Contributed by Jim Hayes
The weekend just passed marked the first anniversary since the Yellow Vest movement erupted on France’s streets. It has maintained its weekly presence, despite government attempts to suppress it with the use of coordinated police attacks.
Beginning over a fuel tax, it quickly developed to champion fundamental political change, leading to greater fairness, equality and bottom up participation in the political decision making of the nation. President Emanuel Macron and his neoliberal economic reforms have been targeted .
The persistence of the Yellow Vests and refusal to be co-opted into existing political institutions has had an impact on French politics.
At first, Macron publicly stood defiantly against the Yellow Vests. When this backfired, there was a turn towards identification with them, and promises of a string of reforms and consultation. The fuel tax rise was stopped, there as a tax cut for households and some extra government spending. But many have not benefited. People felt cheated and Macron lost much of his credibility.
Police once again moved in with tear gas and water cannon to break up the march in Paris. It elicited a response.
Yellow Vests mark their first anniversary
Video by The Straits Times
Government, police and many media sources presented what happened as merely a response to violent protesters. It is not true. According to others, it was mainly about police violence, even if some did respond.
It fits in with the government’s strategy so far. This has been to physically push the Yellow Vests off the streets. This is what is continuing to command the police action.
The Yellow Vests continue to enjoy widespread public support. A recent poll in Le Figaro showed that 68 percent of French support its demands.
Police fire tear gas at crowds on the one year anniversary of the yellow vest protests
Video from The Sun
The failure of this strategy is that the Yellow Vests have stood up to everything thrown at them and refused to go.
At the same time as condemning the claimed violence of protesters, spokespeople for the government announced that Macron is about to offer some more concessions. This would not happen unless Macron and his government felt that they had no other choice.
At around 24 percent public approval the president is not in a strong position.
Yellow Vests occupy up iconic Galeries Lafayette in Paris
Video from Ruptly
France is also experiencing unrest among university students, striking hospital workers and a planned union movement strike against reform of the pension system.
In other words, discontent is spreading.
Within the yellow Vest movement, there is a rising debate over longer term strategy. Two matters being canvassed is whether the movement takes on the form of a political party, and whether there should be a shift form protesting, to using methods that will cause greater economic and transport system disruption, such as, targeting motorway toll booths and oil refineries.