Sunday, December 9, 2018

A gilet jaune does not a Gilet Jaune make

I wrote this on Facebook a few days ago and reproduce it here because it seems to have been well-received....

For my friends in the US (and elsewhere), this is a weird time in France. For the last three [now four] weeks we've been in the grips of popular protest movement that has gotten increasingly violent. Toll booths have been set on fire or otherwise damaged, a prefecture was torched, a tax office bricked up. Hundreds have been hurt, including hundreds of police. Three [make that 4] people have been killed. Friends, and my own son, have inadvertently gotten tear-gassed.

It was initially sparked by an increase in taxes on diesel and other energies, but has morphed into a general anger over the cost of living, a government removed from the people, the suppression of services in the country such as post offices and schools, while politicians in Paris live like aristocrats of old, and mega-corporations like Total pay no tax. (And yet the poor like the rich pay a 20% VAT). It's neither left nor right, and not led by unions. It's hard to meet the protestors' demands because they are many and varied. They don't have and don't want self-appointed leaders. The government has announced a moratorium on the tax increase, but most suspect it's just a ploy to calm things down and they'll just put it into effect later than planned.  [The government has since announced it will drop the plan to increase these taxes altogether].

This is about city versus country, Paris versus Provence, the rich versus the poor; one demand is the re-institution of a suppressed tax on large fortunes.

[City versus country:  People in the city don't have to drive, so the concerns of the gilets jaunes are alien to them.  A student of mine pointed out that this all really began when the government reduced the speed limit on country roads from 90 to 80 kph.  In the city, you can barely drive faster than 30, so again, no problem for a city-dweller.  The move was widely seen not as a way to improve safety but a way to impose more fines and collect revenue.  An example:  I have gotten three speeding tickets in the last year, compared to one in the preceding 15!

City people also don't need to drive for basic services such as post offices and doctors.  Country people do.

Rich versus poor:  Obviously, rich folks don't give damn about the price of basics; a man driving a Maserati doesn't care if a baguette is a euro or a euro-fifty.  For people living on the minimum wage, even twenty cents is a big deal.  There are families with two salaries who still finish the month with a serious overdraft.  People "get by", but do not prosper, cannot save money, cannot take nice vacations or buy new clothes and sometimes have to get by on pasta at the end of the month.  After bills, rent and fuel for the car, a lot of people don't have anything left; indeed, they finish in the negative.  An example: I lived this way for years, and thanks to "reforms" due to kick in come January, will have to live that way again.  Note that my examples are from my own experience; take my word for it, it applies to just about everyone I know.]

This week the high-school students joined in to protest "reforms" to the Baccalaureate, and it started to affect me personally. A blocked metro meant almost an hour to walk home on Monday, almost missing work on Tuesday, a half an hour wait on Wednesday for a tram that should come every 8 minutes. Today [last Thursday] I couldn't get to work as the metro was again shut down and buses stayed away from my workplace.

Two days ago a protest at a HS in Blagnac resulted in the entryway being torched and apparently other schools suffered the same. My son didn't go to school because classes were cancelled for fear of the same thing happening there.

Now the unions are calling for strikes, including within the police (not the officers, but the canteens, admin personnel etc.) The farmers might get in on it because they suffer quite a bit.

Wild rumors are flying. I heard some groups threatened to come into Paris armed. For days the papers have not been talking of a "movement" or "protests" but "insurrection". It's a wild and tense time, with no small amount of fear of what will happen come Saturday, which have been the most violent days so far.

We shall see. Walking thru town to get home, one could hear people talking only of this and irritated at the inconvenience, yet not angry. People are in general quite supportive from what I've seen. Not all, but a lot. There's a palpable tension and I've heard sirens all day.

Anyway, despite it all, I feel safe, though I worry for my family and have advised my son to be alert once school starts back up. I've said he can go on strike if he feels aggrieved, but to stay away from anyone trying to start fires or otherwise act in a violent manner. Maybe that's wrong, but to be honest, I generally support the protest. I abhor the violence, but it has caught the government's attention. For better or for worse remains to be seen....

So, if you've seen something on TV or in the papers, this is one view of what's been going on.

[Final thoughts.  Saturday (12/8) was not as bad as expected, but from what I saw, the violence which did occur was not perpetrated by the gilets jaunes proper, who are mostly normal working-class men, and a lot of women, but young hooligans with their own agenda.  They may wear a yellow vest, but a gilet jaune does not a Gilet Jaune make.  The movement is largely trying to calm the violence and we have strong denunciations of arson and vandalism from among the protesters.

I predicted this protest would continue and so far have been proven correct.  I think next Saturday will see a significantly cooler situation.  X-mas is around the corner and it's getting colder, and the government won't tolerate another day of violence.  BTW, don't let Trump 's tweets fool you.  A March for the Climate this weekend drew more people than the gilets jaunes protests and among the marchers were several gilets jaunes.  People are not fools, they know something must be done about climate change, they just don't want the cost placed entirely on their shoulders.

Coming to Toulouse today, I passed a pretty well-entrenched gilet jaune blockade.  They had a cabin, a campfire, a friendly attitude, and seemed to be pretty chummy with the Gendarmes present on the scene.  That was very interesting to see indeed.]

1 comment:

  1. I heard there's another country where the common people are rankled by the same sort of discontent at their political, economic, and cultural betters.

    They to express a general anger over the cost of living, a government removed from the people, the suppression of services, while politicians in live like aristocrats of old, and mega-corporations pay no tax. I understand that it's neither left nor right, city versus country, elites versus the fellahin. It's said that in this other country people get on, but do not prosper, cannot save money, cannot take nice vacations or buy new clothes and have to get by on grits and gravy at the end of the month. After bills, rent and fuel for the car, people don't have anything left and finish in the negative. As such, they are in effect a popular uprising, ordinary people fed up with, well, just about everything.

    The elites in this other country's capital are totally disconnected from the people they govern, but have the support of the media.

    I hear you can sense the urgency as the media speaks over the people and it seems to be the official position to silence the opposition and portray them as either toothless scum or hooligans motivated by violent hatreds. Even though what little violence has occurred has been either in defense or reaction to young gangs of anarchists with their own agenda, the media and cultural elites are quick to place all the blame on the opposition. They do it despite the movement trying to calm the violence and issuing strong denunciations of arson and vandalism from any quarter. In one case a panicked man hit the gas and killed a protestor. But he's been universally denounced as a hater and made into a charicature of evil by the media so the people in that country have no way of knowing what actually precipitated the action, even though the video clearly shows his car surrounded by a violent mob. Anyway, it make for an uneasy feeling whenever a mixed bag, mélange of pissed-off people gather with grievances.

    Anyway, it's not unexpected that this country should come to this place - even though the event that precipitated the insurrection, as it were, was completely unexpected by the media and most people - what with the arrogance, elitism, and disconnection of political, economic and cultural elites from the people they govern.

    Perhaps you've heard of this other country? The name escapes me at the moment.


Thanks for taking the time to comment!

Need to add an image? Use this code: [ximg]IMAGE-URL-HERE[x/img]. You will need to remove the the boldface x's from the code to make it work.

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.