2019 04 – News From France


Twitter and Tear Gas

Twitter and Tear Gas, the Power and Fragility of Networked Protest is a book published in 2016 which could describe the Gilets Jaunes movement, born two years later.  It is available to download free on https://www.twitterandteargas.org/downloads/twitter-and-tear-gas-by-zeynep-tufekci.pdf

The author says:

[Doing things ad hoc through social media] “allows for the organization, for example, of big protests or major online campaigns with minimal effort and advance-work, but this empowerment can come along with a seemingly paradoxical weakness. […] many such movements lose out on network internalities or the gains in resilience and collective decision-making and acting capacity that emerge from the long-term work of negotiation and interaction required to maintain the networks as functioning and durable social and political structures. In the past, this was more organic to the process of taking care of tasks and preparation for acts of protest, from rallies to marches to producing dissident media—there was no other way to do it quickly or on-the-fly.”

It’s not just the durability of the movement that is at stake, but also its decision making and especially adoption of long term aims.

The French institute of statistics INSEE calculated that since the GJ movement caused shops and restaurants to close on 19 consecutive Saturdays and kept tourists away, they caused a 2,5 bn euros loss, or 0,1 of GDP.  But this was just a patch of ‘turbulence’ (or air pocket as they say in French [trou d’air], commentators said.


Gilets Jaunes 18th weekend

The movement had been dwindling in numbers.   On the 18th Saturday however, 16 March, numbers rose again.  The top end restaurant near the Arc de Triomphe, Fouquet’s, was vandalised and set on fire, banks and shops had their protective boards torn off and burned, there was looting.  The prefect of the Paris police was sacked for mishandling the situation, and for giving orders to reduce the use of rubber bullets (!).  At his inauguration, the new préfet was told he must have a firm hand (pas la main qui tremble, not the hand that trembles) and given as his model Clemenceau, famous strike breaker turned prime minister during WW1.  Meanwhile the fine for attending an undeclared demonstration went from 38 Euros to 135.  (The GJ often do not declare their demonstrations in advance).  The Champs Elysées, and famous squares in Bordeaux, Toulouse and Nice were forbidden to demonstrators ‘if there is a risk of violence’.

The government promised to use the army in conjunction with the police to prevent a recurrence next Saturday 23rd March. Their role will be to guard buildings.

Le Journal de 20h [News at 8] is the state TV daily news programme, much criticised by the GJ for bias.  An alternative source of information on the internet, called ‘Le Media’ has a news bulletin called ‘l’autre 20h’ [the other News at 8]It gave a large place to other events of the 16 March barely mentioned elsewhere:  the presence of GJ in other marches, the one against police violence, made up of supporters of various groups including comité pour Adama, named after a young man who died after being arrested.  That march left from the Madeleine area and met the second demonstration joined by some GJ, ‘la marche du siècle’ [March of the century] at Opera, to finish at Place de la République.

La marche du siècle was for climate and environment.  The leader of Greenpeace France interviewed by Le Media said that social and ecological problems went together.  The largest banner, held across the street, read: ‘fin du monde, fin du mois, même combat’.  (End of the world, end of the month, same struggle).  That march gathered 100,000 people in Paris and 300,000 altogether in France.

Saturday 23rd passed without violence.  There were arrests starting early in the morning and a couple of passers-by found themselves fined 135 euros just for being on the Champs Elysees.  Strikingly, the black blocs were absent.  The army was surprised by the president’s announcement, since soldiers of the anti-terrorist group ‘Sentinelle’ have been deployed in all previous GJ demonstrations.  The GJ did not march on the Champs Elysees or near the Arc de Triomphe, instead they marched in the direction of the Sacré Coeur for which some GJ had obtained official permission.


Where is the ex National Front?

Now called Rassemblement National, the ex NF has not profited from the Gilets Jaunes movement.

It is remarkable how the Gilets Jaunes are not preoccupied by immigration. Perhaps they are lying when they say they are not, but it seems to be genuine: in the many interviews with individuals, in the slogans on their placards and on their jackets, in the demands and comments made during the great debate, immigration came very low down in the list of preoccupations.

Why is that? It’s because they know that the main question of our time is whether the new economic order is working or failing. It is failing for them. Factories close, very publicly, with useless attempts by government to stop it happening, and jobs are not being replaced by equivalent jobs. White collar jobs are lost, and managers hound employees until they leave.  The government then talks about ‘helping those left behind by progress’ (globalisation), which doesn’t help their self-esteem. Especially since the help is not retraining people for well paid jobs, but giving them benefits.

The gilets jaunes live in the towns, suburbs and villages without secure well paid employment/services/public transport. Immigrants don’t live there. They live in the council estates near successful cities, and have plenty of problems of their own, especially youth unemployment, but they don’t appear to the gilets jaunes as the source of their difficulties.

That should weaken the already weak ex National Front. Their main battle cry was the fight against immigration. It now appears that it wasn’t that that appealed most to the ‘left behind’. The Gilets Jaunes have refused to be diverted from their main preoccupations into the anti-immigrant dead end. They can’t be beaten with the ‘racist’ stick.

By not having an agreed national programme, or leaders or a permanent structure, their future is not certain.  They could disappear.  But their fragility is not just the speed with which they are organised on Facebook, it’s also that their class base is relatively small.  They are defined geographically rather than by income or employment.

Those ‘left behind by globalisation’ have not found a party or a union to represent them and defend them. The Socialists and the Communists have not adapted to the new situation, and all but disappeared. Neither has its own list for the European elections.

So it’s neck and neck between Macron’s party and Marine Le Pen for the European elections.  Never have elections been less meaningful.  It’s a made up party versus a hollow puppet.  That absence of parties to represent the interests of the population is not just ‘a patch of turbulence’, but seems set to continue, as will the anger of the Gilets Jaunes and the people of the banlieues.  Will the trade agreements with China following a mini summit in Paris with Angela Merkel, Jean-Claude Junker and Xi Jinping and the cooperation with Germany (e.g. the Franco-German Assembly) provide enough prosperity to restore contentment?


Gilets Jaunes demands—Translation from French

[The gilets jaunes demands cannot be said to have been adopted by all, but they have been sent to MPs and journalists, and published and discussed in the media.]

“Members of the French Parliament, we share with you the People’s Directives for you to transpose into LAW.

  • – Zero homeless: URGENT.
  • – More progressive income tax (more tax brackets). – minimum wage 1300 euros net.
  • – Support the small shops of villages and town centres. (Stop the construction of large commercial zones around the big cities that kill small businesses.) + free parking in city centres.
  • – Large scale housing insulation plan. (be ecological by helping households save money).
  • – Make the BIG (Macdonald’s, Google, Amazon, Carrefour …) pay BIG and the small (artisans, small and medium businesses) pay small.
  • – Same social security system for all (including artisans and self-employed).
  • – The retirement system must remain redistributive and therefore socialized. (No pension pots).
  • – End of the increase in fuel taxes.
  • – No retirement pension below 1200 euros.
  • – Any elected representative will be entitled to the median salary. His transport costs will be monitored and reimbursed if they are justified. Right to the restaurant meal and holiday vouchers.
  • – The wages of all French people as well as pensions and allowances must be indexed to inflation.
  • – Protect French industry: prohibit relocation. Protecting our industry is protecting our know-how and our jobs.
  • – End of posted workers system. It is abnormal that a person who works on French territory does not benefit from the same salary and the same rights. Anyone who is authorized to work on French territory must be on a par with a French citizen and his employer must contribute at the same level as a French employer.
  • – For job security: further limit the number of fixed-term contracts in large companies. We want more permanent contracts.
  • – End of the tax credit for large firms. Use this money for the launch of a French hydrogen car industry (which is truly ecological, unlike the electric car.)
  • – End of the austerity policy. Stop paying interest on the debt, declare these interests illegitimate and start to repay the debt without taking the money from the poor and the less poor, but by going after the 80 billion of tax evasion.
  • – That the causes of forced migration are addressed.
  • – That asylum seekers be treated well. We owe them housing, security, food and education for minors. Work with the UN to have host camps open in many countries around the world, pending the outcome of the asylum application.
  • – That the unsuccessful asylum seekers be returned to their country of origin.
  • – That a real integration policy be implemented. Living in France means becoming French (French language course, History of France course and civic education course with certification at the end of the course).
  • – Maximum salary set at 15,000 euros.
  • – That jobs are created for the unemployed.
  • – Increase of disabled allowances.
  • – Rent control and more moderate rent housing (especially for students and precarious workers).
  • – Prohibition to sell property belonging to France (airports, dams …)
  • – Substantial means granted to the justice system, the police, the gendarmerie and the army. That police overtime be paid or recovered.
  • – All the money earned by highway tolls will be used for the maintenance of motorways and roads in France as well as road safety.
  • – Since the price of gas and electricity has increased since privatization, we want them to become public again and prices to fall significantly.
  • – Immediate end to closure of small train lines, post offices, schools and maternity clinics.
  • – Let’s bring well-being to our elderly people. Prohibition of making money on the elderly. The gray gold is finished. The era of gray well-being begins.
  • – Maximum 25 students per class from kindergarten to year 13.
  • – Substantial resources given to psychiatric services.
  • – The People’s Referendum must enter the Constitution. Creation of a readable and effective website, supervised by an independent control body where people can make a proposal for a law. If this proposal obtains 700,000 signatures then this bill will have to be discussed, completed, amended by the National Assembly which will have the obligation (one year to the day after obtaining the 700,000 signatures) to submit it to the vote of all the French.
  • – Back to a 7-year term for the President of the Republic. (The election of the deputies two years after the election of the President of the Republic allowed to send a positive or negative signal to the President of the Republic concerning his policy, so it helped to make the voice of the people heard.)
  • – Retirement at age 60 and for all those who have worked in a trade using the body (mason or boning [slaughterhouse work] for example) right to retirement at 55 years.
  • – Since a 6-year-old child does not look after himself, continuation of the PAJEMPLOI care system until the child is 10 years old [part of the social security system, it regulates employment of home child care].
  • – Promote the transport of goods by rail.
  • – No PAYE.
  • – End of presidential allowances for life.
  • – Prohibition of charging shopkeepers a tax when their customers use a credit card.
  • -Tax on marine fuel oil and kerosene.

This list is non-exhaustive but thereafter, the will of the people will be heard and applied by means of the creation of the People’s Referendum system which will have to be quickly put in place.

Members of Parliament, make our voices heard in the Assembly. Obey the will of the people.

Apply these Guidelines.”

Yellow Vests.