5 points to understand the Yellow Jackets riots in Paris when you are not French

5 points to understand the Yellow Jackets riots in Paris when you are not French

Since the mid-November, France has been shaken by a protestation movement blocking some strategic places, like roads or factories or fighting the police all over the country. Wearing the yellow safety jackets to recognize themselves, they are called “Gilets Jaunes” (yellow jackets in French). This movement is quite hard to understand even if you are French, so I think you need to know a few elements about them, the country itself and the political climate to get an idea of the situation. While France has a tradition of protest and rioting (you really can’t do much without having thousands of people angry in the streets, it’s not a cliché) this movement is a bit different than usual in its form. As I am from Paris myself, I’ll try to explain clearly some facts around this movement to help you understand, especially if you are American. Please note that it is an informative article, I don’t support this protest even if I understand the anger of some of its member.

 

Gilets Jaune Paris Burning

Paris is burning while the Gilets Jaune wants President Macron to resign

 

  1. The Gilets Jaunes protest started to organize when French President Emmanuel Macron’s government announced a new fuel tax, with the aim of reducing car usage and helping ecology on a national level. However, while supported by most upper middle-class and rich France who cares about ecology quite a lot, it was another hit for people living in the countryside or in peri-urban areas with really low access to public transportation. Those people are used to take their car everyday to go to work and felt wronged by this tax, feeling like they are always the target of the new tax while the richer people are left alone. Some groups decided to organize all over the country, take some yellow jackets and block the roads. The point is to paralyze economy so the government would listen to their actions. The movement soon got bigger and attracted more and more people with really different profiles, which lead us to our next point.

GIlets Jaunes blocking a Total station

Some Gilets Jaunes blocking a Total fuel station to protest the new tax on fuel

 

  1. The Gilets Jaunes movement is a heteroclite mass of people who don’t have the same politic sensitivities or demands. Therefore, it is really complicated to communicate with them, to know what they want or to satisfy them. Among them you have: extreme left activists, extreme right activists, farmers not satisfied by their condition, SEO of really small companies protesting against social charges… It’s impossible to identify them as a clear movement as some of them have some radically opposed demands (like the employees who want to have higher wages and the small SEOs who want to pay less). While the movement was about the fuel tax as first, it quickly evolved in many different demands. Now, when you ask some of the local Gilets Jaunes leaders, they say that they won’t stop until “The inequalities between rich and poor are abolished” and “President Emmanuel Macron must quit!”. Obviously, both won’t happen, so they are still protesting. An important thing to note is that those protesters are people who work, they are middle-class people.

Black blocs

Many different movements joined the GIlets Jaunes movement, like the extreme left group Black Bloc

 

  1. It is also important to understand the French economic concept itself to understand what is happening. The whole way our country works is like the opposite of the United States for instance. In France, the taxation is really high, probably the highest rate in the world compared to individual income. Corporate taxes are also way too high, with so many charges that hinder development of our business. However, there are some good reasons for that. We have the best health system in the world and it is free for everyone, school and superior studies are free, the retirement fees are really high and paid by the state, when you are unemployed you are paid 2/3rd of your previous wage for 2 years… Our whole economy revolves around our welfare and social system, the money is supposed to be redistributed to the poor classes that spend it all which feeds economy in return (in a classic Keynesian economic vision). France probably has the strongest social system in the world and it costs a lot (actually way more than the money the state gets by taxing its population) and it has to be financed in some way. So that puts us in a quite weird situation, as people protested and rioted in the past to get those social advantages but not feeling like paying for them anymore.

Modern French Hospital

Having the best health system for any big country in the world has a cost

 

  1. Gilets Jaunes protests now seem to be centred around Emmanuel Macron’s hatred. The French president was a business banker in the USA before getting into politics and represent the exact opposite of the laborious class that has to drive hours everyday to work. His young and clean image doesn’t work on those people and he seems more and more disconnected of the realities his people is facing. He made a lot of communication mistakes expressing disdain for the lower classes. For instance, during the opening of a station he said: “A station is a place where you cross path with people who had succeed and people who are nothing” or argued publicly with a young unemployed unqualified man that he “just have to cross the street to find some work!”. While formers president all increased tax pressure on the middle classes to try to reduce French debt and pay our social system, the image the President gets and the measures he took are the drop that definitely angered a working class seeing no hope in the near future of a better situation.

Macron and unemployed man

Emmanuel Macron tells this young unemployed man that he could just cross the street to find a job

 

  1. While the Gilets Jaunes are blocking strategic and economic points everywhere in the country and destroying everything in central historic Paris, the country suffers. France’s economy is taking a great hit with all the strikes and people being blocked and that can’t go to work. The Gilets Jaunes devastated and pillaged a lot of stores, restaurants and bars, and the insurance already said that most of the owners won’t be paid back as pillaging by a crowd is not covered. And of course, while the rest of the world sees Paris burning with Gilets Jaunes fighting the police, they don’t really feel like coming to spend their Christmas holidays here anymore. On Black Friday, malls were expecting a big increase on their sales, they finally did 10% less than an average week end despite the price drops. The hotels, tourism sectors and restaurants are paying a big toll for the end of the year and the global GDP and economic growth is hindered. Are the Gilets Jaunes endangering the economy, which will probably lead to more unemployment and poverty? Probably.

A supermarket being pillaged

Some pillagers emptying a supermarket in Paris

 

Unfortunately, I can’t do more than explain you the basic situations and how things are right now. Nobody knows when the situation will end and what will change before it does. The Gilets Jaune still have a public opinion support with 66% of positive opinions but it is dropping because of the violence and misbehaving of the crowds (situations of racism, homophobia, violence, pillaging, destroying of art pieces in the museum of the Arc de Triomphe…). The government also decided to go back on several laws, like the tax fuel that started the whole movement, but it is too late as the crowd wants the President to quit now and refuses to communicate with the government officials. Most of the Ligue 1 soccer games of this week end have also been reported, which didn't happen even during the last major riots of 1968! So we’ll see how it goes and what will happen in my lovely, peaceful country!

By the way, we are getting kind of used to be looking like fools on an international level now, so don’t hesitate to give your honest comments to this article, I promise it won’t break my heart! Try to understand that some people have some real reasons to be angry though.

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