After a January with Gilets Jaunes — brace yourself for an engaging February

Sandeep Banerjee

How about a Gilets Jaunes gathering in Paris inviting Tony Negri of Autonomia fame, the workers’ factory take-over movement of Italy of 1970s? And it is going to happen shortly. On 4-Feb, Monday, at 6PM (Paris time) at La Colonie, 128 Rue la Fayette, near Metro stations both Gare-du-Nord and Poissonnière, a discussion is being organised[1] by Comité Adama and Gilets Jaunes. Speakers will be Tony Negri, Etienne Balibar (Emeritus Professor of Philosophy, Paris-Ouest, known to be a Marxist scholar) and Omar Slaouti (spokesperson of Colectif Rosa Parks). Some more actions of immediate future are given at the end of this article.

For 1-Feb, the first Saturday of February, Comité Vérité pour Adama along with Vérité et Justice pour Gaye (committee floated for seeking truth and justice for a black youth Camara Gaye who was shot repeatedly by police and died on 18-Jan 2018), Plateforme d'Enquêtes Militantes (Platform of militant enquiry) and Cheminots de l'Intergare (Railwaymen of Paris Inter-stations) have jointly called for a Gilets Jaunes Acte-XII event[2] on 2-Feb, Saturday: March of the Wounded Against Police Violence. Hundreds have so far been injured by severe police attacks, flash-balls almost killed persons, one person succumbed to coma in Toulouse by flash-ball injury behind head.

In January four ACTS of Gilets Jaunes protests were staged, Acte-VIII to Acte-XI. Till now there is no sign of decline in the movement. Atlantico published an interview[3] with Jérôme Fourquet, one of the topmost analyst at IFOP, in early January, in which we heard – (1) still more than 60% of France support the movement a month and a half after the beginning of the movement (2) a little more than 50% of French wish that the movement continues, and (3) between 15 and 18% of French people consider themselves Gilets Jaunes. Overall, in the January episodes the number of participants did not diminish. One in every six or seven persons think themselves as Gilets Jaunes, as protesters! That is significant.

After the government responded with a €100 rise in minimum wages and cuts in suggested taxes on Petrol and Diesel we saw that the protesters were not happy at all. To diffuse the situation President Macron issued an open letter to the French on Sunday, 13-Jan. In that letter Macron made it clear that he would not bulge from his pro-rich anti-people rightist economic policies, he would not reconsider re-imposition of Wealth Tax on the rich, the tax which his government abolished. Benjamin Griveaux, spokesman for the government, said that it was out of the question to restore the ISF. Rather, he tried to divert focus to immigration issue with a subtle reference to fixing some immigration quota. He appealed to the citizens to think, discuss and debate the matters for two months before a final decision is taken by consultation with citizens. But he showed no respect to the protesters in France, he did not even mention the term Gilets Jaunes that is haunting him and compelled him to address the nation! It seems that the Gilets Jaunes Acte-X i.e., the protests on 19-Jan, six days after the open letter, drew more participants than two previous weekends.

There were some interesting happenings in January. We can see a few.

  1. Éric Drouet was arrested again on 2-Jan-2019 after being taken by police once on 22-Dec-2018[4]. In the latest edition of Saturday protests, on 5-Jan-2019, a group of protestors, some of them in yellow vests, broke the gate of office of Secretary of State by a construction machine. The secretary of state Benjamin Griveaux was quickly evacuated by the police[5].
  2. In the CGT journal NVO, on 2 Jan we find a photo of picket lines jointly by workers of CGT and local Gilets Jaunes blocking the warehouse of Carrefour. There also we find the head of CGT union of Lafarge group telling us the how demands of Gilets Jaunes and workers have so much in common[6].
  3. On 31-Dec-2018 also we saw some fifty Gilets Jaunes join with more than hundred factory workers of Cristallerie Arc in their protest meeting against the recent attacks of factory management[7]. Arc workers had been protesting at the call of SUD and FO trade unions there.
  4. There are reports of many other activities of the Gilets Jaunes groups at various places – for example, a group of 20 Gilets Jaunes of Sablé and La Flèche assembled in front of the Employment Exchange office and distributed leaflets among unemployed persons regarding new measures of the government will make life more difficult for the presently unemployed persons[8].
  5. In the first week of January, at Fougères the local Gilets Jaunes made a “Head Quarter” by some wooden planks and plastic sheets and started manning there by staying day and night shifts, but later the land on which it was made was found to be a government land, which they have to vacate, and so the informed the people to help them find some private land that will permit making their Head Quarter again[9].
  6. The Midi Insoumis reported on 1-Jan-2019 that the peasant confederation of Var calls farmers to join the movement of “yellow vests”. Farmers who like the “yellow vests” are against this rise in taxes which put them in great difficulty[10].
  7. On 3-Jan-2019 police at Nice evicted some 15 Gilets Jaunes who occupied an unused hospital premises for their meetings. They were also giving shelter 3 families there who previously were homeless and were staying in freezing temperature on the roads; interestingly two of those families were Albanian migrants seeking asylum. The Gilets Janues provided them with food, water, electricity connection and shelter[11].
  8. On 7-Jan-2019, Gilets Jaunes at Manosque after being chased out from expressway by the police, blocked the Town Hall, some entered into a school and talked with the high school students for support[12].
  9. An ex-boxer, who was a French professional boxer of Light-Heavyweight category, Christophe Dettinger, had severely beaten several police officers on Saturday 5-Jan Acte-VII episode of Gilets Jaunes. The video went viral. On Monday, however, he surrendered to the Court and said he was sorry. But his other comments were very interesting. “I saw the repression, I saw the police gassing, the police hurting people with flashballs” … “I’m demonstrating for all the pensioners, for the future of my children, for single women, for everything we’re fighting for. I am a gilet jaune. I have the anger of the people in me … it’s always the little people who pay.”  On the Online Fund Collection portal Leetchi, somebody floated an appeal to aid for the legal cost needed for the boxer and within a short time €114,000 was raised. Leetchi closed the collection drive after being scolded by many, including Police Unions. Against this drive, president of LR (Republican party, rightist, whose candidate came third in the French Presidential Election 2017) floated a collection drive to aid the police, and that drive could collect €178,000 according to news[13] available on 8 and 9-Jan.
  10. Act 9 and factory closure 11.01.2019: Poutou and the workers of Ford Blanquefort call to protest alongside the yellow vests. For this 9th act of Gilets Jaunes, the CGT Ford union calls to join the vests for the event in Bordeaux. In a context where the future of the plant is still in balance and following the announcements of Ford on a new wave of dismissal in Europe, the convergence between these struggles is more needed. Since the beginning of the mobilization of the yellow vests, workers of Ford Blanquefort participated, individually in the demonstrations in Bordeaux, in particular certain militants of the CGT. They were also very well received by the demonstrators – a sign that the question of the closure of the plant, combined with the campaign of Philippe Poutou in the last presidential elections, they had a positive echo among the mobilized. For this act 9, it is the whole of the CGT Ford that launched a call to join the yellow vests through a statement posted on their facebook page: “Act 9: Let's demonstrate Saturday 12”.[14]

But there are some issues of great concern. For example, IFOP France in a leading opinion poll organisation in France. Since May 2017 presidential election IFOP has been surveying continuously every month with a question – which political group/leader will be the best to oppose President Macron. Surprisingly rating of Mélenchon (of LFI or La France Insoumise) the highest rated person/party, started falling last September-2018, whereas, rating of so-called ‘fascist’ Mme Le Pen (of Rassemblement National) was increasing since September. But what is more interesting, only in this early Jan-2019 poll, RN’s rating surpassed rating of LFI (the interactive graph is very interesting, it can be seen here[15]). It became a media-gossip from 8-Jan onwards that Gilets Jaunes movement contributed to this rise of RN over LFI. Though such opinion polls are at times misleading and may not reflect what the masses will “do”, still this particular revelation is uncomfortable. Nonetheless there were several instances of Gilets Jaunes acting sympathetic to migrants, for example the fact given in above point 7.

The Liberation covered the Acte-X protests on 26-Jan with a headline: Acte X: Gilets Jaunes, less in number but more determined. As per their report number of participants was a little less than the previous Saturday (19-Jan) and the reported hinted to the ‘divisions’ within the movement[16]. Éric Drouet called for a Nuit Jaune, a night of protest of the Gilets Jaunes in Paris.

President Macron, it seems, is really playing with fire. Apart from poking the sensitive ‘migrant’ issue by his open letter, his party is calling counter-demonstrations against Gilets Jaunes - Foulards Rouges or Red Scarves! They named their rally as Republican March for Freedom. Their first demo was held on Sunday 27-Jan. According to various newspapers that march had more than ten thousand Macron supporters. Does Mr President want to instigate street-fight between two rival groupings!

As the spontaneous movement continues for nearly 12 weeks, naturally will come the question of crystallisation around said/unsaid political/ideological orientations, even if those are still embryonic or hazy and also ‘spontaneous’. An indirect manifestation can be seen in splitting of the ‘movement’ into different directions. Mme Priscilla Ludosky, who initiated the petition against fuel price rise and Éric Drouet who first issued the call for protests on 17-Nov with yellow vests, both are among the eight spokespersons of Gilets Jaunes. But their relationship is so bitter now that they are not even in talking terms[17]. Then, some other ‘leaders’ of Gilets Jaunes, Ingrid Levavasseur and Hayk Shahinyan, issued a statement that they will finalise a list of candidates to contest in the coming European Parliament election in May 2019. Such an announcement made Éric Drouet fuming, he saw in it an attempt to politicalise the movement, to utilise this movement for election, whereas he champions apolitics[18]. Éric Drouet called them to get out of Gilets Jaunes.

Additionally, we have seen another ‘pole’ – where railwaymen with Comité Adama and Colectif Rosa Parks arranging discussion with a leader of Italian workers’ movement for take-over of factories. Then Philippe Poutou, himself a worker at Ford factory and leader of NPA (New Party Anti-Capitalist) with many workers, many of whom affiliated to CGT, joining the Gilets Jaunes. Then, we have seen Mélenchon of LFI supporting and joining the metal-workers and Gilets Jaunes at Florange[19].

And there is going to be a General Strike or Grève Générale. CGT is calling for a Grève Générale on 5-Feb, Tuesday next. Some sections of the Gilets Jaunes also appealed for a two-day General strike on 5 and 6 February. Also, there were some discussions on indefinite strike, then another announcement was there — “4 - 5 - 6 février 2019 – blocage national et appel à la grève générale, par Gilets Jaunes”[20] — this call was raised from Toulouse by Gilets Jaunes there. And their poster has a post script – “Let May 68 Serve As Example!” Their poster reads like this:

Call for a General Strike
Everywhere in France
February 4 - 5 and 6
So That the Government Finally Answers!
Yellow Vests – Nurses
Taxi Drivers – Students – Small Business Owners
Workers/Staff with wages/salaries – Unemployed ones
and many more...
No fuel consumption for 3 days,
No open store, No moving
(except on foot or by bike)
You want to return to a normal life
so let's get together, everywhere in France.
No matter what your standard of living is, by solidarity let's do it all!

This present author could gather only some titbits of the social turmoil going on in France right now. February, we may hope, will make more things clear.


Feb 3, 2019

Sandeep Banerjee [email protected]

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