One year after the Gilets Jaunes movement rocked France, the protestors were back in strength to mark the first anniversary. More unrest is forecast as unions plan a string of strikes.
Numerous incidents of violence were reported from various parts when nearly 40,000 protestors descended on the streets of Paris on Saturday to mark the first anniversary of the Gilets Jaunes movement, which has been conducting spontaneous protests by individuals against the policies of the French government and the growing inequality in the country.
Clouds of tear gas, scores of broken shop and bank windows, dozens of burnt cars and hundreds of barricades – erected equally by the police and the protestors and over 100 arrests. The scenario and the actions on Parisian streets resembled very closely the first protest that occurred in November 2018, against yet another rise in fuel prices due to an increase in ecology tax imposed by the French President Emmanuel Macron.
Since that day, the leaderless group of individual activists has managed to capture not just local or national headlines, but indeed made a news for themselves across the globe, mainly due to the fact that the movement was run almost entirely on social media. It had put Macron off-balance and pushed him to accede to some of their principal demands, including a roll back in ecology taxes on fuel. Also, despite the lack of any organised structure behind them, the Gilets Jaunes managed to organise protests week after week, every week for almost a year.
Indeed, the number of protestors has varied sharply, dipping specially hard in the past couple of months, but yesterday’s protests show that it is far from dead and it would need only a couple more such protests as this week’s, in order to revive the movement.
In the third year of Macron presidency, social unrest has continued unabated as several unions – education, healthcare, transport and government officials – have launched a series of strikes all through the current year. And in barely two weeks, on December 5, the unions have organised a massive movement to which they have invited the Gilets Jaunes protestors, which could possibly make it one of the biggest protests on the streets in France in the past few years.
A large proportion of the French, nearly two thirds, continue to be sympathetic to the Gilets Jaunes despite the problems faced by them due to the protests. This is largely because the basic issues of growing economic and social inequality have continued to dog France, general unemployment, though lower than earlier is doggedly above 9.5 pc, one of the highest in Europe and youth unemployment rates are twice or thrice as high. The government is clearly unable to tackle these problems or even show that they are taking adequate measures to address the issues.
With municipal elections round the corner, the social unrest is only likely to intensify as the opposition parties – on the right and the left – will try to gain brownie points and put Macron and his Republique en Marche in pickle as much as they can.