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News > France

Despite Police Repression, France's 'Yellow Vests' Continues as Leftist Parties, Student Movements Join Forces

  • Yellow-Vest movement in France has shook the country where working class people live in precarity but pays most tax.

    Yellow-Vest movement in France has shook the country where working class people live in precarity but pays most tax. | Photo: Reuters

Published 6 December 2018

Yellow-vest protest is increasing by size and demands each passing day while left parties decide a no-confidence motion against the government. 

The leftist parties in French Parliament which include Socialist Party, La France Insoumise (radical left), and the Communist Party, announced Thursday that they will put forward a motion Monday of no confidence against the French government over the “Yellow Vest” protests in France.


France: Macron's Steps 'Too Little Too Late' For 'Yellow Vests'

“We’ve decided to work together to file a no-confidence vote [to the government] next Monday. During the coming days, we will seek to increase the number of signatories. We have to show that other ways are possible,” First Secretary of the Socialist Party Olivier Faure said.

French President Emmanuel Macron’s handling of the protests has been criticized by opposition parties. La France Insoumise party’s leader Jean-Luc Melenchon had repeatedly urged the president to abolish the fuel tax which started the whole movement that has engulfed France in the past three weeks.

“Increase wages, increase social minima. Repeal the fuel tax and reinstate the solidarity tax on Fortune (ISF). Because the time has come for the rich to be in solidarity,” Melenchon said.

What is “Yellow-Vest” movement?

The genesis of the movement can be traced back to May when a woman living in suburban Paris started a petition calling for a decrease in gas prices. She broke down the gas price showing how high the tax on gas is.

The petition did not garner much attention until October when a truck driver chanced upon it and shared on Facebook. It caught the attention of people and media alike, spreading around the country quickly.

Eric Drouet, the truck driver, then gave a call for a rally on Nov. 17 which became a huge success where people spontaneously came forward in different regions of France.

The protestors wore the high-visibility yellow vests that every driver in France must carry by law, hence earned the name “Yellow-Vest” (Gilets Jaunes in French).  

In the earlier phase, the participants of the movement were mainly people who have to rely on their vehicles to commute as transportation to the suburbs is scarce. These participants also come from the low-income background.

With time, people from other sections also joined the movement increasing the range of demands.

“Presently, students from high schools and universities are joining the movement because of the modifications on the BAC Exam (graduate exams) and increase of inscription fees. The peasants' organizations like the “Confederation Paysanne” are joining the yellow vest movement or others like the FSNEA (biggest peasant´s union)  are also organizing their own mobilizations currently,” Eduardo Meneses, who was an integral part of Melenchon’s Insoumise movement, told teleSUR.

After three weeks of intense protests, Macron, who was not ready to listen, bowed down to the protesters and announced on Dec. 4, suspension of fuel tax for at least six months. He later scrapped the fuel tax from the 2019 budget.

Even after Macron’s acceptance of the demand regarding fuel tax, yellow vests are still visible on streets of France. In fact, the protesters have organized a large mobilization on Saturday.

Why more protests?

Explaining why protesters continuing their demonstrations, Meneses said, “This measure is clearly a strategy to demobilize the protesters. But we know that there is a structural problem. In fact, the fuel tax was the straw that broke the camel's back, the real problem is the way that precarization of the worker´s class has increased in France. Today the minimum wage is just 150 euros (US$170) above the line of poverty, which means that millions of French people are leaving in permanent precarity.”

Macron helped the rich fiscally. He is now extorting money from working class people to make up for his tax concession to the rich.

“This is not going to be solved by the six-month suspension, so it is very possible that the protest will re-appear. Maybe in other forms, but the structural problem clearly persist,” said Eduardo.

“There is a clear phenomenon of protest around territorial inequalities in France at this moment. In rural sectors and suburbs, the protest is clearly growing in relation to the decrease of the purchasing power.”

The protesters are also demanding democratic reforms in France according to Eduardo. Protesters of this leaderless spontaneous movement are organizing around issues like purchasing power and minimum wage.

However, a threat of appropriation of the movement by right-wing Marine Le Pen’s party National Rally has been present since the beginning.

“Marine Le Pen is trying to become the political voice of this movement, but many voices inside the yellow-vests have spoken against this manipulation. It is becoming more and more clear that Melenchon is the one most likely to give a real voice to the crisis,” argued Eduardo.


Two-thirds Back France's 'Yellow Vest' Protests against Macron

Another worrying issue for the protesting citizens is that Macron’s administration has announced cut in public spending, i.e., taking away benefits like subsidies.

“If we need to accelerate tax cuts, whether for companies or households, I am in favor. But in this case, it must go hand-in-hand with a decrease in spending,” French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire said Thursday, a move heavily criticized by Melenchon.  

“The suspension of the tax will cost 2 billion euros (US$2,28 billion) to the government and they have already announced that they will find this money in other public expenses. In the past 10 years, one school and two post offices have been closed per day and a third of the maternities have closed since 1980. What the yellow vest are demanding is more public services (one of the main reasons why they need a car to move) but the government will give them exactly the opposite. That means that the protest can only increase,” Eduardo said.

According to him, if the protesters can show the government that their suspension of fuel tax did not actually manage to demobilize people, and if the Saturday’s protest comes out as strong as the people are predicting, then that can give rise a huge political crisis.

This can even lead France to an election where Macron’s win is doubtful as his approval rate has gone down since the protest started. That means France will elect either the right-wing Le Pen or the left-wing Melenchon.

France’s future now depends on Saturday’s protest and Monday’s no-confidence motion by left parties.

Police have been cracking down on the protests using tear gas and water cannon and many fear that the government is preparing a major repression as the movement announces a fourth round of demonstrations.

Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said Thursday that 89,000 police nationwide would be deployed to stop a repeat of last Saturday's mayhem across the country and in particular Paris when rioters torched cars and looted shops off the famed Champs Elysees boulevard.

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