The Yellow Vest Protests Are Not Over

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Above Photo: AFP

It remains to be seen how the Yellow Vest movement evolves, but movements move. They do not remain stagnant. It is difficult in the midst of a social movement to know exactly where development is, but the Yellow Vest protests seemed like a classic “Take Off” moment for a movement against Macron’s neoliberal agenda that has made working people and the elderly more poor, while making the rich even wealthier. The Take Off phase is followed by The Landing, where the movement re-groups and reconfigures and moves into the next phase. The Yellow Vest movement has accoplished what Take-Offs accoplish, i.e. they have put new issues on the political agenda, they have showed people are ready to act for the end of neoliberalism and they have developed majority support for some of their issues. Macron has already backed down on some policy positions, but the transformation the movement seeks have not been realized. After The Landing, the movement will regroup into the next phase of Building National Consensus. More people will support the goals of the movement – a more fair economy that serves the people not the wealthy – and that will be followed by those goals being achieved after a longer period of movement development. In addition, there have been some signs of the Yellow Vest movement developing in othercountries, we are likely to see Take Off moments in other countries as neoliberal policies are not limited to France. We discuss the Eight Stages of Successful Social Movements in classes three and four of our eight classses on How Social Tranformation Occurs. KZ

After Act V it would be a mistake to think that the tragicomedy story of the gilets jaunes is now over, writes John Lichfield, as he looks back at what we’ve learned over the last month including how violence pays in France, how Macron is possibly ruined and how those who say France is impossible to reform might just be right.

French classical plays, both the comedies and the tragedies, have five acts. Was “Act 5” of the gilets jaune movement on Saturday the muddled conclusion of a French tragedy or the bitter-sweet finale of a French comedy?

Most likely it was the beginning of a confusing new phase – a  phase of splits. There will be negotiations by some gilets jaunes and continuing but diminishing protests by others.

According to the government, 66,000 people demonstrated across France on Saturday. This was half the number of the week before and less than one quarter of the support for “Act 1” of mass gilets jaunes protests on 17 November.

Mercifully, there was no repeat of the widespread violence in Paris of the two previous Saturdays. But there was considerable violence in Bordeaux, Toulouse, Nantes, Saint Etienne and other cities. An armed group of gilets jaunes fired  shots outside the home of a Macron-supporting parliamentarian in upper Normandy.

Several factors have checked the movement’s momentum, for now. There was the Islamist terrorist attack in Strasbourg on Tuesday. There were the concessions made by President Emmanuel Macron last Monday. There was the worsening weather. There was exhaustion in the ranks. There was fear of more violence.

The story is certainly not over.

A militant wing of gilets jaunes, represented by a group called La France en Colère (Angry France), is determined to continue the roundabout blockades and street protests. They reject as “crumbs” the Euros 10bn in income supplements for the low-paid offered by Macron last Monday.

They want steep cuts in VAT on food, clothes and other necessities. They are demanding a redrawing of the French constitution to allow laws and politicians to be approved or removed by popular vote. This is a fake good-idea, an invitation to demagoguery not democracy, which has been at the heart of the internet-bred, gilets jaunes movement from the beginning.

A more moderate wing of yellow vests, represented by a group called Gilets Jaunes Libres, is ready to take part in the nationwide consultation on all taxes and spending proposed by President Macron. They are considering putting up candidates in the European election in May and the presidential and parliamentary election in 2022.

An immediate problem arises, however. Macron’s appeasement package was thrown together in a few hours. Like all changes to the kafkaesque French welfare and tax system, it is proving brain-crushingly complex to deliver.

The flag-ship Euros 100 “increase” in the Smic (minimum age) from 1 January is NOT an increase in the minimum wage itself. It will be paid by the French tax-payer, in a form still to be decided, with only a few days to decide. An increased government “activity” payment for the low-paid? A cut in their social contributions? A mixture of both?

If that issue can be resolved, France will, perhaps, draw a breath and pass the Christmas and New Year holidays in relative calm.

It would be wrong to dismiss the last month as just another French social protest. Macron’s presidency has been scarred and possibly ruined.

He claimed to be a different kind of French president, capable of resisting rebellion, reforming the nation’s finances and creating new economic opportunities for all. He has failed within 19 months, emulating the failures of his predecessors, François Mitterrand, Jacques Chirac, Nicolas Sarkozy and François Hollande.

Such a long political losing streak explains, in part, the anger which created the yellow vest movement. It strengthens the case of those who claim that France is unreformable – constantly calling for “reform” but always resisting individual “reforms”.

The events of the past month also, unfortunately, strengthen the argument that violence is embedded in French political culture. Many gilets jaunes repudiated the savage violence which exploded during Acts 3 and 4 of the protests on 1 and 8 December. Others took part. Many others secretly welcomed the excesses. Without the violence, Macron would not have ceded as rapidly or as far as he did.

Macron, like the gilets jaunes, protesters wants to lever part of the burden of taxation off the French economy. He tried to do so by front-loading tax cuts for business and the rich. Similar breaks for middling and low-income French people were supposed to come later as the economy boomed.

There were a few faint signs that the Macron approach was working. Wages were rising slightly; job opportunities were increasing; youth unemployment was falling.

But he and his inexperienced army of new-minted parliamentarians failed to spot, or act upon, the growing fury of lower-middling and poor people in “Peripheral France”. Macron has now been forced to bring forward the tax and welfare concessions for lower-income people, pushing his budget over the EU 3 pc GDP limit and casting doubt on his entire reform programme.

Comedy or tragedy? There are elements of comedy in the humbling of a brilliant young know-all, whose life, until now,  has been an unbroken chain of audacity and good luck. Tragedy waits in the wings.

The yellow vest movement could transform itself into a new, healthy and democratic force in French life. It could also still skid into something darker and more destructive.

  • David Rubinson

    Kevin, for goodness’ sake, why are you publishing this pimp media bullshit ?

  • mwildfire

    I had sorta the same thought…

  • kevinzeese

    Why are you against the Yellow Vest movement?

  • David Rubinson

    What ? I’m not. See my previous posts. I’m against the kind of corporate media talking points lies and false characterizations evidenced in this article. ? There are so many better sources for info and analysis, and that’s why I was shocked that you published their crap.

  • kevinzeese

    We have cited many sources on the Yellow Vest protests. This is just one.
    None of your posts have been deleted or blocked.

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  • David Rubinson

    Sorry. I wasn’t clear. I said “What ? I’m not.” Meaning of course I’m not against GJ. Then I said “See my previous posts.” Meaning please look at my previous posts on the subject. I live in France. I support the GJ. I have seen the articles you posted. That’s why I was shocked that you posted the Local.

  • David Rubinson

    I live in France, and I support and admire the GJ movement. Here is my previous post: Orig French and English trans:

    “…The problem that this “autistic” Government still doesn’t understand is that the Gilets-Jaunes in question do not demonstrate for the pleasure of demonstrating; they are not concerned either by being able to hang around shopping malls doing some Holiday Shopping or sitting on Santa’s lap ! The Macronists still have not understood that Gilets-Jaunes don’t have enough food to fill their fridge starting the 15th of the month and sometimes even earlier! How could they be “reasonable” and “appeased”, “going Christmas shopping” in upscale neighborhoods to buy foie gras and champagne ?! They are in the street for an absolute necessity, for an extreme urgency, for a question of dignity — to escape the desperation of mere survival for a decent sustainable life, while the elite profiteers gorge themselves on the wealth produced by the work of the exploited and abused, and who today stand severely accused and condemned by the people left behind! Poor Macronists — so disconnected from the reality of the masses oppressed by the system of savage capitalism dominating this predatory world and in deaf cynical ignorance of the evil it can do! Macron and his Macronies’ only worrying concern is France’s monstrous trade deficit since November 17 in their insane pursuit of ultra liberalism …” Jean-Yves Jézéquel (liberal translation. by DR)

    “…Le problème que ne comprend toujours pas ce Gouvernement « autistique », c’est que les Gilets-jaunes en question ne manifestent pas pour le plaisir de manifester; ils ne sont pas concernés non plus par le fait de pouvoir « flâner dans l’apaisement autour des centres commerciaux ou des magasins pour des achats festifs » en écoutant « petit papa noël »! Ces gens de la macronie n’ont toujours pas compris que les Gilets-jaunes n’ont plus de quoi remplir leur frigo dès le 15 du mois et parfois encore plus tôt! Comment pourraient-ils être « raisonnables » et « apaisés », « vaquant aux achats de Noël » dans les quartiers chics pour y acheter du foie gras et du champagne?! Ils sont dans la rue pour une absolue nécessité, pour une extrême urgence, pour une question de dignité réclamant légitimement la possibilité naturelle de passer des galères de la survie à une vie décente, pendant que les profiteurs d’en haut se gavent des richesses produites par le travail des exploités et des abusés du système, aujourd’hui sévèrement accusé et condamné par le peuple des laissés pour compte!…” Jean-Yves Jézéquel

  • kevinzeese (:

  • davidrubinon briefly