Embracing a fourth week of violent protests, around 120,000 protesters walked on the streets of France on Saturday. Major cities like Paris are now on full alert of demonstrations.
A protester takes part in a demonstration by university students, teachers, indigenous people and trade unionists, against the crisis in the public education, budget cuts and a tax reform project announced by the government of Ivan Duque, in Bogota, on December 6, 2018. (Photos: VCG)
No less than 90,000 police were being deployed nationwide. Among them, 8,000 were guarding the capital, which equals the number of protesters.
Over the past weekend, panic over rising violence has cast a shadow on Paris, and also on the coming Christmas season. In Paris, shops were boarded up and tourist sites were closed to avoid being smashed or looted. Citizens were also advised to stay home.
French newspaper Le Figaro described Paris as a "city of death".
The protests began online and were initially sparked by the French government’s proposed taxes on fuel, which led to demonstrations starting Nov 17, 2018. The yellow vest was chosen as a symbol. Before December 1, protests were limited to constructing barricades and blocking roads until the real riots began when protesters smashed the Champs-Elysees Avenue, opposing the French authorities’ tone-deaf declarations. French authorities are still struggling to contain the protests or address the public’s demands, but they were already too late.
Over the past 23 days, 'Yellow Vest' protests have evolved from the angry demonstration of motorists to a nationwide protest against the social reforms of President Emmanuel Macron and his government.
Fuel tax hikes were nothing but pressure relief tunnels through which the long-standing anger of the French public forced their way out. 'Yellow Vest' protests are no longer the motorists’ movement，as farmers, students, workers, retiree and the unemployed joined in, and protests are growing.
Protesters are extending their list of demands. Their demands have grown from the elimination of fuel tax hikes to various aspects of the social economy.
According to a list of appeals provided by the ‘spokesperson’ of the yellow vest, we have a glimpse of the grievances of the French public: adjust the tax base, restore the ‘rich tax’ on the rich, raise the minimum wage to 1,300 euro, limit the maximum wage to 15,000 euros, stop the construction of large shopping malls to promote small business development, prohibit enterprises from moving abroad to protect the domestic industry, create more job opportunities, regulate housing rent and increase low-rent housing, gradually reduce gasoline and electricity prices, maintain small-scale railway lines, and restore the 60 year old retirement age.
High school students demonstrate in Lyon, on December 7, 2018, to protest against the different education reforms including the overhauls and stricter university entrance requirements. Protests at some 280 schools have added to a sense of general revolt in France.
Macron’s reforms have been challenged, including tax policies, pension reforms, economic development, people’s livelihoods, transportation and housing.
Since Macron took over, the labor law reform was adroitly approved, triggering large-scale opposition. The railway reform has caused strikes and protests for months. The adjustment to the college admissions mechanism has fueled campus riots, and the reduction in housing subsidies and the abrogation of the rich tax have also attracted controversy.
The yellow vest movement harnessed the discontent, reached a climax, and caught the French government off guard.
Since the beginning of the year, Macron’s support rate has been declining, which is weaker than half of when his term began. “Macron, démission” — “Macron, resign” — has become the rallying cry in Paris.
The French government’s support rate has dropped sharply, the opposition parties have demanded a referendum, impeachment, and the dissolution of parliament.
A poll shows that the far-right National League has become the biggest beneficiary of the yellow vest movement, and its support rate has climbed to 33 percent, once again becoming the largest opposition party.
Nationalism and extremism are blossoming.
Given that the yellow vest movement is a spontaneous protest without trade union organization, many extremists are taking their chance to create more trouble.
If only Macron softened his position at the beginning of the protests, chances are things might end up most positively, some commentators believe. His tough attitude has deeply hurt the French people’s trust in the government.
Even if he took measures to try to restore France’s past glory, many of them were based on the overall situation, ignoring the interests of the most ordinary people.
Take taxes for instance. Macron weaned the tax on the rich, hoping to spur private investment market and revitalize the French economy.
The reduced tax revenue had to be covered by other sources. In turn, his policy increased the tax burden on the French people.
For Macron, recreating the "great power and glory" of France is becoming a long shot. Above all, he needs to win back people’s trust and support.