It is quite important that the non french speaking comrades understand a bit what’s going in France these last weeks. Here is an attempt to explain partially what is happening in the Gilets Jaunes (GJ) movement. This “presentation” is for sure incomplete, it’s a complex situation, different in many places, and it is just impossible to know everything which is happening.
Feel free to share this text to people you know (and please apologise us for our broken English).
The beginning of the movement: Facebook and economical blockades
This movement started to mobilise against a new tax on fuel that was supposed to be enforced on 1st January. It picked the Gilet Jaune (yellow safety jacket) as its symbol. Besides the meeting and organisation that took place during the blockades, the movement is organised mostly on Facebook. The first day of action was on 17th November. There were 2.000 blockades all over France, a lot on the paying entrances of the motorways, at the entrances of some commercial centres, and in some refineries and ports. A lot of the people who take part in this movement are blocking and demonstrating for the first time in their life, this movement might be a lot of things but for sure not the “usual” French social movement.
During the week, a lot of GJ are working, so there are less blockades, but some places are permanently occupied and sometimes partially blocked since 3 weeks; mostly some round-abouts (it even happened that some people built up huts and say they will spend Christmas and New Year’s Eve there), but also some ports.
The 24th November, there was the first demo of the movement, organised only in Paris. A lot of people came from all over France, and the Champ Elysees, the most famous and posh boulevard of the country which leads to the government palace, was full of barricades and people were rioting for nearly 10 hours. It was the same situation in all the surrounding streets.
Despite there were millions and millions of euros of damaged after the 1st December riots in Paris and everywhere in France (we’ll speak later about it), the main cost of the movement is due to all the blockades and all the shops which closed last Saturday because of the riots. Considering that most of the shops are making 15%-25% of their year profit in the 4 Saturdays before Christmas, the cost of the movement is already counted in billions. And it is far from being over.
About the 1st December, the demonstrations all over France and the support of the people
On 1st December, demonstrations were organised not only in Paris but in dozens of cities. Actually, we cannot really call it “demonstrations”, there are no authorisations, no official way, no official organisors, it is rather some calls on Facebook to take the streets or to go to some state institutions (the “préfectures” or the city halls mostly).
Despite that 65.000 cops were mobilised (who are basically nearly all the cops the French state can mobilise), the situation was totally out of control for the whole day in many places: Paris, Toulouse, Marseille, Dijon, Bordeaux, Le Pouzin, Tours, Le Puy En Velay. Those places have seen the biggest riots since at least 1968, many demonstrations, hard fights with the cops, burning barricades, sometimes looting. In many other cities, there were also clashes in smaller scale. Even some “prefets” (the regional chief of police who are legally not allowed to make that kind of statement) have contacted some journalists and declared that the situation is some kind of uprising, or even “a pre-revolutionnary moment”, and that the government doesn’t understand the situation at all.
We can point 2 really surprising aspects of this movement:
– According to the pools (we know, we usually don’t give a shit about these craps, but here it has an importance), more than 70% of the French people are supporting the movement. Even the hard clashes of the 1st December haven’t changed this rate of support. This is significant considering how the media speaks about the movement – sometimes it can be really funny to watch the news or to listen to the radio these days – and also about the way the government assesses the situation – Macron had to walk back for the first time, but it seems he did it too late and his concessions weren’t enough (we’ll speak about it later).
– One of the main problem of the government is that the people who are demonstrating and rioting feel they are legitimate to do it and are claiming what is theirs. A lot of them say they cannot take the way they are living, working full time and still being poor anymore. They think that it’s their right to protest, that it’s written in the constitution, and that there is no question whether a demo is authorized or not. So when the cops shoot tear gas and rubber bullets to them (like they use to do), the people get really mad, some shout at the cops that they pay their salary and that the cops should be ashamed of doing what they do, some are fighting them back hard – right now, a lot of images of cops violence (which went wild) are massively shared on the GJ Facebook accounts. Even if there are are some organised leftists and fascists groups in the riots, it seems that most of the rioters are “simple” citizens who are getting “radicalised” in a really short time.
About the fascists
As we mentioned it, there are some fascists present in this movement, at least in some places. In Paris, some organised groups, coming in most parts from other regions of France, have been present. On the 1st December, several groups gathered (we don’t know how many of them, might be around 200 people) and stayed for the morning around the Place de l’Etoile, taking part in the clashes with the cops and doing their nationalist bullshit (song, commemoration) around the historical monument Arc de Triomphe (we don’t know where they were in the afternoon). There were some fights with some antifascist groups. In some cities, the fascists don’t seem to be part of the movement, and in a few other cities, they seem to structure the movement. As for the ” traditional leftists”, they are really a minority in this movement. Nevertheless in many places the protesters are clearly against racism and fascism. But it is a important to prevent the fascists from consolidating or taking an important position in the movement. On that matter, any militant antifascist help is welcome.
Another thing is the disturbing use of the national flag and anthem which can / could scared us. Quite some people are having some small flags, and the anthem is sometimes sung by the protesters. For sure some GJ see it as a patriotic / nationalist symbol (the extreme rightwing party Rassemblement National (ex-Front National) has over 20% in the polls France), but there is also all that stuff about the French revolution which related to that. After all the anthem is a call to rise up against “tyranny”. More basically a lot of people used the flag for the French victory in the football world cup. For it is a symbol of a massive national event / party. We have seen some huge bold guys with the flag, that we were suspecting to be nationalist, shouting slogans like “black, white, red, yellow, we don’t care, we are all together”; we have met some young guys with huge flags who had close political ideas to us. We see also the revolution of 1789 and the decapitation of the king is quite present in the ideas, the talks, the slogans (the main slogan you hear is “Macron démission”). We don’t want to paint a picture that is one-sided and that everything is great. There is a nationalist part in the movement, in Lyon it seems the 1th December demo (rather small, +-300 GJ with no riots) was coordinated by the fascist groups (quite active in the city for long time) and the same is true for some blockades in that area, where protesters clearly claim to vote for the extreme right. But there is also something totally opposite in the movement, in St Nazaire, the port has been occupied for a long time, the GJ have opened a collective place where they share a daily life (la “maison du peuple”) and have really clear anti-racist positions. We have the impression that a lot of people have the urge to talk and they are doing it. By occupying places for 2-3 weeks, a lot of people have some kind of first political experience. We don’t know where all that will lead to and fore sure it is not a comfortable “left militant event”, but we think the potentialities of this movement – who will certainly stop or change at some point (soon?) – it’s worth getting into it.
About the government reaction, the claims and the representation of the GJ
Today (Tuesday 4th December), the government announced that they will postpone the application of the tax on fuel (which was the starting point of the movement), that they will freeze the price of gas and electricity, and another small reform, all that for 6 months. The interior minister also asked the GJ not to demonstrate in Paris on the 8th to spare the merchants.
It seems or it is even quite sure that the announcement of the government won’t calm the GJ. For some days, a list of 44 claims (supposedly written from lot of discussions with GJ) is circulating on the social medias, including a tax on the richest, the rise of the minimal wage, and many other reforms that Macron won’t ever accept – but we have no idea if this list is really representing something for a lot in GJ stand for. More interesting, a growing part of the GJ seems stopped being interested in a negotiation dynamic. Tonight the front page on the site of “Le Monde” (one of the few big newspaper) quotes the blockers in Charleville-Mezieres. They say “We have to get rid of these politicians who are just working for themselves”.
Another big problem for the government (after the legitimacy of the protesters) is that they are no official representatives of the movement. The government tried to invite some GJ who became famous because their videos have been seen millions of time but they refused to come. Some of them because they wanted that the government make a step first, and all of them because they received a lot of threats by other GJ who refused that they represent them. Even though the government is now really looking for some “responsible” representatives of the movement, it seems quite unlikely that they will find some.
Since the 1st December on other fronts
On Monday 3rd, 11 fuel refineries of Total were blocked. It seems most of them were unblocked on Tuesday.
On Monday 3rd, nearly 200 secondary schools were partially or totally blocked all over France – while none was blocked on the Friday 30th. There were wild demonstrations gathering up to several thousands of high school students, some of then ended up in clashes with cops. At least one hundred high schools were still disrupted Tuesday. The high school students have their own demands, linked to the reform of the baccalaureate or access to higher education, but also showed their solidarity with the GJ. More blockades are expected in the next days.
In two universities in Paris (Censier and Tolbiac) the students voted on Tuesday to block the university and to refuse the increase of the school fees for foreign students, mentioning the GJ movement.
The CGT and FO unions of drivers announced that they will go on strike from Monday 10th, as did the FNSEA, the (right wing) union of farmers.
The situation in Paris for the 8th December
In Paris, many big cultural public events have been canceled, as well as the football match of Paris St Germain (because the organisors didn’t want to take a risk or on demand of the government who need all the cops in the streets). Some organisors of the march for climate, planned since a long time, refused the demand of the government and said they will demonstrate, that there should be a connection between social and climate justices.
On the 1st December demo, there were 4.500 cops in Paris, a lot of them were in static position, defending the Champ Elysees (all side streets were blocked with huge metal fences and cops) and the state institutions (the assembly, the senate, etc). The ones in the streets used 10.000 grenades in one day (they used 5.000 on 24th November, which was the previous historical record) and they totally lost the control of the situation: dozens of (burning) barricades, smashed shops and burnt cars (the firemen were called for 200 fires). For the people who know Paris, the area of those clashes was going from Place de l’Etoile to St Lazare and Hotel de Ville, which is just a 5km long area and it lasted for 8 hours. During the morning were some “normal” clashes with the cops but the most the day was going on, the most people were there, and the hardest it became (in terms of dimension of the area and burning places).
The interior minister said that they will mobilise more cops for the 8th December but it is unclear where they will find them. He also said they will use another tactic to face the “extreme mobility” of the protesters which probably means that the cops won’t be so static and that the Champ Elysees might be more accessible. So probably there will be bigger units moving in the city. So we don’t really know what to expect on this day, but it would be really surprising that after 2 Saturday of massive riots, they would suddenly take control of the city back completely.
What the fuck are you waiting to come to take part in the revolution?
(and don’t forget your gilet jaune!!)