France's "yellow vest" protests against fuel prices weren't organized by the Left. But the fight to widen their demands is key to blocking the growth of Marine Le Pen's far right.
by Aurélie Dianara
The last two weekends have seen mass mobilizations across France by the “gilets jaunes” protesting against the increase in fuel prices. On Saturday, November 17, 282,000 of these “yellow vests” (so named after their distinctive high-visibility vests, which all motorists have to carry by law) mobilized around the country, mounting roadblocks of road intersections and roundabouts, “snail operations” to slow traffic, and actions to defy tolls. There were more than two thousand actions across the country, almost four hundred arrests, several hundred injured, and one dead. That day saw clashes with the police, and the movement continued over subsequent days without respite, despite repression.
On November 24, according to the Interior Ministry estimate, 106,000 people took part in the protests, including the eight hundred who made it to Paris for the self-proclaimed “Act II” of the movement. While the police prefecture banned protesters from approaching the Élysée (the presidential palace) in fact demonstrators did take over the central Avenue des Champs Elysées, sparking violent clashes with police that continued throughout the day. Some gilets jaunes have already announced their intention to return to Paris next Saturday.
But also notable is the media coverage of these protests: indeed, no other recent social movement in France has had similar visibility. For ten days, the whole French press has been busy figuring out who these unlikely protesters actually are. Many of them tell journalists that they have never previously demonstrated: it proclaims itself an apolitical citizens’ movement, and indeed, emerged outside of the political and trade-union frameworks that usually dominate large mobilizations.
This is, indeed, a composite, embryonic movement with many faces: men and women, employees, precarious workers, those on unemployment benefits, the economically inactive, retirees, teachers, businessmen, and workers. Some party members and trade unionists are there, too, mixed in among the mass. They come from both right and left. But they do have one point in common: this is the France that struggles to make it to the end of the month. Simply put, a movement of the people. But not all of them.