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How the protest against the rise in fuel price has turned into class struggle in France

From director’s desk
Written By: Jayanta Chakrabarty
Illustration By: Sagar Mondal

“He who speaks without modesty will find it difficult to make his words good.” – Confucius

Amid the wave of structural reforms undertaken by the current French government run by the LREM Party (The Republic on move) which won the legislative election on 18 June 2017, founded by Emmanuel Macron, after his presidential win, the sociopolitical and economic crisis deepened further. Winning almost two-third majority in the parliament, wiping out all traditional political parties, while the electoral abstention was historically high at 56,83 %, the LREM became the first Start-Up party in the world to take over the State power democratically. The majority of its representatives came from non political background, mostly technocrats, elites and successful in life, with a number of high profile characters from established political parties who broke ranks with their establishments to take their chance with a man to whom the paradigm of success in life is determined by the purchasing capacity of a suit.

18 months after the new government came to power, people wearing Yellow Jackets came looking for him and them, anger in their eyes, towards the institutions of the Republic and their representatives. What made people spewing out so much of hate and insults ? We need to put this subject into the proper perspective.

Scenario – 1
28th May 2016

You don’t expect to scare me because you’re wearing a T-shirt. The best way to buy a suit is to work. I came here to meet those young guys who want to work and achieve success. ” Those comments came from a certain Emmanuel Macron, then 38 years old, Minister of Economic affairs of François Holland government, during the worker’s strike against the reform of labour laws.
One of the strikers in early twenties decried in annoyance: “ You, with your money, you go buy suits.
The older striker in his fifties replied in calm: “ I’m working since I was 16.” “Give them work, all unemployed guys want to work.

In fact, the Minister came to Lunel, a small industrial town, to meet the young students of a digital technical school, and in a context, when a number of young men from this town had left for Syria to join the Holy War of ISIS.

Scenario – 2 
25th July 2018

“ If they look for someone who should be held accountable, then tell them it’s me, …that they should come to get me.”
This comment came from Emmanuel Marcon, elected president of France since the 7th May 2017, amid the public outcry over the role his bodyguard who was caught interfering in State functioning on a number of occasions.
The public agitation tamed down as the summer holiday approached. But the phrase remained in the minds of common French people, the working class, who are the foundation and the guarantor of the Nation State and electing the President, and who are the primary victims of economic crisis a waning capitalist society and crumbling welfare structure, in the era of technocapitalism.

Scenario – 3
15th September 2018

Questioned by a young unemployed horticulturist at Elysée Garden, President Marcon replied: “ There are a number of different professions, one has to switch over. Honestly, there are hotels, cafés, restaurant; it is enough to cross the road to find one. The matter is simple when the people are ready to work, in spite of professional constraints…
Emmanuel Macron was not wrong when he said that. He is not responsible for the entire economic crisis and miseries came with the Globalization. It was initiated long before he became the paraphernalia of technocapitalism. He is probably one of the persons most knowledgeable what the future has reserved for the humankind from the advancement of the technology and the artificial intelligence. He wants France to change, and change rapidly. But, during the 18 months of governance, it appeared that the legislative is more preoccupied with protecting the interests of the very rich section of the society and imposing more and more taxes on the working class people and the small businesses. The price of essential goods kept increasing day by day, and the salary never increased. The retired persons were asked to sacrifice their allocations to fill the State treasury.

In the month of November, people came looking for answers from the President, but not wearing suits. They’ve just put Yellow Jackets (Gilets Jaunes) over their T-shirt; a jacket represents day-to-day life of common people. Their initial protest against the proposed increase of fuel tax was overhauled by terrible living conditions of common people, diminishing purchase capacity and ever-growing income gap between the rich and the poor, where the President and his entourage are designated as the representatives of the Elites. The gathering of Yellow Jackets are few in number in comparison to the population of France, but enjoy the support of almost 75% of the population, a popular movement without any definite ideological base or influence of any political party. The government remained unmoved on its structural reform plan, which the Yellow Jackets believe is done to safeguard the interest of the Elites.

Also Read: Emmanual Macron becomes next French president: victory or ambiguity? 

The government deployed police force to contain the movement and maintain the security.
Then, on 1st December, there was chaos on the streets of Paris and different parts of the country. The violence erupted. As usual, it is confusing to determine the identity of the perpetrators of violence, when the mob violence goes out of hand, if they were frustrated radicalized Yellow Jackets, or militants from the extreme right or extreme left, or looter or State agents disguised themselves as Yellow Jackets.
The Arc-de-Triomphe was vandalized, one of the primary structures of the French Republic. Almost all the French population denounced the acts of vandalism. But the popular support for the Yellow Jacket movement remains intact.

The French society appears fractured profoundly, and the Yellow Jackets movement has taken the shape of class struggle, between the economic Elites and the working class supported by lower middle class and small entrepreneurs.
Notwithstanding the chaos, the violence has made its impact on the government and the executives and also has shown the dark side of it, and the possible degradation into sporadic or total anarchy if the demands are not met in urgency.

Yellow Jacket movement is an eye opener for the economic Elites and the French political class.
It is high time for the all legislative representatives to open discussions in grassroots level to reconstruct the bridge between people and the President, and build a relationship with respect. France can introduce a whole new dimension to the future constitution of Europe when an uncertainty persists surrounding Brexit, and Jean-Claude Juncker and his clan would be answerable for creating more and more poverty in Europe while making Luxembourg and Ireland Fiscal Paradise Unlimited for the big Corporations.

“Everything has been figured out, except how to live.” – Jean-Paul Sartre

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