“A medieval peasant revolt with social media. An Arab Spring without the Arabs. Don’t underestimate the potential danger of the Yellow Vests.”
They are the ‘deplorables’ of France. They get up early and go to work. If they were American, they would be those that make up Trumps hardcore base but no French worker is stupid enough to believe a billionaire can represent their interests. In the 1960s and early 70s they would have voted Communist. Today they vote for Marine Le Pen’s National Rally and other hard right conservatives. The Yellow Vests are White and ethnic French. They are mad as Hell and won’t take it any more! (1.)
The ‘Yellow Vest’ movement is leaderless and has no clear objectives. It is a popular, spontaneous, revolt organized through Facebook and Twitter by people who feel they are being cheated in favor of the rich, welfare immigrants and public sector labor aristocracy. It is the modern equivalent of a medieval peasant revolt on social media. It could very well become France’s ‘Arab Spring’ albeit with anti-Arab sentiments.
Macron, the former banker, is a capitalist and a globalist. He is in favor of more EU rules, regulations and control, which they blame for France’s sorry state. The Yellow Vests hate Macron, “President of the rich.” The Yellow Vests hate the rich. They despise the EU.
President Macron has reduced taxes for the very rich and corporations hoping it will bring in investors and reduce unemployment which stands stubbornly at 10% and as high as 45% among youth in the immigrant banlieues. The Yellow Vests have seen their taxes go up, while the wealthy have seen their revenues increase. The Yellow Vests have seen their buying-power fall in real terms since the 2008 crisis by €230 a year according to some studies. (2).
Can’t Make Ends Meet
The Yellow Vests complain they are in the red by the 15th of every month. They can’t pay the credit on the car or their home, if they own one, but they need the car to go to work. They are forced into small villages and rural areas by the gentrification of the cities which made it too expensive for them to live near their place of work. They need their cars to go shopping because mega-discount shopping centers have put the village mom-and-pop shops out of business.
The Yellow Vests are also low income retirees who will see their incomes fall by ten percent over the next five years due to two new reforms: one which raises their taxes while the other does away with indexed cost-of-living pension increases.
Paying For Others, Getting Nothing In Return
The Yellow Vests see their taxes pay for public sector workers who, among their many privileges, have access to free and company subsidized vacation centers and tourist circuits while they cannot go on even a week’s vacation with their children in the year.
The Yellow Vests have seen their job security whittled away at by Macron’s labor reforms to encourage hiring by making it easier and cheaper to lay people off, while public sector employees have a lifetime job guarantee. The Yellow Vest’s retirements will be miserable, based on their best 20 years, while the public sector workers get retirement based on the last six months salary and you bet they get raises and promotions a year before they retire. The Yellow Vests will have to work until they are 65 or 67 while public sector contracts will retire as early as 55. The Yellow Vests hate the labor aristocracy in the public sector and in those privatized companies that maintained public sector contracts.
Immigrants In The Crosshairs
The Yellow Vests see their taxes go to cover the costs of illegal immigration. They are mad as Hell that the people in France with African, Arab and Muslim backgrounds “sit on welfare” and entitlements to which the Yellow Vests don’t have access. The Yellow Vests hate the immigrants.
They Yellow Vests are desperate and determined. Unlike the ‘Occupy Movement,’ they don’t go home at night or when it gets cold and wet. They man the roadblocks. Their desperation can easily turn to violence against those they perceive as the cause of their hardships and lash out at darker skinned drivers and those who try to force their roadblocks.
Strangely enough, there is gender equality at the roadblocks and women speak for the movement as much as men do. They are not impressed by government threats to send the police to crack their heads, arrest and jail them. 4.
If the right leader came along, the Yellow Vests could easily follow him to challenge the state, attack immigrants and favor a racist trend. They could well exact violence on ‘foreign looking’ people even without leadership. If Marine Le Pen really wants her National Rally program to see the light of day, she would step aside and let a charismatic leader with a clean slate take over. Nature hates a leadership vacuum. One must not underestimate the danger this popular uprising poses.
The government was hoping that, like so many leaderless and spontaneous movements, this one would run into a wall and fizzle out. The authorities quickly realized there is a real danger that the opposite is also true. Anyway, there is nobody the government can negotiate with. The Yellow Vests are not unionized and have no political representation.
After a year-and-a-half of ignoring the Press and spending 10,000 euros a month on make-up to look good on camera, Macron has finally understood he needs to talk and he is talking every day.
Macron Forced To React
President Macron was never very popular (he only received 23% of the vote in the first round) and his ratings are now down to 25%, making him less popular in France than Trump. But with debt at 100% of GDP and stubbornly high deficits, he knows France cannot go on much longer without provoking a serious crisis and potentially causing the fall of the euro and the whole European project. He is determined to push through with tough reforms to bring down government spending. To do this, he has increased taxes on the poor and pensioners while cutting them for the rich and businesses in the hopes it will spark hiring.
Germany carried out such reforms in 2005 called Hertz IV, (5). It took ten years before the first results could be seen. While the reforms did increase poverty and wealth inequality in Germany, they also brought unemployment down to under five percent. But France is not Germany.
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1. As the spark for this revolt was an increase in tax on diesel fuel, the car became a symbol of their revolt. EU regulations say all cars must be equipped with a reflective yellow vest to wear if you have to pull off to the side of the road in an emergency so that on-coming traffic will see you. Many put the Yellow Vest on their dashboards, either to show support or avoid confrontation at the roadblocks.
2. Oxfam’s 2018 Report says the top 10% of France owns over 50% of the wealth while the bottom 50% have to share only five percent of the wealth. Some studies say the rich control up to 70% of the country’s wealth. Studies also show that the wealth has increased for the top 10% while buying power has drastically decreased for the bottom half.
2. Global Inequality Report 2018 : https://wir2018.wid.world
3. Pauvreté et richesse en France 2018 : https://www.lafinancepourtous.com/decryptages/finance-et-societe/inegalites/pauvrete-et-richesse-en-france/
4. One Yellow Vest in Strasbourg this week received a four month jail term which further angered people in the movement. They see the petty criminals in the Banlieues with a high percentage of African and Arab immigrant background get off easy for their crimes of dealing drugs and burning cars. This increases the sentiment of injustice and encourages their racism.
5. Hertz IV : https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hartz_concept
6. This is on the latest report of loss in buying power in France: https://www.20minutes.fr/economie/2377803-20181122-sous-sarkozy-hollande-revenu-menages-francais-baisse-plus-400-euros