Feyzi Ismail reports from Paris, where the Gilets Jaunes have been demonstrating for the fourth weekend consecutively, and with more protests planned
The Gilets Jaunes call it Act IV – to mark the fourth weekend of protests and another show of strength, determination and anger at the government. It was another development in the drama of how a government loses control. And yet the strategy was to suppress the movement this weekend – what was supposed to be the busiest shopping day before Christmas – and to intimidate protesters by putting 89,000 police on the streets all over France.
The mood amongst protesters was defiant and determined, and while neither side dealt the decisive blow yesterday, the police were nowhere near regaining control of the movement, which they so desperately want. They deployed water cannon, sound bombs and much tear gas, and there were a number of battles between protesters and police at different intersections in Paris. The movement held their ground, are increasingly popular – with protests spreading to Belgium and the Netherlands yesterday – and are also increasingly conscious of its demands.
Top of the list is the resignation of Macron, who had been silent since the protests began on 17 November. Yesterday he spoke, along with his prime minister Eduard Philippe, calling for national unity and hoping that if protesters are granted enough concessions, vilified enough in the media and hit hard enough by the police, they will end the protests. But the protests don’t appear to be waning.
Concessions, which have thus far merely amounted to suspending the fuel tax, are widely seen as too little too late. After having come out for weeks on end, it seems that people will settle for nothing less than getting Macron out of power. The widespread sentiment, almost from the beginning, has been an emphatic ‘up yours’ (dans ton cul) – an expression of being fed up, and unable and unwilling to tolerate the deceit, the ignorance and the flagrancy of the rich.
The left must participate and support these protests to their maximum, despite the criticism that there are right-wing elements within the movement. This movement has not come from the traditional left or the trade unions, nor is it mainly based in the urban centres. It has come from the masses, from across the political spectrum, and from some of the most precarious sections of society. And from within such a movement can people grow, become radicalised, experience solidarity.
Estimates are that several hundred thousand Gilets Jaunes were on the streets yesterday, with a fresh round of demonstrations planned for next weekend. This will be Act V. It is a drama whose ending no one can predict.
Gallery of images from central Paris
All photos by Feyzi Ismail, around the Champs-Élysées and other main avenues of central Paris.
Feyzi Ismail teaches at Goldsmiths, University of London, and is active in UCU
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