Don’t abandon your Yellow Jackets

The name sounds a bit like something to do with a lifeguard’s alliance, but this movement’s name (gilets jaune) comes from their high vis jackets, something that all drivers are legally required to carry in their car in France. And what better way to protest rising fuel costs than sticking them on and blocking 350 locations around France and 10 oil depots? The price of gas in France is up 15% over the course of one year, is set to go up again in January, and people are struggling.

We’re all used to watching French riots and protests from this side of the Channel, drooling over their no-fucks-given mass movements. We’d be grateful for a mass working-class movement of this magnitude in England (292,000 across France last Saturday), but many Frenchies ain’t having it. For starters, this isn’t a movement with any formal leaders, it states it has no politics and it’s grown mainly out of social media. If a demo isn’t backed and cooked up by unions, is there any point?

Well yes, actually. First off, it’s an inherently working class issue. Yes ecology is in crisis, Frenchies, but that means we need to dismantle capitalism, not make working people suffer without looking at their material conditions.

“I prefer taxing fuel to taxing labour,” Macron said last week. “People complaining about rising fuel prices are the same ones who complain about pollution and how their children suffer.”

Well that’s very generous Macron, but did you consider what the actual labourers are facing?

“I earn 500 euros a month how do you expect me to live on that? With what I earn I can only allow myself one meal a day,” said Jean-Luc, a 57-year-old protesting in Calais. The city also saw a British driver detained for trying to break the Yellow Jacket barricade. Thanks for representing us as scabs, mate!

It’s a bit like metal straws and going vegan, both noble pursuits, but don’t ignore the fact that the world’s richest 10% are responsible for nearly 50% of total lifestyle consumption emissions. People still need to get to work. People need to live. The sneering tone of people mocking protestors for eating at a fast food restaurant isn’t doing that:

When it comes to worries about the demos being ‘apolitical’, the fear is genuine. Popular movements can easily become a fascist breeding ground – but it’s our job to stop them. With a movement of this magnitude, there will utter pieces of shit present. We need to engage where we can and make them unwelcome when necessary. In Somme, a very sinister group exposed 6 migrants hidden in the back of a lorry, choosing to call the cops instead of any support group. They proceeded to mock and humiliate the migrants as they were carted out, to the point where even the border agency union CGT (make of that what you will) filed a complaint citing racial hatred as one of the reasons. It’s disgusting. But look for hope and a standard in Paris where they’re catching on to this quickly, organising an Anti-Racist bloc at the next demo.

That’s what everyone needs to be doing. Plus, bah, apolitical, this is France – this local group in Pontarlier is already donating and organising foodbank stuff. It’s in these places genuine anti-capitalist conversations can be had.

~Lee Myrh