Wed Jun 19, 2024
June 19, 2024

In the Footsteps of the Yellow Vests

THE GILETS JAUNES (Yellow Vests) (GJ) movement will soon be one year old. They failed to get rid of Macron, he is weakened, although he continues to drive through his counter-reforms.

By Phillip and Serge (The ARC Tendency inside the NPA) – International Courier 22 on Europe

It is true that the GJ did not manage to stop Macron and the capitalists, but their power, although still on the offensive against the working masses, was weakened. Macron relented at limited points when the GJ movement was more powerful Following the events of December 1, in particular with the popular attack against the mayor of Puy-en-Velay (Auvergne), and the GJs pushing back the police and taking the Arc de Triomphe.

Macron cancelled the fuel tax increase (which had lit the fuse) Then, in a ‘mea culpa’ speech on December 10, he announced the abolition of the CSG ( tax grab to finance social security ) on pensions below 2,000 euros and announced an increase of 100 euros in the minimum wage. However, this was a deceptive measure in that it does not cover all the workers involved.

The images of thousands of GJ occupying the Champs Elysees – for a while – scared the bourgeoisie to death. During the weekends of the mobilisations, many Parisians departed the city for spa stays, perhaps marking the fear of seeing social rage knock on the door. At the same time, many phone calls were made to the government to ‘let it go’.

At the beginning of 2019, the GJs still showed their strength and radicalisation, but Macron resumed the initiative, particularly with the “Great Debate”, a mask of dialogue aimed mainly at electing elected officials and institutional forces “to drown the fish” [ French expression that means “to avoid a cumbersome subject”].

Since then, despite their tenacity, vigour and democratic selforganisation, with enthusiastic Assemblies of the Assemblies in Commercy (Lorraine), St Nazaire (Pays de la Loire) and Montceau-les-Mines (Burgundy) – the GJ movement lost its power but is still alive. Since November 17 2018, there has been no single Saturday without GJ demonstrations in Paris and elsewhere. This summer on July 14, the movement managed to shake Macron on the Champs-Elysées and also successfully make the motorways toll free.

Between repression and betrayal

Why didn’t the GJ stop Macron? There are several elements for the answer. First of all, we must mention the government’s response of very violent police and judicial repression with hundreds of wounded (25 torn eyes, ripped hands and feet, etc.). On December 1, in Marseille, an 80-yearold woman, Zineb Redouane, was killed near his window by police fire, under very suspicious circumstances. Thousands of detentions and hundreds of sentences, either reasonless or disproportionally harsh.

At the movement’s peak, up to 90,000 police and gendarmes were mobilized throughout the country (10,000 in Paris). During the demonstration on September 21, when the GJs converged in Paris with forces fighting global warming, the capital was even isolated by 7,500 policemen, and the robots [riot police] threw gases and charged against peaceful protesters. The government now sends its police not only against the GJ or youth of the popular neighbourhoods but also against trade unionists and environmentalists. Worse, on June 21, during the Fête de la Musique [Music Festival], a young man drowned in the Loire de Nantes, after a police accusation that was not justified.

There has been a slow hardening of the state apparatus, this is a symptom of a desperate bourgeoisie, which no can longer simply contain the ideological battle using the media.

Macron can also count on the valuable help of the majority of union leaders. At the base, more and more trade unionists joined the GJ and found themselves in action with them, but the leaderships affirmed their role as defenders of the bourgeois state, preferring instead enter into ‘social dialogue’ with the ‘elected’ political power.

While the union leaders paid lip service to the fighting actions of the GJ they, except for Solidaires federation, condemned the violence of the demonstrators – despite the bloody role of the police and asked the GJs to extend their hand to the authorities. The despicable policy of most union leaders continued with the refusal to converge with the GJs by strike action when the bosses were at their greatest weakness, and when it was necessary to push for the mass strike, the economic blockade, and the struggle on the streets for Macron to yield.

A movement with a promising future that has made history

Macron is still there and continues to be as harmful as ever to the working class. But the GJs leave their mark on the collective imagination, whether we think of schoolchildren playing “yellow vests and police” in the courtyards; whether you think of the 2019 graduates who illustrated their philosophical essays with examples of the struggle of the GJs.

The audacity and radicalization of a new style of proletarian struggle is also a source of inspiration for the battles in the current period. Among the undocumented black vests appeared demanding papers and unequivocally condemning French colonialism and imperialism. In national education, in the face of anti-social reforms, there was a rebellion outside the traditional trade union framework, with the “red pens”. In June-July, the baccalaureate was interrupted by striking supervisors and assessors, which was certainly a minority, but highly publicized and unprecedented (disturbing the “bac” is so taboo). Also, in the health domain, many emergency services are engaged in a sustainable struggle against austerity.

The fight for the climate is growing and becoming partially more radical. On October 5, struggles converged again with several hundred GJs, radical environmental activists, and the Adama commission – named in honour of a black youth killed by gendarmes. Adama is a commission, based in a shopping centre in the middle of Paris, that fights police and racist violence, and the impunity that they enjoy. They attack socially unfair and destructive capitalist consumerism practically and symbolically for the environment.

A political power weakened but still on the offensive

Macron and his government continue to repress. Political scandals are multiplying and also weakening the regime. The injustice is flagrant and shocks more and more people.

On the one hand, ruthless repression against the GJ and the social movement. On the other hand, impunity for violent police officers and worse, the Minister of the Interior, C. Castaner, awards uniformed bandits. They are guilty of illegal acts: A. Benalla, former Macron’s bodyguard, committed many cases of abuse (against protesters disguised as a private police officer) and even escaped from prison. Castaner is still there, despite his violence, his lies and his machinations; F. Castaner, is one of the most violent of the violent world; de Rugy, former Minister of Ecology and a great lobster lover was forced to resign; R. Ferrand, president of the National Assembly, was accused of “illegal interests.” But whatever their problems they continue to rampantly attack the status of the civil service, the unemployment benefit and the pension system.

A crumbling and aimless left

Popular combativity revealed by the GJ does not translate into an electoral impulse to the left. The big winners of the June European elections, marked by a 50% abstention, were the National Rally of Marine Le Pen (whose list was skilful but fraudulently titled “Take the Power” with 23.31%; and Macron, whose list came in second with 22.41%.

In what is still ‘left’, it was a disaster: in addition to European ecology, bearer of a green-tinted neoliberalism (13.47%), France Insumisa (FI) fell (6.31% against 19.2% of Mélenchon in the 2017 presidential election); the PCF obtained only 2.49% and the opposing pieces of the former PS collected 6.19% (PSbobo lis[1], by R. Glucksmann) and 3.27% (most traditionally social democratic list of B. Hamon). On the ‘extreme left’, Lutte Ouvrière obtained 0.78%, and the NPA (New Anticapitalist Party, former LCR) did not participate.

A part of the reformist left, on the return of Clementine Autain and Elsa Faucillon, immediately took advantage of Mélenchon’s debilitating appeal to overcome the divisions of the left, pompously claiming a “big bang” from it. The NPA, divided but mainly opposed to this project, nevertheless saw its best-known spokesman, O. Besancenot, calling for “permanent coordination of the left in the struggle”, supposedly to support the struggles and seek a political alternative with the reformists, that is, at its base. A united front in and for struggles is not a problem, and it is certainly necessary to “walk apart but attack together” with them. We have, then, to engage in certain battles with the traitors and with the people who, by their agenda, will inevitably turn their backs, at any given time, on workers’ interests, particularly for their concern in respecting laws and institutions.

But to confuse the united front with the formation of a block that has programmatic ambitions is the squirrel in which the historical current falls again behind the NPA. It is wrong to want to produce a program with reformists because a common program can only be theirs, even if it is artificially distorted at this or that point.

The reformists such as the FPC, the left-wing parties of the former SP and the FI do not want to end the dictatorship of capital. They aim, in the best case scenario, to overcome neoliberalism, but without confronting the ruling class. They aim to meet the challenge of retaking the system from within, without ending paternal power and the bourgeois state.

In the coming months, we will see what happens with those attempts to resuscitate the left, but the success of these appeals seems increasingly unlikely. And this is logical, considering the key parameters s political situation. The period demanded a lot of radicalism, and that can be seen from several indications: for several years, the main marches, such as those of the Black Blocks and the autonomous ones, were the forces that captured the radicalization, and not the traditional extreme left; and mobilization and evolution of the GJ also demanded daring, radicalism and democracy, and they have little incentive to pursue a political system that aims above all to recover their votes in elections. Finally, it is not difficult to notice that some of the components of this left – we take the example of Generation, of B. Hamon – they do not fight radically, because they do not act mainly in the streets, but instead in the institutions. We wonder what such currents could bring to the struggles. However, in the coming months, we will see other forces that we will have to try to converge with to win the battle of the pensions.

 The battle of reform

Macron wants to abolish the current pensions schemes and legislate for a budget adjustment where pensions would never exceed 14% of GDP. Therefore, a massive reduction in pensions is expected, with the impossibility of knowing their amount in advance, since that will depend on an annual political decision. Some sectors will suffer more than others, but the decline will affect all workers, faced with that, discontent is on the rise.

The union leaders, as ever, organised a series of separate strikes and demonstrations in September. However, it was the strike of the RATP transport workers in Paris of September 13, which marked the period. This day was organised to defend their pension scheme and was a huge success, with more than 90% of workers stopping work. Driven by a furious rank and file, RATP unions called for an unlimited strike from December 5.

Since then, the SUD [Solidarity Unity Democratic] Rail, FO federation [Force Ouvrière – Workers Force] of transport and road and the FO confederation (in terms less clear), appealed for wider participation to go beyond sectoralism.

That can make December 5, the possible starting point for an interprofessional renovation strike. The result will depend a lot on what happens in the CGT, and also on the phenomena of self-organisation in the future. A sharp conflict has started between those who really want the fight against the manoeuvres of the bureaucrats who will try to avoid it. Throughout the labour movement, appeals to adherence to this unlimited general strike and the demand that trade union leaders call it is clearly on the order of the day – this is a central task of the period for revolutionary militants.

Achieving a qualitatively different situation, with an unlimited general strike, depends in part on the policy that the revolutionary left will follow in the next two months.

In our opinion, a good policy is based on the articulation of the following elements: build a meeting point for all trade union structures, associations and the people, who want to direct the struggle until the end and expel Macron; publicly demand and through the trade union structures that the trade union leaders put the trade union structures at the service of the struggle; stop arguing with the government and request an unlimited general strike from December 5; do not hesitate to publicly criticise the past catastrophic policies and all the vacillations and betrayals of those bureaucracies and in the next period; build self-organisation in the struggle, so that the workers themselves control their strike; invest in all the struggles between now and then – workers, feminists, climate activists, etc. -; finally, in addition to the agitation for the fall of Macron, to offer the prospect of a collapse of capitalism and workers power, for a free and self-generated socialism, in the perspective of a world revolution. In the scope of the NPA, discussions have already begun, and the new ARC trend[2] includes these general guidelines.


[1] Bobo: acronym for “bourgeois bohemian”.

[2] Born at the end of June 2019, from the merger of the Tendance Claire (the Y platform at the last congress) and comrades not linked to organised currents.

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