Gulf Shores The Yellow Vests or Gilets Jaunes protest in France began in the middle of November of 2018. In July in rural France in the Rhone/Alps region when ACORN International organizers met at an old farm house fifteen kilometers from St. Etienne, less than ten minutes from our meeting place, we could still see the signs of the Yellow Vests as we passed through our last traffic circle before hitting the farm. Nearby, just outside of the circle, a tent and plywood headquarters for area Yellow Vests and their protest was still standing and active, even if not fully manned and at the top of their lungs as they had been months before. Though they might be the scourge of Paris, they seemed accepted and supported here in the countryside.
What is the real story on the Yellow Vests? Was this a rightwing, Le Pen movement of the angry and anti-Semites protesting modest steps towards climate change or something different?
Yoan Pinaud, head organizer of the Alliance Citoyenne’s local group in Aubervilliers, the lower income, working class suburb of Paris, affiliated with ACORN International, had argued in Social Policy that the Yellow Vests were a movement erupting to oppose the government for the right reason, mainly its support of the rich and the increasing burden placed on the rest of the population. Was our organizer just a lonely, hopeful voice in the spring speaking more from hope than reality or was he onto to something?
An article in Harper’s Magazine for August by Christopher Ketcham entitled “A Play With No End: What the Gilets Jaunes really want,” puts the finger of Yoan’s scale and weighs heavily in the direction that we were making the correct call. Ketcham found no indication in his discussions with many, both in Paris and outside, that indicated anything other than direct anger at the neoliberal program of current President Macron and his predecessors, even from the Socialist Party. He finds, with us, that this was a movement based in righteous anger at policies that were excluding the masses and benefiting the rich, where the last straw was the unequal fuel tax on rural and depopulating villages in France. He cites an Oxfam study from 2015 that found that “the wealthiest 10 percent of French citizens emit some seventeen metric tons of carbon per capita…while the poorest 50 percent emit less than five,” noting in the US that the ratio is 50 metric tons for the same rich percentage versus eight for the poorest 50 percent.
In fact, Ketcham argues that the French establishment “slandered” the Yellow Vests “in service of class interests.” And, then the established Western media ate it up like candy and repeated the false analysis raw. The French bourgeoisie reacting to the disruption was as afraid of the Vests as they were in the 1800s of the sans-culottes in the French Revolution and the subsequent terror. He finds them to be progressives looking for a party and politicians to oppose neoliberalism that has hurt them terribly, especially outside Paris.
They have also won results from their actions that we should all applaud. Macron made $5 billion euros worth of concessions. Lower-income families received a tax cut. Pensions were indexed to inflation. Public service cuts were forestalled, including shelving Macon’s plan to cashier 120,000 public service jobs. The privatization of Paris Airports has now been stymied and may be defeated. Of course, Macron also rescinded the fuel tax which had ignited the protests.
Furthermore, and this is perhaps most telling, just as our observation of the Yellow Vest still active outpost outside of St. Etienne, Ketcham writes, it’s not over and still goes on,
“They have refused to be mollified by what they perceive as crumbs tossed from the throne of power. Their war against the rich, in the age of climate change, is one driven by an understanding unique among protests movements in France: that the privilege to lord and privilege to pollute are one and the same, and that confronting the climate crisis means a confrontation with unregulated capitalism. It is a call to arms that should resound across the world.”
They hear it clearly in France, and I swear, I can hear it in the United States and everywhere I go these days.
Please enjoy “I Only Cry When I’m Alone” by Beth Bombara.
Thanks to KABF.