Yellow Vests – France’s ‘Deplorables’ Explained

images“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.

EMMANUEL_MACRON_PORTRAIT_OFFICIEL.0

President of the rich.

 

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

13 Comments

  1. Good stuff, full of good info. Macron is crazy – hasn’t he seen gas increases/ending of gas subsidies cause riots around the world in recent years? France made a failed bet on diesel – to the tune that 80% of French passenger cars run on diesel – and Macron is capitalistically taxing labor instead of management/shareholders to pay for this mistake. Terrible idea, considering that reducing purchasing power has been the #1 concern of the French since at least 2011, as I recall.

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  2. The leading role of women, rural folks and young adults is really amazing. They have no trust in Le Pen or unions who have sold them out at every juncture. It will be interesting to see what support they get from politicos and parties, particularly truckers, farmers and small businesses. You are right to point out that these people used to vote Communist, and now don’t vote, or vote protest. The same people in the US vote fascist, but that may not happen here.

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  3. Excellent journalism explaining a movement where over 500 people have been injured in protests thus far. Macron’s trickle down, Reaganesque economics have failed before. Simply another slight of hand propagated upon the masses. In the long term it does nothing and continues to dissatisfy the masses offering a petri dish of hate for the right to nurture and exploit viz. the USA. Always enlightening and contemporaneous. Thanks Kazo!

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  4. This is why I follow George Kazolias. This report has a clear headline, detailed summary, and links to back up the text. I learned something by reading this and will now explore the subject and hopefully understand news reports more in future.

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  5. When you think about your article it is on point. Now let’s think this as micro economics being France and macro economic being the world. With the right leader this could go global. Wealth separation is not limited to France as we all know

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  6. “[Macron] 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.”

    Correct me if I am wrong, but my impression is that unlike the the US or even Germany, France’s managerial class has relatively few actual entrepreneurs, whose lowered taxation burden might translate into increased investment and job creation. Rather, the French upper middle and upper class is primarily government employees and managers of quasi-public dirigiste organizations. Their lowered tax burden will translate not into more hiring, but into some combination of earlier retirement, fancier vacations or more lavish lifestyles–in other words, the very things that are driving Yellow Vest resentment.

    It seems France is trapped between its addiction to lavish government fiscal policy and eroding social cohesion which the lavish state financing increasingly fails to subsidize. Unfortunately, Macron’s Economist-theoretical approach won’t back France out of such a “coffin corner” but will drive it further in.

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    1. Macron’s idea is to encourage investment and also favor smaller industries by making the labor market more business friendly; i.e., increasing job insecurity. One Yellow Vest demand is to do away with the privileges of the labor aristocracy in the public sector. This is something Macron really hasn’t done so far (the SNCF was very timid and the results won’t be seen for 20 years unless he privatizes).

      The French have maintained an archaic entitlement system which they can no longer afford. This means getting people, especially immigrants and their French born children off welfare and into jobs. It also means doing away with the special status of civil servants of all stripes. Pitting the Yellow Vests against the lumpen may be one way Macron could weaken the movement.

      So far, the Yellow Vests have targetted the symbols of wealth and the 1%. But immigration is waiting on the sidelines.

      France would default on its debt and could no longer borrow at 2% if not for Germany and other northern countries backing the European Central Bank and its bonds buying. The ECB and its backers are getting impatient. This is why Macron is in such a hurry to reform. He also wanted to get those financiers who will flee Britain after Brixit to come to a business friendly France. this movement may have dashed those hopes.

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  7. “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. … One must not underestimate the danger this popular uprising poses.”

    Isn’t what keeps the Yellow Vest movement vigorous and flexible precisely that it lacks a leader? Mr. Kazolias says that YVs are already challenging the state, opposing immigration and trending racist. So his concern must be that a leader would channel that. But is that really a “danger”? Mr. Kazolias readily admits that the state IS a problem and that immigration is exacerbating it. Maybe those are real problems that really oughta be addressed, hmmm? It sounds like the “popular uprising” isn’t the “danger”; the status quo is.

    “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.”

    Sorry, but what horrible thing did Marine Le Pen do that she no longer has a “clean slate”? Dispossess the workers? Genocide the natives? No–that’s what the Establishment is doing. As far as I can tell, Marine has been a mild and reasonable (but hated by the Establishment) politician her entire life. But maybe my Anglophone understanding of her is missing a chapter.

    Anyway, a charismatic leader is likely to be the death of the YV movement, for then the movement’s fate will hinge on the leader’s charisma rather than on their grassroots grievances. Or maybe that’s the idea? Macron will have someone to negotiate with to get the movement sold out and restore the status quo?

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    1. No movement can survive, let alone win, without coordination and people able to articulate their demands. By refusing the support of different political movements, the Yellow Vests are reinforcing Macron in his role as monarch. “We will only talk to Macron” they say. What is needed is a new Constitution which puts power back in the hands of parliament and proportional representation. All Yellow Vest demands were put forward in the National Assembly by les Insoumis and le Resemblement National well before the movement kicked off.

      Marine Le Pen has too much baggage and lacks the contact with people it will take for her movement to build alliances and win. Her financial irregularity charges don’t help either. She will not do any better than what she has done so far. I think the analysis in the NYRB is spot on when it comes to the new right in France and Europe and the future:
      https://www.nybooks.com/articles/2018/12/20/two-roads-for-the-new-french-right/?fbclid=IwAR3usEAa1Bs3Vumd5lns7rkIz1hV1WTLtuz8i2eOvpqPniwY6Snb9kFRyXg

      The French anarchist philosopher Michel Onfry has made proposals for organizing along th lines of what Prudhon proposed but it still involves organization and representatives. As it stands, anybody can speak as a YV and many are doing a very bad job of it much to the delight of the government and its loyal press.

      The goal, it seems to me, is to obtain satisfaction on demands and stop Macron from selling the French out to finance capital and a European project which does not represent the interests of the commen laborer. That is not selling out. Violence cannot be an end in itself and it’s not what the YV want. They want to be able to put toys under the Christmas tree for their kids.

      Any way, when it comes to violence, the mob is no match for that of the state.

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