The Gilets Jaunes (“yellow jackets”)
As a brand-new expat here in France, you might have heard or seen people wearing yellow jackets striking (and sometimes breaking everything) every Saturday.
So who are the gilets jaunes? How did the movement start? What consequences does it have?
- The Gilets Jaunes are people protesting against several governmental measures and bills. The movement was named “gilets jaunes” because protesters wear the fluorescent yellow high-vis jackets that all motorists must by law carry in their cars.
In fact, initially the discontent was triggered by the government’s measures to keep increasing a direct tax on diesel, a fuel commonly used by motorists in France, as well as the carbon tax. Protesters see this as disproportionately affecting those who use their cars to get to and from their jobs every day, lowering their purchasing power and changing their living conditions.
- But what began as a fuel tax protest is now having wider claims and part of the movement has morphed into an anti-government movement…
- The first national day of protests was held across the country on Saturday 17 November and the protests have continued every Saturday since then, including roadblocks barricades on roundabouts and the blockading of fuel depots.
Worries of violence on both sides…
- Violence has escalated at the weekly Paris protests held on Saturdays. While thousands demonstrated peacefully on 1st December, about 3,000 people fought, running battles with police. They burned more than 100 cars, set fire to several private buildings and smashed bank windows and shopfronts on some of the most expensive streets in the capital.
- Authorities blamed extreme-right and extreme-left “professional” rioters and delinquent for infiltrating the peaceful demonstrations. The Paris prosecutor said than 300 people were held in custody after the Paris violence on the first Saturday and most of them were men aged between 30 and 40 who “had come to fight the police while claiming to be part of the gilets jaunes movement”.
- After these first excesses in Paris, provincial cities also reached high peaks of violence, especially Toulouse and Bordeaux.
What other demands does the group have?
In a statement sent to media outlets, the ‘gilets jaunes’ movement made public a list of 40 demands they were planning on presenting to the government. Here are some of the key ones (we tried to make it as simple as possible but several issues are even more complicated than that):
- No more homeless on the streets
- A freeze on rent, especially for students and vulnerable employees
- Higher taxes for bigger corporations and less for smaller entrepreneurs.
- No taxing at the source.
Salaries and pensions
- Salaries and inflation should be adjusted to inflation.
- More permanent contracts known as CDIs in France, less CDDs (fixed-term contract) , which lead to more precarity.
- Maximum salary fixed to €15,000/month.
- Protect French industry — say no to offshoring
- Same social security system for everybody.
- A rise in handicap allowance.
- End to austerity politics.
- A decrease in the price of gas and electricity and to renationalise both utilities.
What is the government’s answer?
After all the violence and protests, the government started by postponing the fuel tax increase to try to calm people down.
After that, at the end of the year, the president Macron called companies and bosses to give their employees an exceptional bonus that wouldn’t be charged up to 1000 euros. It was not compulsory. The aim was to help people having a little bit more purchasing power.
The government is trying to answer the claims submitted by the movement but it is a tough job: the government tends to want to ask people to make efforts, to restrain themselves, in order to reduce public spending and our debt, to improve the ecological transition, to keep on building Europe and democracy, whereas the people is pulling toward the other side.
A Great National Debate was launched by the president Macron in mid-January to initiate a consult on a large scale until mid-March. This debate will be organised everywhere in France by mayors, on stands in public places. The aim is to explain and discuss 4 big current themes:
- The public spending and fiscality,
- The ecological transition,
- The democracy and the citizenship,
- The organisation of the State and public services.
By the beginning of March, various stakeholders randomly selected will gather in civic conferences to “take part in practical avenue formulation, give their opinion on what stands out after weeks of debate and provide input to the thought”.
To sum up, the government tries to involve the people in the thought by providing information, explaining and opening the debate.
What consequences did the movement have?
CONSEQUENCES ON THE ECONOMY:
For many people, Saturday is not a working day in France so shops and restaurants use to make most of their benefit on this day. The gilets jaunes prevented people from going out (because too scared or because shops had to close because of all the violence) so a lot less purchasing on Saturday. Moreover, the movement started just before Christmas and this is the time of the year when most of the business is done as people buy presents for all their friends and family.
A lot of people bought everything online and on foreign websites.
As a consequence, shops and restaurants lost a lot of money, smaller ones are even shutting down and the French economy suffered a real drop.
Besides, all the damages on the streets in Paris, Bordeaux, Toulouse, etc will have to be fixed with public money, meaning using the tax money…
- The more the movement goes on the less people are striking but they are equally blocking the situation. People don’t go out on Saturday afternoon, foreign people and tourists are scared and doesn’t always understand. The movement is decreasing because many people don’t see the point anymore and are pissed of it.
- The gilets jaunes still on strike gathered in a small community: some of them are getting married on toll booth or gathering to drink beers in shelters on roundabouts.
- The government is pressured and especially the president. The gilet jaune are screaming “Macron demission!” which means “Resign Macron!”. They don’t have much room to manoeuvre.
- The police has been having tough times with the movement and especially the violent part of it. Huge and violent confrontations took place and we can imagine they might be really tired.
To conclude, the Gilets Jaunes crisis is not over yet. We will probably have a few more ‘gilets jaunes” Saturdays to come. Life goes on still!
Don’t be scared, the gilets jaunes are not all violent (not to say not at all because violent ones are not real gilets jaunes) and won’t do you any harm. Just be cautious and avoid being in the middle of the confrontations between the violent ones and the police: at Place de la Victoire or Place Pey Berland especially, on Saturdays. The procession is pacific. We would also recommend you to organise yourself in advance if you have something planned on Saturday because trams are more likely to be interrupted!
If you were new to this movement or if you were wishing to have further information about it, we hope we contributed to enlighten it for you.
See you in a fortnight guys!
- Based on our own understanding and observation of the movement.
- And also on:
- The French government’s website: https://www.gouvernement.fr/le-grand-debat-national
- The Economist
- The Guardian
- The Huffington Post
- Le Figaro