The mass demonstrations of the people of France (by the name of Gilets Jaunes, or Yellow Vests) which broke out in November and again on 8th-9th December is gaining steam across Europe. Everywhere, the people – working people across the board and students – are coming out on the streets against the broad anti-social offensive.
The protests in France began with protesting the taxes on energy, but it is also about lack of jobs, and against the overall economic offensive of the bourgeoisie, that started with the Hollande government and is being continued by Macron. The range of slogans in the protests against November's petrol price increases included - Stop the taxes! Macron's a pickpocket!, Working is becoming a luxury, Right and left = taxes, Stop the racket, etc. The demands are for tax justice, for lower taxes for the poor and against tax cuts for the rich, and for wide social benefits to relieve the burden on the vulnerable and poor.
At the heart of this movement are rank-and-file workers and in large part unorganized and low-skilled workers. Many strands of discontent have coalesced into the protests. Students and workers have swelled the ranks of the rural poor and the unemployed, who have continued to block roads around France. It was reported that in Paris, hospital workers fighting for jobs also joined the Yellow Vests, while ongoing strikes in steel and in oil depots have added to the rising tide of discontent and protests.
The brutal response of the State has only provoked them further. The French government has unleashed a militarized police force to quell and intimidate the people's forces with brutality and terror. According to news reports citing police sources, the number of people arrested since the mass protests began in November has surpassed 4,500, of whom some 4,100 still remain in police custody. On 8 December alone, close to 2,000 people were arrested, and all but around 300 taken into custody, many before the protests actually began. According to the government, these were part of "preventive control" measures.
Protests have spread in December from Belgium to Germany to Sweden to the Netherlands and to the UK. The issues are common to all the countries, only the context may be different. As in Britain for the working people, the sentiment for Britain to leave the European Union represented their opposition to the anti-social offensive. Everywhere, people are fed up that they have to put up with increasing pressures on their livelihood and incomes and feel betrayed by the pursuit of this anti-people agenda by their governments. They are demanding: “We want to look after our futures, the same as they do. We want to protect our jobs and not let the government take all the money” (the they referring to the rich).
Since the crisis of 2008, the ordinary people in every country have had to pay the price by way of austerity in government spending, job losses and higher taxes. The numbers of people who are vulnerable and living in poverty, particularly children, single parents and the national minority communities, as well as the ordinary workers who dwell outside the big cities and in rural areas, have continued to rise.
Clearly the conflict between the majority of working people and a rich, politically powerful elite is intensifying. People are clearly experiencing the effects of a widening disparity between themselves and the very rich, who are growing richer every day.
The crisis is also an indication of the deepening crisis in which the European Union itself is mired. People see the actions of the police forces in France as part of the militarization of life, which goes hand in hand with the militarization of the economy and the push to form a European Army, whether under the control of NATO or the EU. The French state expenditure on the military is reported to stand at nearly US $40 billion per year, funds which people see could be spent on social programs.
The working people and their allies are demanding that the rights of the working people be recognized and that the government must change course or be jettisoned. They are marching in defence of their rights.