By Pierre Akrim, special french correspondent
A huge wave of social unrest has shaken France. Since October 17, the whole country has been turned upside down by road blockades, riots, and strikes, sparked initially by a rise in gas prices. As the protests have escalated, many other problems have fueled the anger of protesters, including unemployment, social services, political corruption, and the general cost of living.
At first, the lack of social demands and the organization of the movement on social networks made a lot of progressive people suspicious. Where were the unions, the left parties? Who were those people fighting against gas taxes but not for their rights?
Some were afraid that this movement could be “poujadist” – a term used in France to describe social upsurges against taxes and the “big state” led by shop owners, small bosses and sharing a petty-bourgeois, reactionary outlook.
It is indeed true that these parts of the population were present at the beginning, as well as fascist and conservative groups. Most politicians opposed to Macron’s government supported the “yellow jackets,” those vultures wanting to lead it to the political dead-end of the ballot box.
But the “yellow jackets” took a militant stance from the beginning, using blockades and other means of direct actions. Factories, harbors, roads, supermarkets, and other facilities have been blocked. “Free highway” operations were organized. Government buildings were occupied. And those tactics proved successful.
Working class people who could not take it anymore took their fury to the streets of the country, leading to fierce battles in Paris the first and second Saturdays of the movement. Police forces were on the edge of collapse according to politicians and police unions.
December 8 could be the beginning of an insurrection-like situation that France hasn’t witnessed since May 1968 as more and more people join the movement. High school students, truck drivers, rural and agricultural workers, etc., all see that the government is weakened, and they all come forward with their demands, joining with other sections of the people.
Immigrant movements and women’s marches also merged with “yellow jacket” marches. The more working class folks and revolutionaries joined the movement, the less space has been occupied by fascists and bosses.
On December 1 a police-issued G36 assault rifle was seized from the police by unknown protesters in Paris and a police station was burned down in Narbonne. The class enemy a dealt a blow to the masses in Marseille the same day when the police fired a tear gas canister into the home of an 80 year old woman, killing her on impact.
The working class is far more radical and organized than most activists. As a construction worker told Incendiary, “all my coworkers that usually said that they would be here if something big happened, the ones I thought were just talking loud and do-nothing, they all came, they are all here now, wanting to take the state buildings and to attack police.”
A young football ultra and restaurant waiter told Incendiary “we made a huge barricade at the oil facility, with a Molotov ready and piles of cobblestones.”
Other workers said that they are ready to defend themselves against police. Indeed, a huge part of the population – more than 75% according to recent polls – support the movement and its demands, even after two weeks of blockades and riots.
And now, ecological demands supported by the climate marches are about to merge with it, pointing out how the government does nothing to address either end-of-the-month or end-of-the-world problems. Reactionary ideas are fought during class struggle and cannot be fought by spectators sitting outside the movement.
Revolutionary organizations have played a key role in the movement, providing political guidance to the uprising seeking answers deeper than the abrogation of a tax on gas.
The coming weeks will likely be as exciting and unpredictable as the past few have been, but one thing is sure: this winter will be a hot one for the old french state!