France: yellow vests and state workers are fighting. Macron is bogged down

May 17, 2019 | Europe

A few days from the May 26 European Union (EU) elections, in France, the government of Macron faces the continuity of the protests of the “yellow vests” while there are also protests and strikes of the state workers against a project that attacks their employment statute. We review this situation.

The struggle of the yellow vests began last November against an increase in the fuel tax: a direct attack on the pocket of hundreds of thousands of workers, retirees, students and middle sectors who use their car every day.

The movement began spontaneously, outside of all the traditional trade union and political leaderships, with roadblocks and protests throughout France. It functions through around 200 local assemblies, with delegates elected by the bases and a national “Assembly of Assemblies”, whose third meeting will be in June. For six months, although with less intensity than at the beginning, every Saturday, tens of thousands of people mobilize in the center of Paris and throughout the French territory. Clashes with repressive forces are common.

In addition to the rejection of the increase in fuel, the demands of the yellow vests were extended to include an increase in wages, pensions and social assistance, and indexation; the improvement of transportation and public services, restoration of the wealth tax, annulment of the VAT on mass consumption products, annulment subsidies for employment to large companies, limits on wages of political officials, radical measures against the ecological emergency, a more direct democracy and even the resignation of Macron himself, whom they call “the president of the rich”.

Victories of the battle

Because of the strength of the mobilization of the yellow vests, the rightist Macron had to withdraw the fuel tax increase. He then had to freeze the rates of public services and raise the minimum wage and pensions, while opening a misleading “great national debate” seeking to divert the movement. This “debate” didn’t work.

At the same time, the Macron government continues applying an unprecedented repression against the protests. The brutal police violence has already killed two people, injured dozens with semi-lethal weapons (1), detained hundreds of activists and charged thousands. Macron made Congress pass a repressive “anti-vandalism” law and even threatened to deploy the army in the streets.

The government’s campaign to discredit the yellow vests by associating them with the extreme right ended in failure. Although at the beginning the National Front gave them some support while the PS and the PC criticized them or hesitated, the movement was radicalized towards the left: it points to the government and the rich as being responsible for the crisis, not to immigrants. Right wing groups were thrown out of the marches on several occasions.

Unity of the struggles

Despite the feet dragging of the CGT and other union bureaucracies, the yellow vests have coordinated actions with the working class: on February 5, there was a first major march with strikes imposed by the rank-and-file, on March 19, there was a general strike with large mobilizations, and on May 1 there was another great unitary and massive manifestation, that was repressed very harshly.

During all these months, with good judgment, the yellow vests also participated in several environmental actions -such as the great «March of the Century» on March 16 against climate change-, as well as mobilization against racism, of the women’s movement and in support for the democratic revolution of the people of Algeria.

Despite its growing weakness against the people, the Macron government is moving forward with its austerity plan: it not only promotes a regressive pension reform, the “retirement by points”, but also an attack to “modernize” teachers, public health personnel and state workers’ labor status. The anger of the working class forced the leaders of the trade unions to call a national strike and marches on May 9, with more than 200,000 people mobilized, where the yellow vests also converged and which continues.

The “electoral masquerade”

According to polls, 60% of the French electorate will not vote in the European Union Parliament elections, a very discredited institution for millions of Europeans because it is synonymous with austerity measures. However, the far-right Le Pen appears as a possible punishment vote against Macron.

Although some yellow vests are candidates in 4 of the 34 French lists to the EU, their statement on these elections “does not raise slogans in favor of a vote or even for participation in these elections” and proposes “to organize an information and awareness campaign against the European institutions and their liberal policies” and “ridiculing this electoral masquerade”. And on May 26, the day of the vote, they call for a march with the Belgian yellow vests in Brussels, the headquarters of the EU.

Moreover, in their second national assembly on April 7th, the yellow vests agreed to calling the people to “create, together, by all means necessary, a new popular ecological social movement”, considering that “aware that we have to overthrow a global system, it is necessary to get rid of capitalism” and propose “a power of the people, by the people and for the people”.

“Getting rid of capitalism” is not a minor political definition for a movement that was accused of being rightist.

Solidarity and out with Macron

As our French sister party, Le Commune, points out, we demand immediately: “The release of all imprisoned protesters, yellow jackets and trade union militants with total amnesty. Prohibition of LBD weapons. Compensation to all mutilated protesters. The repeal of the anti-demonstration law. We reaffirm: update of all salaries, pensions, subsidies for the disabled, unemployment benefits, etc. The suppression of taxes on consumer products.”

“The satisfaction of these social and democratic demands is only possible if Macron, his decimated band and all the past, present and future ‘reforms’ are left out… On the street, in the locker rooms of workplaces, in cafes, in the bakery, the people say: ‘Macron has to go’.”(2)

The struggle of the yellow vests is not only of interest to France, but goes against the same plans of austerity and privatization of our lives that the different capitalist governments apply to on the working people of the world to make us pay for their crisis. Because of their just demands, their fighting methods and the enemy and the harsh repression that they face, they have the sympathy of the workers, youth, social and left vanguard at a global level. Let’s reinforce our solidarity!

Pablo Vasco

1 LBD, “defense” bullet launcher, that made more than 20 people lose an eye. Because of the repression, another 15 have lost a hand and there are dozens of people with bone fractures.

2 France: the villain and the piety.