Twitter photo by Mark O'Mahony

While there may be the impression that the gilets jaunes (yellow vest) movement in France is simply a right-wing populist reaction to an increase in gas taxes, and, thus, a cautionary tale against measures intended to counter climate change, there is much more to it than that.

Reuters reports, “The popular rebellion erupted out of nowhere on Nov. 17 and has been coordinated via social media, with protesters blocking roads across France and impeding access to shopping malls, factories and some fuel depots.”

The New York Times further explains, “The catalyst for the protests was the government’s decision to increase gas taxes in 2019 to help pay for the transition to more sustainable energy.”

But that article notably highlights, “It [also] reflects the bite of French payroll taxes, which are among the highest in Europe, and disposable income that is below that of several other western European countries.”

The Local — France adds, “While initially focused on fuel taxes, the ‘yellow vest’ movement has snowballed into wider protests against economic hardship in provincial France and perceived elitism on [French president Emmanuel] Macron’s part.”

Radio France Internationale notes, “The call for action has received a particularly big response in small towns and rural areas, whose inhabitants complain that public transport and other services are poor to non-existent and cars a necessity for daily life.”

RFI also notes, “It has also given voice to wider concerns over the government’s policies, perceived as favouring the wealthy and big-city dwellers, and against allegedly heavy taxation.”

Al Jazeera adds, “Political foes [have also dismissed Macron] as the ‘president of the rich’ for ending a wealth tax, while his popularity has slumped at barely 20 per cent.”

In October 2017, Macron, in effect, cut the country’s wealth tax by 70 per cent. It had been applied to households with personal assets of more than $2.2 million. The tax break for the wealthy came as Macron cut housing benefits by $8.50 a month for 800,000 students.

Benoit Coquard, an expert at the National Institute for Agronomic Research, has told The Washington Post: “It’s important to understand that this movement of ‘yellow vests’ is not at all an opposition to the environment.”

Coquard says, “What is disputed is that drivers from the middle and lower classes are made to pay, but that in their eyes we don’t ask enough of the big companies and the rich, who also pollute the most because they often take airplanes.”

The yellow vests also have significant left-wing support.

La France Insoumise (France Unbowed), Europe Ecology-The Greens, and the Socialist Party have all expressed support for the movement, as have the CGT and Confédération Paysanne (although the leadership of these unions — in contrast to some in the rank and file — have expressed concern that the movement has been infiltrated by the far-right).

The Macron government’s imposition of neo-liberalism (a tax break for the rich, austerity for students, a fuel tax that disproportionality hits the poor and working-class in rural communities) has spawned a populist rebellion.

The 100 companies that have generated more than 70 per cent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions since 1988 have made huge profits from the extraction of fossil fuels.

The yellow vest movement in France may be a warning to liberal-democratic governments around the world that if the burden of solving the climate crisis falls on the working-class, they risk a populist rebellion.

Help make rabble sustainable. Please consider supporting our work with a monthly donation. Support today for as little as $1 per month!

brentprofile11-1 (1)

Brent Patterson

Brent Patterson is a political activist, writer and the executive director of Peace Brigades International-Canada. He lives in Ottawa on the traditional, unceded and unsurrendered territories of the Algonquin...