French Protests: The “Gilets Jaunes” Movement

BY EBENEZER NKUNDA

Protests have a long history in France, from the French Revolution to the revolutions of 1830 and 1848, the Commune in 1871, the strike in 1944 (which helped liberate Paris from the Nazis), and the protests of students and workers in May 1968. No one does a protest like the French—it’s in their blood.  

The Gilets Jaunes, or “The Yellow Vests”, is a movement that has sparked France and has become the biggest challenge to the presidency of the French President, Emmanuel Macron. The movement takes its name from the fluorescent yellow safety vests that French law requires all motorists to carry; protesters have adopted these yellow vests as a symbol. Anger sparked after French President Emmanuel Macron said that starting January 1st of the new year, taxes on fuel would rise again, even after it was raised 20% the past year. Macron claimed it was necessary to fight climate change and protect the environment. It was also a way for Macron to start an initiative on persuading French residents to drive more electric cars since it is less harmful to the environment. Analysts say most of those joining the yellow vest movement are workers on lower middle-class incomes. These citizens say they barely scrape by with current taxes and get scant public services in exchange for some of the highest tax bills in Europeabout 60% of their annual incomes.

Even though most of these protests across France have been peaceful, the one in Paris became the worst rioting the French capital has seen in years. Shops were looted and cars torched around the famed Champs Elysées, as four people were killed and hundreds injured in clashes or accidents stemming from the protest. Edouard Philippe, the Prime Minister of France, recently suspended the plans to raise the tax on fuels for at least six months, saying no tax increase is worth jeopardizing the country’s unity. While some French residents feel that this is nowhere near the changes needed, the French government at least shows some sign of appeasing the protestors.