More than a thousand arrested as Yellow Vests protests over economic frustration rage on across France

"The Gilets Jaunes that you see in the streets," said one organizer, "they're being bled dry financially. The wealth gap is getting wider, and we've reached a point where there are the very rich and the very poor."

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Image Credit: AFP

Some 1,220 people were arrested in France on Saturday as more than a hundred thousand took to the streets – leading to a lockdown and armored vehicles pouring into Paris – as part of the “Yellow Vests” or “Gilets Jaunes” movement that initially came as a response to French President Emmanuel Macron’s attempt to raise taxes on gasoline and diesel, which critics warn would primarily impact the working- and middle-class.

The movement’s name comes from many supporters wearing the yellow high-visibility vests that all drivers in France are required to keep in their vehicles. Although Macron’s centrist administration announced last week that it was suspending fuel and electricity hikes for six months, outrage over growing inequality across the country has continued to produce massive protests.

Since the demonstrations kicked off four weeks ago, BBC News noted, “protests have also erupted over other issues, including calls for higher wages, lower taxes, better pensions, and easier university entry requirements.” While it began as backlash to Macron’s climate policy, “the movement’s core aim, to highlight the economic frustration and political distrust of poorer working families, still has widespread support.”

Outlining the movement, its supporters, and their demands, the Guardian reported Friday:

Protesters have largely come from peripheral towns, cities, and rural areas across France and include many women and single mothers. Most of the protesters have jobs, including as secretaries, IT workers, factory workers, delivery workers, and care workers. All say their low incomes mean they cannot make ends meet at the end of the month.

The movement is predominantly against a tax system perceived as unfair and unjust, but there are numerous grievances and differences of opinion. Most want to scrap the fuel taxes, hold a review of the tax system, raise the minimum wage, and roll back Macron’s tax cuts for the wealthy and his pro-business economic program. But some also want parliament dissolved and Macron to resign.

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As Jacques, a teacher at a technical college and one of the group’s organizers, told FRANCE 24: “The Gilets Jaunes that you see in the streets, they’re mainly middle-class, and they’re being bled dry financially. The wealth gap is getting wider, and we’ve reached a point where there are the very rich and the very poor – and more and more people are slipping into poverty.”

Among the French, public support for the protests is around 66 percent, according to polling released Friday. High-profile figures such as author and climate activist Naomi Klein have also weighed in. On Twitter Saturday, Klein called out Macron for neoliberal policy that sought to pass on the costs of the climate crisis to the people rather than the polluting industries that have primarily fueled it.

The Intercept‘s Glenn Greenwald blasted Neera Tanden of the Center for American Progress and others for framing the protests as merely critiques of Macron’s policy to address the climate crisis – which ignores the actual impacts of the fuel tax and the movement’s broader motivations.

As the heightened tensions within France have led to some violence, precautions have increased. The Louvre Museum and Eiffel Tower, along with many shops throughout Paris, were shut down on Saturday. According to the Washington Post, “police frisked protesters Saturday at train stations around the country, confiscating everything from heavy metal petanque balls to tennis rackets – anything that could remotely be used as a weapon.”

Describing the scene in Paris during the latest round of protests, the Associated Press reported:

From all corners of the country, French protesters – the vast majority of them men – came by the thousands in trains, buses and cars. But once together in the capital, the most concrete thing they shared was simply fury.

Fury at President Emmanuel Macron. At taxes. At jobs that don’t pay the bills. At politicians they accuse of stuffing their own pockets. At the elite. At banks. At ‘the system.’ At life in general.

“Ras-le-bol” – which translates as “fed up” – was their common complaint.

But without leaders or clearly expressed goals, lacking shared slogans or even an agreed-upon route through Paris, the protesters mostly milled around, roaming the streets like a giant florescent caterpillar.

The Champs-Elysées, “Paris’s most famous boulevard simply reeked of tear gas. Clouds of the stuff hung in the air, burning throats but not silencing the sullen, rebellious crowds,” the AP noted. With “noses dripping snot, eyes red and watering,” demonstrators broke out into song – bellowing “The Marseillaise,” France’s national anthem.

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