France Today

Late-Autumn with Yellow Flames

Sandeep Banerjee

Aloïs Gury, whose little poultry at Bresse province supplied chickens that were used for the gala presidential dinner hosted by President Macron for Trump, Putin and Angela Merkel, took up a yellow jacket, wore it, and took a video of himself and posted it in his Facebook page, in what he angrily addressed Macron: you do not deserve my chicken, you do not understand anything of agriculture, I am disgusted. Working 77 hours a week, earning only 700 € a month, getting only one seven-day holiday in last three years… made him appalled enough to show he too is with the Yellow Jackets. (Incidentally bright fluorescent yellow jackets for safety are compulsory there for bikers and drivers.) This showed that in the countryside too there is some sympathy for the yellow vest protesters of town and suburb all across France.

Ms Priscilla Ludosky, a coloured woman, 30-year-old online sales professional, who started a petition in end-May protesting so high tax on motor fuels (she said she was aghast finding in the fuel bill given from the filling station that taxes were two third of the price) could not imagine that the petition will snowball in October and get well above a million signatures. Two truck drivers, Bruno Lefevre and Eric Drouet, too were smelling the air and had suggested in Facebook for a protest event to be staged on November 17, when everybody would have to display her/his yellow. More than one hundred thousand marked 'interested'. Another person voiced the same message in a Facebook video post that was seen by 4.4 million. By the way, some ultra-right politicians supposedly called for a day of action also on the same date. But nobody could fancy that more than a quarter million people will come out to protest on that Nov 17 and some did protest in such a way that many decent opposition members of parliament and parliamentary left parties found 'unruly'. And 'ungodly' too, because the protesters were shouting against the holy green carbon tax.

The established lefts watched. There were researches—how rightists were fanning the unrest, how 5 out of 8 spokespersons of the Gilet Jaunes on different occasions sided with the right wing (including things like 'he liked those posts of…' or 'he once shared that post of …'). But after two weekends of hundreds of thousands of persons on street, and support of rank and file worker members of trade unions CNT staged their own protest event on the third weekend, i.e. Dec 1, and did not mention the Gilet Jaunes in its statements. (One opinion poll result from PSA Peugeot Citröen Valenciennes published in a so-called Trotskyite webzine Révolution Permanente, on Nov 23 showed: (1) do you favour the yellow vest movement—Yes 96.1%, No 3.1%; (2) do you think that union of your factory should call for a strike—Yes 55.3%, No 35.7% … in all cases there was a 'cannot say' option. Though the poll suggested that majority workers at that moment were not yet ready to start a strike.) Yes, this is that CNT, one of the largest unions of Europe which tried its bets to douse the May-68 rebellion. The Force Ouvrière announced its support earlier, on Nov 20.

In the meantime, the spontaneous movement 'chose' 8 persons of different towns as their spokespersons, Priscilla and Eric included; they did a survey online where some thirty to forty thousand persons gave input as to what their charter of demand would be; and ultimately they produced 40-42 points as Peoples' Directives for the MPs. Also the movement saw a division—Gilet Jaunes Libres came out against Gilet Jaunes 'official'—Benjamin Cauchy of Toulouse and his 'free' (libre) associates called themselves representatives of the movement—they tried to 'frighten' the government that if government does not start negotiation immediately, an 'insurrection' may occur! How worried and scared the French gentlemen always are when they see streets boiling with disobedience.

There were ample reasons of discontentment. To present the condition briefly one may read some lines from a report from the website of Europe Solidaire Sans Frontières (the long quote may be forgiven): "… this year the price of diesel has increased by 23 percent and petrol by 14 percent due to the jump in the price of a barrel of oil. In addition, the government has recently announced that diesel and petrol prices will increase further—by four and seven cents a litre respectively… … Immediately upon reaching office, Macron abolished the Solidarity Wealth Tax (ISF), giving €4 billion to the richest; and has strengthened the Tax Credit for Solidarity and Employment (CICE), a tax cut and exemption programme transferring €41 billion a year to French companies, including multinationals. Shortly afterwards, with the 2018 budget bill, Macron established a flat tax that allowed a lowering of taxation on capital, handing another €10 billion to the richest…. At the same time, the government has increased the General Social Contribution (CSG) income tax to be paid by pensioners, while pensions themselves have ceased to be indexed to inflation (and thus to retirees' ability to buy consumer goods). It has got rid of the subsidized contracts (which allowed large numbers to work on contracts partly financed by public bodies) and lowered by five euros a month the amount of housing contributions (APL) for the most disadvantaged…."

Leaders of two newer movement-turned-party organisations, François Ruffin of Picarde Debout (he was the initiator and one leader of the so-called 'leaderless' movement Nuit Debout) and Jean-Luc Mélenchon of La France Insoumise, both MPs, declared support even before the first protest day of Nov 17. Mélenchon is an avowed Eco-socialist and his party proclaims itself so. But it did not deter them from joining a movement which started with said opposition to the burdensome Carbon Tax (a tax purportedly to veer consumers away from high emission fuel use). Mélenchon even called MPs to put forward a motion of dissolution of the national assembly.

Vol. 51, No.26, Dec 30, 2018 - Jan 5, 2019