Last December 15, the fifth week of the yellow vests’ protests in all France began. According to the Interior Ministry, 66 thousand protestors participated in the demonstrations, a significant decrease when compared to the 126 thousand last week.
By Fabio Bosco
There were 230 protests, where 157 people were arrested and 5 were wounded. The number of prisoners also decreased, last week it had been two thousand. It is important to take into account that the Interior Ministry disseminates data that minimizes the demonstrations and hides the brutal repression.
In Paris, around four thousand people participated in two concentrations: one in the stairs of the Paris Opera and another in the avenue of the Champs Elysées.
Eight thousand policemen, with 14 armored riot cars sieged the protestors in the Arch of Triumph and repressed the movement with tear gas. The protesters sang symbols of the French Revolution like Marianne and the Marseilles.
The French government held the Eiffel Tower and the Arch of Triumph open seeking to appear normality. However, the Museums of Modern Art and the Petit Palais were closed. Most commerce remained closed. This weekend, protests against austerity and the autocratic government prevailed over Christmas shopping.
According to the Interior Ministry, 69 thousand policemen were deployed around France, mainly in Paris, Toulouse, Bordéus and Saint-Etienne. In the inland of the country, demonstrations were more intense. In Toulouse, thousands of protestors sang the Marseilles in the Estrasburg Avenue. The press reported a blockage of the AP-7 Highway in the south of France, near Catalonia.
“The street is whose? The Street is ours! Out with Macron!”
Besides the traditional demands against the increase in fuel price and for the recovery of the purchasing power, other demands were present, like the right to a Referendum from popular initiative. Today, only the President, the Prime Minister or the National Assembly may summon one.
Another demand heard in the streets was, “The street is ours. Out with Macron!”
The President of the Rich
Since November 17, when 280 thousand protestors took to the streets in yellow vests, a mandatory security item in vehicles, President Emmanuel Macron has faced his worst crisis.
Last year, Macron revoked the old tax on fortune (movable and immovable property over $1.5 million) and substituted it by a tax over property of a lower reach. He justified the measure as an incentive for French billionaires to invest in France. However, along with the austerity measures, this led the public opinion to see him as the “President of the Rich”.
His popularity reached 23% this week, with a drop of 2% regarding last week.
Thanks to his broad majority in the National Assembly, he managed to defeat the censorship motion presented by the representatives of the SP, CP and Insubordinate France (led by Deputy Jean-Lu Mélechon). They had 70 votes out of the 289 necessary. The representatives of National Regrouping (new name of the far right wing party National Front Marine Le Pen) also voted in favor of the censorship motion.
Why the Protests Decreased
A group of elements combined help explain the decrease in participation, but in themselves, they do not led to the end of the movement.
The movement, besides setting Macron against the wall, achieved two modest economic victories. These are insufficient to tend to the demands.
On December 4, the government suspended the increase in fuel. On December 10, Macron announced a 100-euro increase in the minimum wage, besides cancelling the increase in tax on pensions over two thousand euros and tax exemption on over time for workers. Interestingly enough, 23 million people followed Macron’s announcement, more people than those who followed the World Cup final in Russia.
Besides, there was a terrorist attack in Estrasburg that left 5 deaths and 11 wounded. After the attack, the spokesperson of the government, Benjamin Griveaux, requested the movement to end in name of national unity. Other leaders like Laurent Wauquiez, from the Republican Party (current name of the traditional bourgeois Gaullist party, Union for a Popular Movement), and the president of the CFDT labor federation, Laurent Berger joined the calling for the end of the yellow vests’ movement.
The weather did not help. The temperature was two degrees with rain.
A public opinion poll announced on the 11 showed a change in the population’s support. In the beginning of the movement, around 70% of the population supported its continuity. Now, around 50% supports its continuity.
Continuity, however, may be guaranteed by elements of structural crisis.
Actually, the rebellion does not have the massive participation of the protests against the pension and labor reforms from the past years.
It also mainly mobilizes the precarious non-unionized wage earning sectors, besides the retired, self-employed and pauperized small proprietors. A study showed the average income among them is 1700 euros per month, around 30% less than national average.
However, the rebellion expresses generalized unrest among the working population, who is tired of austerity measures applied by “right wing”, “left wing” and “center” administrations.
Nonetheless, there are no signs of retreat in the austerity measures on behalf of the French regime. On the contrary, bourgeois sectors already alert on the risk for the budget in case the objectives established by the European Union are not fulfilled, following examples like Italy.
On the other hand, there is discredit and weakening of the V Republic regime, inaugurated by General De Gaulle in 1958, a presidential regime that substituted the Parliamentarian Republic. The two main parties of the V Republic regime are very weak, both the Gaullist (today called Republican) and the socialist. The Socialist Party almost disappeared and its rebuilding could at best transform it into a secondary political force. In other words, with the possible downfall of President Macron, there would be no legitimate substitute before the working people.
The far right wing alternatives – the National Regrouping Marine Le Pen – and the left wing ones – Insubordinate France of Mélechon – will benefit. However, it is unclear if they may become viable electoral alternatives, although they are both capitalists.
Clearly, social polarization will have an expression in the political-electoral ground.
The far right pushes an active campaign against the immigrants and the European Union. It seeks to capitalize social discontent. However, this last week, they suspended the calling to the Saturday protests, weakening the demonstration in Paris.
Insubordinate France, of Mélechon, on the contrary, is the only parliamentary force calling to support the yellow vests. They also called to participate in the December 15 protests. Mélechon defends substituting the V Republic regime for a VI parliamentary Republic. However, they do not hold to break with the European Union, the euro, capitalism or even French imperialism.
A European Unrest?
The symptoms of unrest in the European Union are not limited to France. On the contrary, the austerity policies have questioned one government after the other in each country. This unrest sit behind the Brexit, the electoral growth of the far right in several countries and the great electoral defeats, like the right wing Polish government in the last municipal elections.
It also generates an increase in the resistance of the working class and the petty bourgeoisie. In Belgium, the yellow vest movement led 500 protestors to the streets. 60 of them were imprisoned last weekend. In Hungary, there is a wave of massive protests against the Orban administration authoritarianism and the labor reform named by the population as slavery laws. In Portugal, a series of strikes are facing the Geringonça government. Also in Catalonia, there have been partial strikes that face the Catalonian nationalist bourgeois government.
Finally, it is necessary to remember that the austerity policies may intensify due to the deceleration of the American and world economy, and the protectionist conflict between the United States and China, among other elements.
The Future lays in the Working Class
In France and Europe, the petty bourgeoisie has held the social and political leadership. The struggles of the industrial working class are still disperse and they have a defensive character.
This is the reason for the growth of the institutional far right (which we may not equal to fascism although fascist groups raise their heads supported on this electoral ascent).
The absence of the organized working class, allied to the lack of a democratic structure that unites the yellow vest movement around the country stops the paralysis of economy and the French state from leading to the downfall of President Macron and his austerity policies.
It is unclear whether this unity of exploited and oppressed could take place in the short term due to the firm blockage of most labor and political leaders.
On December 14, 15 labor and social organizations and left wing parties finally published a manifesto in support of the yellow vests after weeks of indetermination. In general, left wing organizations were dragged to support demonstrations due to external support and a struggle of sectors within them. However, their participation in demonstrations is limited to some sectors.
The general secretariat of the main labor federation, the CGT, stated his support to the movement’s demands and stood for a “convergence of struggles” without taking a single step to carry it out. On the contrary, the CGT has worked to stop the confluence between yellow vests and the organized industrial worker movement. Under the pressure of opposition groups within the federation, the CGT called a general stoppage on December 14, but then postponed it for next year.
However, structural elements like the international economic crisis and the weakening of the democratic-bourgeois regimes tend to broaden polarization between social classes.
In the last weeks, workers around the world witnessed how yellow vests were able to conquer achievements through mobilization. It is not necessary to wait for the electoral calendar to change the policy of a country. Besides, they witnesses radicalized struggle methods, which are becoming more evidently necessary to face the bourgeois State’s violence.