between left and right. But the general trend is towards the left, towards unity with strikers and the young people who are taking to the streets in growing numbers.
Strikes are growing in regional transport, the energy sector, and even the administrative and technical section of the police.
And links with Yellow Vests are developing. The Sud-Rail union—the third biggest in the industry—has called explicitly for support of Yellow Vest protests.
Hundreds of petrol stations across France could soon run out of fuel because some refineries are on strike and others are blockaded by Yellow Vests.
The CGT, the main union federation, has called for a national day of action on Friday over wages, pensions and rights at work.
A major farmers’ union is encouraging its members to protest next week.
But union leaders in the CGT and FO federations called off a national truck drivers’ strike that was set to start on Sunday. The effect would have been devastating for the government if it had gone ahead.
If the strikes come together with the street protests then Macron can be beaten and the neoliberal assaults confronted.
This great struggle is offering hope to people everywhere. It must not be strangled by racist disunity or opportunist union leaders and politicians.
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