As thousands of people continue to occupy the streets of Paris and other cities around France, the Yellow Vest movement enters its 21st week with substantial yet waning support, determined to keep the pressure up on French President Emmanuel Macron and his government. Around the western world, the movement has also taken root as the citizens of other nations were inspired by the struggle of the French protesters and their ideals. But who are the Yellow Vests and what do they want?
Les Gilets Jaunes or the Yellow Vests, is a large, leaderless yet well-organized movement that is currently ongoing in France and a dozen other countries around the world. It started out as a petition in May of 2018 on Change.org to lower the carbon tax implemented at the start of that year, which then, according to Vice, turned into an event organized on Facebook, in which participants were called to “block all roads.” On November 17, over 280,000 people participated in this large, peaceful yet disruptive demonstration to protest the already outrageous prices of gas.
An article written by the National Public Radio shows that it originated as a protest for citizens in rural areas of France who have to drive to long distances, which then ballooned into a larger protest of working and middle-class Frenchmen. They are fed up with Macron’s economic policies, rising gas prices, decreased standard of living, increased cost of living, and how in the words of one Yellow Vest interviewed by the BBC, French society has lost its middle class and now only consists of a working class and the rich.
Protesters in some other countries, especially in Europe, share similar characteristics with the ones in France. Belgium is one such country in Europe that is affected by the Yellow Vests, who are protesting the same high taxes and costs of living. Outside of Europe, however, the protesters have different opinions and ideals, as well as different backgrounds, creating a more confusing identity of the Yellow Vests. The CBC reports that Yellow Vests in Canada only share a feeling of being neglected and forgotten by the government.
From the start, the goals of the Yellow Vests in France were very clear: lower gas prices and increased quality of life. However, as more and more people from all sides of the political spectrum started to join in, their demands started to increase in number and variety and the movement became more militant. They started to demand the resignation of President Macron, increased government services for more rural areas of France, increased governmental transparency, increased minimum wage, and other socio-economic reforms. Contrary to some reports that the movement is a protest against green initiatives, The New Republic highlighted a Yellow Vests communique that calls for more ambitious, but fairer climate change action that doesn’t force rural citizens to solve the problem that is being caused by the rich and large corporations.
Macron’s approval rating hit an all time low after the first few months of the protest, with a study from Ifop-Fiducial showing that Macron had dropped to a 29% approval rating in November 2018 and a 20% approval rating in December 2018. This has been blamed on Macron’s tax cuts to businesses and controversial actions such as announcing cuts to public and state jobs by the end of 2019 and taunting his critics in Parliament. This led former French President Francois Hollande to brand Macron as “a president of the very rich.”
Macron initially stated that he would not back down and used security and police forces to quell the protests violently. However, as the protests got more heated and violence increased, Macron began to cave in to the protesters’ demands, stopping gas taxes on December 5, announcing the increase in minimum wage by 100 euros a month and granting expensive tax concessions which could cost up to 15 billion euros. Macron also acknowledged that he had been out of touch with the general populace and that he hoped to change that. These acts have helped calm the protests and increase his approval rating to 28%, although that modest number indicates there are still a substantial number of people unhappy with Macron. As thousands still take to the streets in protest, Macron sends out continues to send out French security forces to quell the unrest violently–so violently that the UN High Commissioner of Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, had called for a probe on what she calls an excessive and unnecessary use of force by the French government.
What started out as a protest to end rising gas prices and to repeal the economic policies implemented by Macron, has spiraled into a large and somewhat violent movement that has caused large socioeconomic upheavals and an increase in government transparency in France. It has caused massive economic damage, which detailed in a report by the French government, saw thousands of workers get reduced pay and hours, thousands of companies’ revenue to drop by 20% to 40%, the payout of about 38 million euros of financial aid to workers who have not protested, and nearly 90 million euros paid out in insurance to businesses affected by the protests. Even though support for it now is dropping, the Yellow Vests still have the potential to continue to influence French economic policies.
Image Credit: Flickr / Olivier Ortelpa