The current Yellow Vest protests in France were sparked by a tax that increased the price of diesel fuel in the country. As this was the tipping point that caused them, the media (outside of France) has blamed this tax as the major issue. As such, a few commentators and readers have taken this as French opposition towards renewable energy and a step back to fossil fuels. But this wasn’t a tipping point in a battle for the climate – it goes further, into a class struggle against Macron’s neo-liberal policies.
The French election, in which Macron took the lead, had him facing Le Pen (a Trump-style politician that ran mostly on a nationalist platform) and Melenchon (a progressive similar to Bernie Sanders or our Greens Party). Melenchon, similar to Sanders, received little coverage compared to the other two contenders. Whereas Trump defeated Clinton in America, Macron did indeed overtake Le Pen. While the ‘fascist’ party was not elected, France (whose history is filled with class struggles) has reacted negatively to Macron’s neo-liberal agenda.
The reason the protests began after the introduction of the diesel tax is because a number of lower class workers are struggling to keep up with the cost of living, with rising prices but stagnant wages (similar to Australia). With cars still being the major mode of transportation, the hike in fuel prices was the last straw in a string of grievances, thus beginning the protests we are seeing now.
I saw somewhere that the significance of the yellow vest is that it symbolises the class struggle. The vests are mandatory in all cars in France, in the case of an accident or breakdown, people put on the vests so they are more visible to traffic and aren’t run over. The analysis I saw indicated that the vests were being worn to say that the working class will be seen and not merely trodden over by those with power and wealth.
As usual, with the legitimate protesters come the rioters, vandals, and looters. The media then reports on it and the protests are seen, internationally at least, as nothing more than a violent hindrance. As the protest dies down, the more troublesome types remain a bit longer, but the differentiation between the two groups has to be made; the majority of protesters do not condone those actions, and those involved in any illegal acts are not a legitimate part of the movement. The French police have resorted to teargassing the crowds.
So the protests continue, though dwindling, and the tax increase on diesel was reversed (again, not intended as an endorsement of fossil fuels, but socioeconomic reasons). Time will tell whether these protests gain traction in more areas, but with police involvement it’s not likely. Macron still has a few years in his five year term, so it’ll be interesting to see whether his hold on the government will last that long, or if the French public rise up and force an early election.