The “gilets jaunes” seen from the workplace
By Yves Coleman
The beginning of the “gilets jaunes” movement at my workplace:
The first guy who mentioned the “gilets jaunes” was a coach driver, particularly racist and xenophobic while being at the same time hostile to his foremen and boss, in a very rightwing anticapitalist sense.
At that time (in October), the “gilets jaunes” had not yet become the darling of the media. At first, I thought it was a movement against the speed limit, as it has been recently reduced and many car drivers were unhappy about it. I saw this driver repeatedly calling his colleagues to induce them to wear the yellow vest, to vote on the Internet or Facebook on some mysterious websites or FB groups, etc. The coach drivers (at least those who are not employed by temp agencies and they are quite numerous) earn 2,500 euros a month and have all sorts of “benefits” (for example they receive 18 euros for their meals at the restaurant while we get only 5 euros per meal – the price of a sandwich) related to their good collective agreement and social laws which “protect” coach and lorry drivers... until now. They all live in the suburbs and have to spend at least an hour of commute (by car) to go and get their coach in the morning at the garage and bring it back in the evening or in the middle of the night.
I do not know if this bus driver is a militant of the National Front (today Rassemblement National), in any case he perfectly defends the line of this party: he supports the Frexit, is against immigration, against taxes, against foreign coach drivers, against the Roma who beg money at all tourist places, against Macron and Hidalgo, etc. This coach driver and others then told me about the social networks that structured this Gilets jaunes movement, and about the social networks that, for them, are the only ones which “tell the truth.”
He is not the only one to think like that, since one of my colleagues (I am a tourist attendant), a member of the Parti de Gauche (a social-chauvinist split from the mainstream Socialist Party), told me “I never read newspapers or watch television because they were “all liars"“. Obviously when I showed him an article of a bourgeois daily (Le Monde) which described the conservative or far right positions of the initiators of this movement, he replied: “Oh yes, it does not surprise me from Le Monde !”
I encountered the same kind of hostile reactions with some radical left comrades who called me a “conspiracy theorist” or a “defeatist” because I pointed out the ambiguities of this movement and its pseudo-spontaneous forms of “organization”.
But I do not think that I am supporting conspiracy theories when I observe the influence of the content of the social networks on the mentality, the political conceptions of the “people”, these new and admirable social protagonists supported by all political tendencies, from the French far left to the far right, not to speak of the dominant media (TV, radios, newspapers) which all support the “gilets jaunes”. Anyone born in the 1950s (which is my case) can only note the difference with “our times” where political discussions and engagements depended on direct personal and human ties with the trade unionists in our company, high school or university, with the CP or Socialist Party militants who lived in our neighborhood, with those who sold the CP weekly on our local market, and so on.
* Strength and limits of social networks in a small victorious struggle at my workplace
To explain the advantages and flaws of social networks, I can describe two (victorious !) “movements” which happened at my workplace. We obliged the boss to give in twice to our demands, simply by exchanging messages on WhatsApp or emails between us, without having any face-to-face meetings, and finally writing two different collective letters to the boss, presented at meetings between the boss and the trade unions by a delegate from a very “moderate” union ... All of this did not come from a conspiracy of any “undercover minority” (most of my colleagues are not unionized and do not belong to any party); it was simply a form of protest and a way to combine our individual angers against our working conditions and to turn them into a kind of “pre-strike notice”, without making any strike in the real world ... And it worked!
During both of these “movements”, I noticed that the most violent people, at least language-wise, were also those who did not want us to meet and were very comfortable with WhatsApp, while the more moderate or more willing to reach a healthy consensus among ourselves (like me) would have preferred that we all meet and discuss to be sure that we will really agreed to strike in case our boss did not back off. These are typically the strength and limits of a “struggle” based on the social networks in a company employing 200 people, including less than twenty employees directly concerned and “mobilized” in the virtual space. So you can imagine how this kind of Facebook-based “movement” can affect an entire country when it’s not a small group of 20 people (like in my company) but dozens of Facebook groups, each one supported by tens of thousands of people, groups initiated and “moderated” by reactionaries who claim to be “apolitical“  and against the unions. Bolsonaro and Trump used these communication techniques to get to power, but apparently the Left does not recognize these methods when they are used right in front of their nose.
* Brain washing “people” through Facebook
The strength that an individual, or a group, possesses when it initiates a “movement” in the cyberspace is such that his or her Facebook “friends” believe that their language, their ideas, belong to them in their own right while it is this guy, woman, or group, who models their minds by discreetly instilling certain reactionary words and ideas. The events of the “gilets jaunes” were all summoned through the social networks. The themes, slogans, essential discussions happen and happened on the social networks. Only afterwards the “people” met in the real world. The question is: if “people” are brain washed by communities of “friends” on Facebook, how do they magically get rid of all the reactionary ideas they shared before on Facebook ? just by meeting eachother face-to-face in a demo or on a road block ?
Most French Trotskyist, anarchist and autonomous–insurrectionist groups answer more or less in the same way: “Well, it's simple, by talking with us who have the right ideas and / or the right program, they will change their mind”. One can be skeptical about this blissful optimism because the “Nuits debout” operation in 2016, operation which partly rested on different social circles, gave birth to nothing, even if it was enthusiastically and uncritically supported by most currents of the Left at that time...
Obviously we can all hope that “spontaneous” encounters in the real world between the “gilets jaunes” sympathizers will work miracles. But, in any case, at my workplace, with my colleagues, with whom I often discuss, I do not see the slightest progress ... if not that of reactionary ideas about the “Caste” (a vocabulary shared by the Far Right and the “Insoumis” and Parti de Gauche of Jean-Luc Mélenchon), the fact that “Macron” takes his orders from the “Finance”, the IMF or the World Bank, etc. In short, all the basic no global simplistic ideology, which is also that of the “Insoumis”, the Parti de Gauche and the National Front (Rassemblement National).
Comrades who attentively observe the “fachosphere”, and more generally the “patriotosphere" , note that the most politicized reactionaries (the pure fascists, or the members of the National Front/Rassemblement National, Debout la France , Identitaires, etc.) choose popular themes (speed limitation, presence of radars, “ecological” measures to limit the traffic in Paris or elsewhere, fuel price increase, etc.) to initiate debates or launch common causes, most often under acronyms with neutral or even left-wing names, such as the website “participatory democracy” blocked by the French justice in November 2018 because of its racist, antisemitic and homophobic content.
As early as 2010, we had a good example with Riposte Laïque (Secular Answer), a tiny group led by former Trotskyist, feminist and CP militants, which politicized the question of Muslim “street prayers” in the 18th arrondissement of Paris on the Internet and social networks until finally their virtual agitation made the front page of the media. Marine Le Pen and the mainstream right took up their reactionary cause and denounced Muslims as “invasors”...
At my work, after the 17th of November, when there were the first violent clashes near the presidential palace, and even more after the 24th of November, the most reactionary coach driver, the one who first spoke of the “gilets jaunes” to his colleagues, had a perfect explanation : “The media incriminate the far right but in fact it's the leftists’ responsibility.”. And it should not surprise us that fascists spread all kinds of silly rumors ...
In short, the Lepénist, national-populist and fascist activists do not hide their far-right opinions in their work environment, they urge their colleagues to participate in the “gilets jaunes” movement, then they say, with their hands on their hearts “But the extreme right is not responsible for anything.”
It's gross but it works.
I do not deny the very diverse angers of the “people” who participate or sympathize with the “gilets jaunes” movement. But I do not think it can lead to something positive especially when two of its claims are the expulsion of asylum seekers who did not get their stay permit and the end of “assistantship” by the state! And when they don’t even ask the liberation of their Facebook “friends” when they are arrested and condemned by the justice, when they try to find all sorts of excuses for police violences against themselves, etc.
According to a comrade who carefully observes social networks, it is the so-called “middle classes”, the waged petty bourgeoisie of the “cadres” (4 million, according to him, in France ; I suppose he included what the National statistic institute calls “intermediate professions“)  who express themselves the most on social networks. And middle-class leftists are astonished to find that they have the same daily problems as the petty bourgeois yellow jackets. An astonishing discovery for these individuals coming from the same social class, the petty bourgeoisie which masters social networks and sets the tone on Facebook.
* Let's go back to some basic political issues
To conclude, we must perhaps return to what interests us, that is to say a SOCIAL Revolution, not to say a SOCIALIST revolution.
If one defends a Leninist or crypto-Leninist perspective (one must build a Party to win the Revolution), it is obvious that one can rush on any movement. The objective is then, at worst for this group, to recruit some sympathizers or future militants; at best, to take the lead of the movement, to provoke an armed confrontation with the state and if “one” loses it does not matter, it will another experience for the proletariat”!
If one defends an anarchist perspective, one generally believes that the state is weak and will collapse by itself (like many leftists, the anarchists, when they are optimistic, do not want to think about the development of the state and its sophisticated means of control over the population and prefer to believe that the state will collapse automatically).
If one defends an insurrectionist-autonomous perspective, one believes that “one” will take power by using weapons without preparation and the state will collapse all by itself.
If one defends a non-interventionist perspective favorable to workers councils’ power, one believes that the working class holds all the answers, like the Pythia of Delphi, so it is enough to wait until it finds them ....
Many revolutions, insurrections and riots have occurred until now and there will be many others during the following years. The real question is to think about their meaning.
But I do not believe that there can’t be any socialist revolution:
- outside of the main places of production, even if, in Europe, there are no longer large concentrations of workers in the same gigantic factories or the same office buildings. In fact, from the “autonomous-insurrectionnists” to the Trotskyists, almost all have adopted (officially or unofficially) the ideology of the revolutions in the squares, of the street riots that mechanically bring down the state or bring to power the reformists that will then overturned – or politically eliminated ;
– without a considerable rise in the level of consciousness of the workers (and not just the “people”): this presupposes intense political discussions, sustainable forms of democratic organization, etc. ;
- without the existence of several revolutionary organizations implanted in the working class and which have clear ideas about what socialism is.
If these three minimum conditions are not met, and they are not met anywhere on this planet, we can witness serious political crises (as it may be the case in France in the coming months) but by no means social or socialist revolutions.
Y.C., Ni patrie ni frontières, 9/12/2018
Blue white red colours for a xenophobic slogan directed against the Pact of Marrakech about migrants, a slogan supported by the National Front (Rassemblement National) and the Republicans (former UMP, major rightwing party) and the fascists.
1. Anne Hidalgo, the latter, is the Mayor of Paris and the object of an obsessive and sexist hatred among Parisian tourism professionals due to the closure of the road on the banks of the Seine river, fines imposed on tourist coach drivers, etc.)
2. On “Edition spéciale”, a programm hosted by France 2 TV State Chanel, on December 3, 2018 (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8Kv9d5Si5CU) Laetitia Dewalle, speaksperson of the gilets jaunes, declared that the « gilets jaunes » came “all from political parties" and had “left aside their political labels " to organize this movement. So we are very far from an “apolitical" movement unlike the legend spread by the leftists and the media.
3. The « Insoumis » or « France Insoumise » are supposedly a movement while the Parti de gauche is a party. But both are undemocratic structures centered around Jean-Luc Mélenchon and his closest disciples.
4. The social networks where the fascists, far right, national populists, and classic right operate under a patriotic mask.
5. Debout la France is a far-right “sovereignist” group. Les Identitaires is a small youth group, quite inventive and active against the socalled “ islamization” of France and also on regional causes in the South of France. Some of them are also active in the National Front/Rassemblement National or working for National Front municipalities.
6. http://mondialisme.org/spip.php?article1319 « France : Social classes and « socio-professional categories »
Far right: the ideas that divide
Lutte Ouvriere, November 28, 2018
On Tuesday, November 20, on a roadblock near Flixecourt in the Somme, gilets jaunes detected the presence of six migrants in a tanker coming from Belgium.
Locked for hours in the tank, since the truck was blocked, these migrants called for help. Those who were running the roadblock called the police to arrest the migrants. Proud of their gesture, they filmed themselves and posted the video, accompanied by racist and violent remarks.
Among gilets jaunes, this attitude remains marginal. On the vast majority of roadblocks or roundabouts, it is not that kind of talk that dominates. On some roundabouts, the presence of conscious militants has immediately set the tone, since racist remarks have been banned. This is how the movement gets stronger.
On the des Vaches roundabout in Rouen, women of Moroccan origin come daily to bring chorba [soup] to warm up the yellow vests; barbecues have been installed there, and there is one for workers who do not eat pork. All this is done in a good-natured atmosphere. These workers are aware that we must not be divided.
Nevertheless, the episode of Flixecourt shows that the movement is composite and that ideas propagated by the far right, if they are taken up, could give it a different tone. Under the pretext of defending purchasing power, the movement attacks only the state, not big business.
As a result, for some, attacking the poorest, them migrants "who benefit from public funds" seems perhaps simpler than to attack their boss. That sort of propaganda risks dividing the workers, whereas in fact their only enemies are Arnault, Pinault, Peugeot, the class of capitalists who enrich themselves by impoverishing the majority of the people.
17 November: do not leave the arena to the far right
Lutte Ouvriere, 14 November 2018
The leaderships of all the trade union centres have refused to participate, in whatever form, in the 17 November day action, even if several workplace, locality or even departmental union groups of the CGT have eventually called for strikes or protests that day, to demand wage increases in the face of rising prices.
The main argument put forward by the CGT leadership is that "the November 17 mobilization is clearly an extreme right mobilization". That the right and the extreme right are manoeuvring to try to channel anger against Macron′s policy of Macron is obvious.
And indeed no worker activist wants to pull the chestnuts from the fire for the employers and be instrumentalized by his political enemies. But, instead of deserting the ground of protest, that should be another reason to propose a class policy for the workers.
The initiators of this mobilization launched on social networks, or those who put themselves forward to organize it all over the country, are undoubtedly very diverse. Some claim to be apolitical; some are close to small bosses, but others to workers who use their car every day. Beyond its initiators, the mobilization of the gilets jaunes has found a big echo among workers and the working classes, especially in small towns, rural areas and more particularly among those with the lowest wages.
The question is not whether the CGT or other unions should or should not call for the mobilization of November 17, but whether they take the trouble to express and offer a perspective to the outrage and the anger that manifests itself among the workers and in their own base. If they really cared, the union leadership would not facilitate the movement being channelled by the far right and the employers: they would make that impossible.
As long as it is a question of raging against Macron and the tax collector, as long as it is a mobilization on a Saturday, and this does not trouble too much the employers, the extreme right can support the movement. That will no longer be the case if the movement takes on a worker and anti-capitalist character. To demand to bite into profits to increase wages and pensions, to nail the responsibility of employers and the bourgeoisie in the decline of the working-class standards - those things cannot be channelled by the political enemies of the workers.
By simply condemning the initiatives of November 17, the union leaderships may leave the arena on the far right. That is not in the workers' interest. What is, is to express their anger on their class basis, to formulate their demands and to fight for them. That is the best way to prevent any appropriation of the movement by this or that demagogue.
Comments by Convergences Révolutionnaires (L'Etincelle)
So what do Macron's warm words really mean? He opens with a long, threatening preamble: he'll give "the most rigorous instructions, by any means... for a return to peace and order." So, yet more repression.
Then, a little quaver in his voice followed by THE measure that's meant to calm us down: 100 Euros added to the minimum wage. But wait: "it will not cost the employer one Euro more". Oh, really? So we'll be paying for it, then? So it's a trick! All of Macron's craftiness adds up to this: a bump to in-work benefits paid from the CAF [main benefits treasure-chest, funded by taxation] given to some minimum-wage earners, the real level of which will depend on various family criteria. Next up, a promise of no tax or charges levied on overtime pay. That's about encouraging employers to increase overtime rather than taking on more staff or paying more. But what we want is an increase in all wages by 300 Euros, without overtime!
Finally, a "year-end bonus" for low-wage workers, a kind of charity hand-out... But here again, it's "for the employers who can afford it". We close on how there will be no question of undoing the repeal of the ISF [wealth tax]. That'll reassure the rich and the bosses.
In summary: there is nothing here, by a long way, that could calm down the anger and the determination on the roundabouts and roadblocks. And fundamentally, the President of the Rich is at it again: crumbs, smoke and mirrors on the one hand; and a declaration of war on our children on the other, with tear-gas, arrests, and "kneel on the ground, hands behind your head".
Government panic and manoeuvre
After several weeks of open contempt, the government is now desperate for a way of putting out the fire it has stoked. To that end, it has summoned the country's authorities, big and small. From [bosses' union] MEDEF to trade union leaderships, by way of local politicians and showbiz stars. From [centrist pamphleteer] Bernard Henri-Lévi to [TV presenter] Cyril Hanouna, this new "party of order" is supposed to call the Gilets Jaunes to heel. To say nothing of Marine Le Pen and [maverick right-wing serial election-loser] Dupont-Aignan, who, having been marginalised within the movement, want to derail it by dishonestly targeting immigrants, while scrupulously rejecting all working-class demands.
As for Laurent Berger and Philippe Martinez [general secretaries of the CFDT and CGT trade unions respectively], and some other union leaders, they are compounding the dishonour of refusing solidarity to the Yellow Jackets by playing in the rigged game of the government's consultation. Happily, they are being challenged by grassroots union activists, who are joining the Yellow Jackets in ever-greater numbers.
Not one step back
But there is no question of retreat for hundreds of thousands of workers who, for weeks, despite the many differences between them in terms of employment status or situation, have all worn the same yellow jacket on roadblocks, and every Saturday at the demonstrations on the Champs-Élysées or in provincial capitals.
Since the start of the fight against the hike in fuel tax (which was scrapped last week), the struggle has broadened out to take in hundreds of demands. Contrary to the government's propaganda, these demands are not "eclectic". Indeed, they are expressing multiple facets of the same thing: anger in the face of the high cost of living, social injustice and a government of the rich. To live with dignity, and not merely to survive: that is what the Yellow Jackets want and they will not go back home in return for a handful of magic beans.
It's through their determination that the Yellow Jackets have inspired other parts of the population to join the fight: last week, university and college students started to blockade their places of study in their thousands, and to march on the streets, sometimes in support of the Yellow Jackets but also to protest against reforms to the Education system. It's up to us, in our workplaces, to join the movement, so that 50 years on from May 1968, Autumn/Winter 2018 will mark a first great victory for our class.
Is this the awakening of the working class? On its own class basis? We'll see in the coming days. In any case, the popular and sometimes truly proletarian character of the Yellow Jackets movement, and the depth of the anger it expresses, leave no room for doubt.
"The roundabouts are our HQ"
A tent or a rough shelter, walls made from wooden palettes – with electric power siphoned off from nearby street lamps by the more crafty – have any of these sprung up on the roundabout that you pass on your way to work? If so, it's probably harbouring Yellow Jackets. "We need a struggle of the three eights", said a demonstrator in Nantes on 17 November: 8 hours' work, 8 hours' rest, 8 hours' mobilisation. It seems his words were heeded throughout France, because ever since the roadblocks have been operated in shifts. Most of those present work during the day – or they work nights. A number of unemployed workers have found a new focus for activity here, unpaid, but much more gratifying. "In two weeks here I learned so much more than all my years at school", said one.
Around the roundabouts, an increasing number of cars display Yellow Jackets behind the windscreen. It's true that on some roadblocks, especially in the small hours of the morning, some drivers can expect a rude reception, especially if they're at the wheel of a luxury car. But on the roundabouts that are there for the long haul, people are getting organised appropriately. They're not blocking private vehicles, knowing that the movement has to retain the sympathy of the less-rich 80% of the population. Alcohol is banned, like in Yonne. There is a real solidarity that makes itself felt through horn blasts or donations of pastries. In Caen, the Yellow Jackets have even organised the distribution of their surplus food to food banks. And then there are hauliers who let themselves be blocked, who donate material to help block the big expanses of road, or who bring whole trailers of wood... or who come on demonstrations.
In Caen again, two Yellow Jackets on their way to the starting point of the 1 December march met others going the other way: it was the first time that this family had ever been out in the main square. The demo started on time. A supportive trade unionist commented: "They really think that they can win; but we tend to fiddle around for half an hour [on our demos] because we don't believe we can.""There's not enough of us", a demonstrator grumbles, all the same. It's clear enough that she isn't in the habit of marching, because this demo is already bigger than most of the marches that have happened this year, apart from last Spring's rail strike rally. Not everyone judges numbers the same way. "There weren't 300,000 of us across France on 17 November, we must have been at least 1.8 or 2 million", one of them insists. There is a discussion. He's wrong by some margin, but he is pointing at something real: the roadblocks have multiplied over the weekend, in much greater numbers than the police knew about. Dozens if not hundreds of persons have made their way to each site.
Anger and determination
The depth of the movement can be more accurately measured by the rejection of Macron and his ministers than by numbers on rallies. Every time they spoke in public, they gave heart to the Yellow Jackets. Among the hit chants on demonstrations, the Marseillaise – which some still take to be the revolutionary song that it was in 1792 – is quickly being overtaken by cries of "Macron, démission!" ["Macron resign!"] . "Sinon la révolution!" ["or else, revolution!"], added some in Lyon on 1 December.
Many Yellow Jackets had a positive image of the cops at the start of the movement. And a large number of police more or less openly sympathised with the struggle for as long as it didn't have any leftwing overtones. But the way that the government is deploying the police is starting to change things. All over France people are watching the demonstrations in Paris, sometimes from roundabouts or another march, with the sense that the government is deliberately provoking clashes: "With the contempt that Macron has shown, it was always heading this way, it's all his fault", was the judgement in St Malo on 25 November. The next week, the images of a cop taking off his yellow hi-vis after having joined the [militarised police unit] Gardes Mobiles went viral on social media.
In many towns, contact with tear gas has blurred people's vision, but clarified people's thinking. In Bordeaux, an NPA activist heard some pensioners commenting after the heavily-gassed 1 December demonstration: "When they were talking about hooligans on the TV we believed them, but it turns out that the hooligans are grannies like us." Simultaneously, in Puy-en-Velay (Upper Loire), in Tours (Indre) or in Avignon (Vaucluse), real riots have broken out because demonstrators refused to submit to repression. And why? In Caen, a poor pensioner, attacked with tear gas for the first time in his life, explained it in his own words: "I prefer to weep with tear gas than weep over my debts." Fuel prices have been unpopular for ages. No-one even noticed when they went down. The Yellow Jackets had other things on their minds: "Living, not surviving!" .
"We've had enough of leaders! "
Everywhere, the Yellow Jackets first saw themselves as respecters of law and order. With all the xenophobic prejudices that came with that. So much so that some, in Flixecourt in the Somme on 20 November, even helped the police catch some migrants who had stowed away in a lorry. It was an act that scandalised many. but, paradoxically, the movement is marked by a very strong rejection of any kind of authority, including the authority of the police when they act against the Yellow Jackets. The same goes for the "natural" presumptions of political and trade union apparatuses to direct workers' struggles. The activists who come to bring their skills are welcome. But where they try to impose their flag or hawk their wares, they are guaranteed a booing. On the other hand, all attempts at grassroots organisation are well-received.
Those who imagine that their time has come to bring the movement under their leadership are very much mistrusted. This applies not only to the eight ephemeral self-proclaimed spokespeople, but also many local leaders who have risen to prominence thanks to their skills as "small entrepreneurs" and their talents as "negotiators". "Before going to negotiate up top", a Caen Yellow Jacket explained just before the 1 December demonstration, "you need a discussion down below, between ourselves, on a level. Social networks are good for organising actions, but we need to get things straight between ourselves before going to see the government. " Does the structure of the movement make it slower? Maybe, but it's still very efficient when it comes to stopping adventurous chancers from making takeover bids on popular anger.
In Lannion, a group of far right bikers who briefly took control of some roundabouts were chased off in late November by workers – women workers, in fact, who are the majority in Lannion – with the words: "We're fighting against Macron's dictatorship and we won't submit to bosses here." In Caen, auto workers said, during a vote at an open-air mass meeting on 1 December, "But vote for what? We haven't heard anything. Voting without knowing what you're voting for is how you wind up with Macron as President." On one roadblock, someone else went even further: "In fact, that starts at school. They teach you to respect authority. We have to change all that ."
At the time of writing [2 December], nothing has been won yet. There is still a long way to go before these hopes which are opening out before our eyes can take on enough power to push back the capitalists even a few steps. In particular there is a need to join up the minorities which are fully engaged inn actions, demonstrations, roadblocks and so on, with the majority who are sympathetic towards them. The most determined of the Yellow Jackets repeat: "A strike would be good but it's impossible." We'll see if the dynamics of the struggle prove or disprove this prediction... A bit like it disproved the words of those left activists and trade unionists who thought that the Yellow Jackets mobilisation could only be reactionary. In the meantime, it's no longer an irritating pebble in the government's shoe, but a boulder that could knock it off its feet.
2 December 2018, Mathieu PARANT
Rail workers: from orange hi-vis to yellow jackets
8 December 2018 Convergences Entreprises
For several years now, railworkers have tended to think of themselves as the "locomotive" of different joint movements or attempted movements. Rightly or wrongly... But their participation in national open-ended strikes in the movements of 1995, 2003, 2010 and more recently against the 2016 labour law always weighed in the balance and gave them the role as a particularly combative fraction of the working class. It is in part this which explains their initial reluctance to "set the train in motion" when it came to the Yellow Jackets. And as we write, that reluctance is dissipating.
Mistrust gives way to admiration
In the week leading up to 17 November, the first day of the Yellow Jackets blockades and demonstrations, the movement had little in the way of positive responses from the rail workers.
Attempts by the far right and bosses to recuperate the movement turned off quite a few workers in this frequently left-wing sector. Many questions were asked before joining a movement that was claimed by Marine Le Pen or [right wing politician] Laurent Wauquiez – albeit half-heartedly and without their having any real grip on the Yellow Jackets on the ground.
The three-month-long Spring mobilisation against railway reforms, while it may not have demoralised the participants, was certainly weighing heavy on their minds (and their wallets). And at the same time SNCF [French state railway] management are undertaking more and more reorganisations, slashing jobs all over. For several days a certain bitterness reigned, especially among trade union militants, which was summed up in a recurring question: why should we be supporting these people today when they denigrated the rail workers during last Spring's strikes? This was an unexpected backlash of the "rail staff bashing" campaign organised by the government and its tame press... The campaign didn't work at the time, judging by the size of the donations given to the various strike funds.
This initial wariness was encouraged by the trade union leaderships, including the CGT and Sud-Rail, while workplace union elections with high stakes for union satraps were taking place from 16 to 22 November. The statements of Philippe Martinez tarred the Yellow Jackets with the same brush as the far right and contributed to increasing the distance between railworkers on the one hand, who are often on permanent contracts and better-unionised than average; and on he other, the Yellow Jackets, who bring together more precarious, less-well-unionised workers who are often employed in smaller businesses.
Orange jackets and yellow jackets: same struggle!
The determination of the Yellow Jackets overcame these obstacles and won them lots of support from among rail workers. The success of 17 November, the fact that the roadblocks stuck it out all the following week, the government's mounting embarrassment: all these factors contributed to shifting discussions towards supporting the movement. The "green" posturing by Macron and his Transport Minister Elisabeth Borne, was the straw that broke the camel's back: these crooks had their hands in the pockets of people who could only get about by car, after having slated the railways for closure or privatisation!
It was in this atmosphere that a handful of activists from the strikes of last Spring who met each other in the "Intergares" cross-station meetings  called for a meeting on Saturday 24 November at 10am out front of Saint-Lazare railway station for a general assembly, before joining the Yellow Jackets demonstration on the Champs-Élysées.
The meeting was symbolic – a few dozen railworkers, around 150 people in all. But it allowed the orange-jacketed rail workers to affirm their support for the Yellow Jackets and to participate in the demonstration with a compact bloc, slogans, leaflets and a large 20-metre banner made in the Paris Gare de l'Est station during the Spring strikes: "Let's all derail Macron." This gave these militants the opportunity to note the small numbers of the far right on the march and the warm welcome that the Yellow Jackets extended to the rail workers.
The rail workers who took part in the demonstration on 24 November came out convinced that the famous Yellow Jackets, far from the media and government caricatures, were a fraction of the working class who had launched a mobilisation that had to be generalised.
We are all Yellow Jackets!
In the week leading up to 1 December, there were lively discussions among colleagues. Mistrust gave way to a desire to join the movement, without knowing quite how to go about it. The sluggishness of the union leaderships, and even their hostility to the Yellow Jackets movement, was discussed but these things were neither convincing (happily) nor surprising (this wasn't the first time).
After the "3rd Act" which is already being seen as a success, tongues loosened: rail workers who visited Yellow Jackets roadblocks were now talking about it proudly at work. They don't always have the same profile as the most consistent strikers but they are the kind of people who take part in movements, even if only from a distance. On the other hand, the militants who made themselves known as railworkers in Yellow Jackets meetings were met with a warm response. So long as they tried not to come off as hectoring types showing off their trade union medals in front of people who had been organising roadblocks for two weeks!
For the Paris demo on 1 December, a new railworker general assembly was held at Saint-Lazare, with three times as many colleagues in attendance as the previous week. Most of the speeches were along the same lives: the Yellow Jackets, workers like us, are showing the way with their determination to win their demands and not be lulled to sleep by negotiations with the government. Among the railworkers in the meeting, some took off their orange jackets because "We are all Yellow Jackets! "
Only one worker proposed to go and join the CGT trade union demo in Place de la République. But his suggestion didn't win out: it was all going off down the Champs-Élysées! The demo only split up at the end of the day, after marching up and down the right bank of the Seine chanting slogans of struggle under teargas bombardment, and being joined by students who were mobilising against a hike in fees for international students (the latest Le Pen-inspired measure from Macron and co.), and by the collective "Truth and Justice for Adama Traoré – the banlieues in yellow jackets", and, above all, by hundreds and then thousands of demonstrators who were pleased to find a tight-knit group behind the banners.
At the moment of writing, the day after the 1 December demonstration, it is impossible to make any predictions about the future of the movement. Will the "violence" and the hype surrounding it stop the movement from spreading, or will it strike a chord with popular anger? Will Macron give in or will he pretend to make a partial concession? And respond with more repression at the same time? Will young people join the movement with the explosiveness that is their hallmark?
What's sure is that the railworkers will have every interest in joining forces with this revolt by a fraction of the working class without waiting for the green light from the union leaderships – for now, calls from bureaucratic head offices are only isolating union militants from the popular movement against the high cost of living, as was the case for the CGT's call for a [separate] demo on 1 December.
Railworkers, unionised or not, with their many experiences of strikes, pickets, general assemblies and even, for some mobilisation committees and strike committees, could make a big contribution to reinforcing the Yellow Jackets movement across France. First and foremost by extending a hand to those who are already mobilised on blockades and demonstrations. And, possibly very quickly, by foregrounding the question of strikes in workplaces, starting with the SNCF, as a way of anchoring and deepening this movement.
The demands of the Gilets Jaunes, as communicated to the press on 11 December
No homeless: URGENT.
More progressive income tax (in bands).
Minimum wage raised to 1,300 Euro/month
Support small business in villages and town centres (End the construction of big shopping centres around big towns which kill small businesses) + free parking in town centres
Major Insulation Plan for housing (save the environment by saving on bills).
That the BIG (McDonalds, Google, Amazon, Carrefour etc.) should pay BIG and the small (self-employed, very small and medium businesses) pay less.
Same system of social security for all (including artisans and the self employed). End the RSI [French social security scheme for independant traders and freelancers]
The pensions system must remain based on solidarity and must be socialised. (no points based retirement)
No increase in fuel tax.
No pension paying out less than 1,200 Euro/month.
All elected representatives on the average wage. Their transport expenses will be checked and reimbursed if they are justified. Right to restaurant tickets and holiday pay.
All French workers' wages and pensions and benefits must be linked to inflation.
Protect French industry: ban outsourcing abroad. Protecting our industry means protecting our savoir-faire and our jobs.
End Posted Workers. It is unacceptable that anyone working in France should not enjoy the same salary and the same rights. Anyone authorised to work in France should be equal with a French citizen and their employer must pay out as much as a French employer.
For job security: limit the number of temporary [CDD] contracts in big workplaces. We want more permanent [CDI] contracts.
No more CICE [tax breaks for employers to promote "competitiveness"]. Use this money to launch French industry in hydrogen-powered cars (which are really green, unlike electric cars).
End austerity. No more interest payments on debts which has been declared illegitimate and we will start to reimburse debts without taking the money of the poor, but by taking the 80 billion Euros lost to tax fraud.
Address the causes of forced migration.
Let asylum seekers be well-treated. We owe them housing, security, food and education for minors. Work with the UN so that welcome camps be opened in may countries in the world, to be ready for asylum seekers.
Let failed asylum seekers be taken home.
Let a real integration policy be implemented. Living in France means becoming French (French language lessons, French history lessons and civic education with a certificate at the end of the course).
Maximum salary set at 15,000 EUR.
Let jobs be created for the unemployed.
Increase disability benefit.
Cap rents. More low-rent housing (in particular for students and precarious workers).
Ban sales of national property (airports etc.)
Give courts, police, gendarmes and the army the money they need. Law enforcement should be paid overtime or given time off in lieu.
All the money taken by toll booths on motorways should go to upkeep of France's roads and motorways as well as to road safety.
As gas and electricity prices have increased since privatisation, we want them to become public again and see the prices fall.
Immediate halt to the closure of small railway lines, post offices, schools and maternity units.
Let us treat the aged well. Ban the exploitation of the aged. No more "grey gold". The era of well-being in old age has begun.
No more than 25 students per class from reception to final year.
Proper funding for psychiatric services.
A people's referendum must be written into the constitution. Creation of an efficient and legible site run by an independent organisation where people can propose laws. If a proposal gains 700,000 signatures it must be discussed, added to or amended by the National Assembly which will be obliged (one year to the day after 700,000 signatures are obtained) to put the proposal to the vote of the French people.
Return to a 7 year term for the President of the Republic. (the election of deputies two years after the election of the President will permit a positive or negative signal to be sent to the President regarding their policies. That will help make the voice of the people heard.)
Retirement at 60 for all those who have worked in manual jobs (e.g. bricklayers or slaughterhouse workers).
As a child of 6 cannot look after themselves, the system of childcare allowances (PAJEMPLOI) to be extended until they are 10 years old.
Promotion of rail freight.
No withholding tax deductions.
No life-long pensions for former Presidents.
Ban charges for traders when their clients pay by credit card. Tax on maritime fuel and kerosene.
The slogans of the prominent gilets jaunes
From Eric Drouet to ″Fly Rider″: The slogans of the prominent "gilets jaunes"
By Raphaëlle Bacqué. Le Monde, 07 December 2018
″Rapporteur", "message-bearer″, "leader″, "spokesman″ - no word really suits them. It is difficult to identify yourself as a representative of a protean movement accepting no hierarchy or delegation.
For three weeks, however, about a dozen men and women have taken turns on the roadblocks, on the TV, and especially on Facebook, to embody the ″gilets jaunes″ movement.
Some have a record in in parties or unions, but the majority of them call themselves "apolitical″. The slightest affiliation appears immediately suspect in a movement which wants to be horizontal and leaderless.
That does not prevent some of them from very definite statements in which the demands about purchasing power which were at the origin of the demonstrations are now accompanied by anti-immigrant speeches and a protest against the elected representatives and the Fifth Republic.
That last point which today divides the initiators of these ″gilets jaunes″ who are so difficult to nail down.
If we question them, we listen to the slogans broadcast on the roundabouts, and we go back to the sometimes frankly conspiracy-theory Facebook posts of those who seem to be the most influential - none of them have ever been designated by a vote - then we can gauge the extent of the crisis. And the chaotic physiognomy of an unprecedented protest movement, on the eve of the fourth Saturday of demonstrations in Paris and throughout France.
Eric Drouet, 33, truck-driver, Melun (Seine-et-Marne): On the 17th November, the movement of ″gilets jaunes″ emerged from discussions in his club of car enthusiasts, the Muster Crew. Rarely dressed in the famous fluorescent vest on TV or on the videos he posts regularly on "Upset France″, his Facebook account followed by just over 46,000 people, and he is one of the most determined leaders.
On that Facebook account he announced that he would not go to Matignon, despite the invitation of Edouard Philippe - "Prime Minister or not, I don′t give a damn″ - and called for demonstrations every Saturday in Paris. On that account he also shares both the interview giving support to the gilets jaunes from Olivier Besancenot on France 2 and conspiracy videos about a global plot on migration aimed at "abolishing borders for immigrants" and promoting "race-mixing" for the benefit of a "global super-government".
On Wednesday, on BFM-TV, he called for "dismissal" of the President stated that "On Saturday, if we get to the Elysee Palace, we′re going in." To rally support, the next day he started a poll on his Facebook account with this question: "Do you think that I was too off the wall in saying that we would go to the Elysee? Backed up by 7,736 saying no and only 628 yes, he states in a new video that " I am not an anarchist" and explains that he will go to demonstrate Saturday near the Elysee "peacefully".
Priscillia Ludosky, 33, micro-entrepreneur (selling cosmetics online). Savigny-le-Temple (Seine-et-Marne)
After initiating the petition ″For a drop in fuel prices at the pump″, which has collected more than a million signatures, she left for a fortnight in the United States, but continues to communicate with Eric Drouet and the account ″Angry France″, which, she says, is the "only official website" of the gilets jaunes.
Distrustfully, she systematically rejects spokespeople who are or have been "party affiliates". On Tuesday, in a long statement, she explained that "organizing elections of representatives in each region will be too complicated and open us up to new takeover attempts at recovery... We believe that it is not inappropriate to designate ourselves [i.e. Eric Drouet and herself] as trusted partners″.
She proposed Thursday an online vote around four proposals: the establishment of referendums to make new laws by popular initiative, the creation of a citizens′ assembly, the reduction of all taxes on necessities, and a significant reduction of the salaries of government members, suppression of privileges and checking of expenses claims. These would then be submitted to a referendum.
Maxime Nicolle, aka "Fly Rider″, 31 years old, temp, Côtes-d'Armor
He made himself noticed as early as 20 November on the set of Cyril Hanouna, with his red beard and his cap worn backwards, where he called for the dismissal of Emmanuel Macron. Close to Eric Drouet and Priscillia Ludosky, his Facebook videos sometimes have hundreds of thousands of views.
On Wednesday, he announced his rapprochement with Etienne Chouard, a conspiracy-theory blogger who had made his debut during the referendum campaign on the European Constitution in 2005. On the same day, he organized a press conference in Nice with Philippe Argillier, a former nightclub boss who is convinced that "there is a parallel world, very parallel. I would call it a very unofficial government″.
"Fly Rider″ has also spread the rumor that Emmanuel Macron is preparing, by signing the pact of Marrakech, "to sell France to the UN and to accept the arrival of 480 million immigrants in Europe″.
On Thursday, in a video, he advised people to stock food, "non-perishable in case there are power cuts, boil water, secure your homes to prevent looting" and appealed to "the army, the police, the riot police: you have the right and the duty to defend the people against this government. The people will not give up″.
Steven Lebee, 31 years old, dole recipient, Haute-Savoie
Organizer of the roadblock at the exit of the Mont-Blanc tunnel, he is one of thirty-five spokespersons designated by Eric Drouet and Priscillia Ludosky with whom he liaises daily in a videoconference.
"We try to avoid being taken over by any political force″, he explains. And if a spokesperson had a political or union past, he would be lynched: the separation is that important″. He notes that "we went beyond the demand about purchasing power on the fourth day of the movement" and that ″a huge majority of French people are for a sixth Republic".
Jacline Mouraud, 51 years old, hypnotherapist, Morbihan
Her video where she protested against fuel taxes, viewed over 6 millions of times, has made her the primary face of the movement, but she admits that this movement today has "gone beyond the gilet jaunes themselves".
Telling us that she receives "death threats" which dissuaded her from going to the Matignon last week, she dissociated herself from Eric Drouet and signed with nine others a call for moderation published in the Journal de Dimanche on 2 December, before joining a new group, "the free gilets jaunes".
Vehement at the start, it now seems almost moderate and sometimes seems to worry about the radicalization of the protesters. "We would increase their SMIC, but they would still be angry and I do not know what are the measures that will allow a way out of the crisis", she admits, while refusing to make a call not to demonstrate in Paris on Saturday.
Benjamin Cauchy, 38, customer manager for Groupama, Haute-Garonne
While a student at the university of Lille, he was a member of UNI, a right-wing union, and then he was elected for three years to the municipal council of Laon on the UMP ticket. Today, living 25 kilometres outside Toulouse, he states that "little by little, in among the demands on taxes, has been slipped all this talk about a referendum, about a sixth Republic, and all the language of France Insoumise, thanks to the infiltration into the movement of trade unionists from SUD and the CGT ".
The "free gilets jaunes", of which he is now a part, are clearly on the right, but also less hostile to the institutions as such. "To get rid of Macron, to suppress the Senate, whatever. We were with Drouet when we got tear-gassed on 25 November. But now, he has been bypassed, and between us, it's a bit like Chirac and Balladur", he says with a smile. Worried about the violence, he plans not to come to Paris on Saturday.
Fabrice Schlegel, 45, real estate developer, Dôle (Jura)
He has the voice of Benoît Poelvoorde [a Belgian comedian], and claims to have been the initiator of the movement in the Jura, although he acknowledges that "the roadblocks have become so radicalised that I′m being challenged because I play the leader and therefore become a bit of an institution". In his eyes, the movement is in the first place one of ″people who earn 3,000 euros between two of them, and many completely apolitical retirees″, but he also notes a "radicalization" of the protestors.
He voted for François Fillon in the first round of the presidential election (he says he abstained in the second ″because I will never vote for the National Front″). This small entrepreneur calls for more social justice, but worries about seeing "people in big cars getting insulted or being asked to say what they earn".
Demands for the dismissal of Emmanuel Macron and suppression of the Senate? " Those discredits us!" he cries, before demanding a "reduction in the number of MPs and the introduction of a element of proportional representation". Meanwhile, he continues to discuss with parliamentarians and the prefect of his department in order to ″keep things quiet and avoid having a death on our hands".
Christophe Chalençon, 52 years old, blacksmith, Vaucluse
He was a candidate in the legislative elections of 2017 on the ″Other Right″ ticket, and he got himself talked about by demanding, on 3 December on Europe 1, "the resignation of the current government" and its replacement at the Matignon by "a tough man like General de Villiers" [the armed forces chief of staff who resigned in 2017 over cuts by Macron in military spending].
Lashing out against "the oligarchy of the enarques" [graduates of the elite ENA], he was also pushed aside by Eric Drouet and signed the appeal of the ″free gilets jaunes".
He is defender of rural life, and denounces " Muslim fundamentalism, the burqa and those from the suburbs who arrive at the end of the demo, because they sleep through the mornings... " Although his claim to represent the roadblocks of Vaucluse is disputed, he explains that he will think about it ″if you come looking for me to run for election". In the meantime, he explains that "On Saturday, we'll take out the forks and the fifth Republic will be done for".
The few thousand people present this Saturday in the capital for the fifth demonstration of the yellow vests faced a major police deployment.
They spent a good part of the morning playing cat and mouse. Thousands of protesters - 3,000 in Paris according to the prefecture, an obviously underestimate - who had come to the capital for Act V of the mobilization of yellow vests, this Saturday, were found on the Champs-Elysees.
Disappointment: the security forces quickly confined the protesters to the pavement, preventing them from walking in the street for a good while.
That annoyed yellow jackets who were already steamed up: "Where is is freedom? There's no more freedom!", shouted one man. Beside him, three men held up a picture of Coluche. Some, ground down by the cold and by impatience, were discouraged: "I will go home if it goes on like this.
Jessica and Arnaud, two 26-year-olds from Burgundy, got up early to come to protest, for the fourth time: "We, the yellow vests, are early birds. We took the train at 5 o'clock. We got out of the station, we saw fifteen coaches full of cops arrive. Some colleagues arrived in Paris, only to be accosted by the police at the end of the platform".
By late morning, the police had made 95 arrests, including 63 held custody, in the capital and outer suburbs. A figure well below that of the previous week at the same time (more than 500 arrests).
Pierre had come from Loiret: "The citizens are not stupid. They can see where the money is. Macron does not tax the rich. His increase in the minimum wage is like a bandage on a wooden leg".
The slogans written on the yellow vests, and the few placards, in fact made a lot of the issue of redistribution of wealth. For Pierre, a teacher, even if the violence of previous weeks was deplorable, "that's how the government is made to listen. France has been built on destruction. The taking of the Bastille was a bloody affair, and yet it is venerated. It is celebrated every year with fireworks. "
Later, the police cordon eased up, and things could get going. "We were hemmed in by the cops all morning. It's good to stretch your legs," said one protester with a smile.
But the contingent that had started marching down the street on the Champs Elysées was again disappointed. Less than 100 metres up the street, another police line kept the demonstrators away from the Arc de Triomphe.
The demonstrators took too the nearby streets and started an impromptu protest, shouting "Macron out!" And singing the Marseillaise from time to time. But as soon as they entered any street they were soon out again, sometimes at a run, blocked by the police, who were moving their vehicles to block access and using tear gas to disperse the crowd. Another street, another trap. It started again, and it stopped again. A battle of attrition.
The morning had begun quietly near the Champs-Elysees. Between the Place de la Concorde and Porte Maillot, the police deployment was heavy, with dozens of vehicles, including armoured vehicles, and 8,000 police and gendarmes mobilised in the capital. Enough to create a balance of forces substantially unfavorable to yellow vests.
Every passer-by had to have their bags checked, but the police were friendly. On the Avenue de la Grande-Armée, as on the Champs-Elysées, some shops had lowered their shutters and boarded up their windows with large wooden planks, but others nearby - a bakery, a pharmacy, a caterer and a handful of bistros - were remained open. "Three croissants bought, a yellow vest offered!" joked a cafe-owner.
Higher up the avenue, white vests were visible. Cyrille and Hassan, paramedics by profession, were there as volunteers, ready to intervene in case of injury. They had left Picardy in the early hours of the morning. Hassan: "When we ourselves demonstrated as ambulance workers, we saw police violence."
But today, said Cyril, their colleague from Yvelines, all three were neutral, simply making themselves available to anyone who was injured.
By Saint-Lazare rail station, it was the same calm atmosphere in the early morning. Pierre, a security guard who had come from the Val d'Oise, confided: "I have 6,000 euros of debt. It's not huge, but it's beyond me. I had to patch up my shoes in order to come. Even buying shoes has become complicated. I have a toothache, I do not have insurance, so I take Nurofen. I cannot even buy glasses.
"But I came here thinking of women and children in distress, some of whom I know can not even buy a litre of milk".
Fabienne, a building caretaker and the daughter of 19689 activists, explained for her part: "I have been serving these bourgeois pigs for 20 years. I know them well. In my building, on the boulevard de Courcelles, opposite the Parc Montceau, rents are 8,000 or 9,000 euros. As holiday gifts, they give me only 50 or 100 euros, though the normal amount should be 10%.
"I am paid on the basis of the minimum wage, from which is withdrawn what I'm supposed to receive in kind - a flat, water, heating. That leaves me with 900 euros net, and I have been told that this is what will count for my pension, so I'll end up with little more than the minimum old age pension".
Sam, a student, had made the trip from Belgium: "I came by overnight coach from Brussels to stand up for the citizens' initiative referendum (RIC) idea. For me, this is the main demand of the yellow vests.
"With the RIC, the people will be able to vote through a law, cancel it, dismiss an elected representative or change the Constitution, much as it is done in Switzerland".
At the beginning of the afternoon, at the Opéra, the official meeting point, the square had emptied. The police insisted the protesters to remove their yellow vests before dispersing.
At the same time at the Place de la République, an appeal from the "citizens' movement of the yellow vests" had gathered some hundreds of people, including from organizations like the CGT, Solidaires or the NPA, but they quickly scattered towards the Opéra.
Blocked off by the police at Strasbourg-Saint-Denis metro station, they then advanced towards the Louvre, whose gates were closed, before wandering the streets at the mercy of the police lines.
Among them, Sylvie, 60, whom we met at Place de la République, had come from Saint-Lazare "where we were prevented from demonstrating". She works at the city hall of Paris, and explained that "at the end of the month, there's no money left". Raymond, 75, a sympathiser of France Insoumise, also had no hesitation about coming out on the streets, because he is convinced that "it is by the long haul that we will win".
Hanane, 35, also came from Saint-Lazare and ended up neasr the Louvre. She came with the Women in Struggle collective of the département, and she wanted to highlight the place of women and LGBT people in the struggle. Lucien and Sabine, who are about sixty, had not been out in the previous weeks but had been annoyed by Macron who "laughs at people".
Worried on behalf of their children, they followed the contingent at the mercy of the police lines, not deciding to go home despite the police present, the disorganization, and the rain that came down as night fell.
The most motivated demonstrators still converged on the Champs-Elysees, reopened to the traffic fairly early in the morning. Although their ranks were rather sparse, some had begun to pick up paving stones in the early afternoon to retrieve paving stones. A few hours later, they would be driven out with tear gas and water cannons.
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