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What the heck is going on in France?!

French citizens are taking to the streets in opposition to labor reforms and higher taxes

Daniel Hinton's picture
Dec 10, 2018

French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said you would have “to be deaf or blind” to not hear or see the protest movement that boiled over in Paris and across France during the past three weeks. He missed an opportunity to list “being American” as a third excuse.

At most, Americans have seen images of Paris riots, joined by ultra-left anarchists and ultra-right nationalists, who caused millions in damages to private and public property, most notably the Arc de Triomphe and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

It might seem chaotic, and it is, but there is a message being sent by France’s newest wave of protests that even ignorant Americans can appreciate.

President Emmanuel Macron and his government proposed the fuel tax as part of the transition to renewable energy, but nobody wants to pay higher gas prices. That includes the French, who use diesel cars more than any other European country.

That was the spark that lit up the Yellow Vests, or gilets jaunes, who forced the French PM to halt tax hikes on diesel fuel.

President Macron, who rammed through unpopular labor reforms last year, made the mistake of picking a fight that crosses class and party lines. Without a clear demand or leader, the movement is also without any ties to the institutional Left or Right in France.

The organizing started online with a petition and Facebook groups. Nationwide protests grew to 300,000 people by November 17th and held in the six-digits for weeks. More than 70 percent of French voters support the Yellow Vests and less support Macron today than a month ago. So whatever it is, it’s working.

Most of the “members,” if they can be called that, are from rural areas and the suburbs and exurbs of major cities from Paris to Marseilles. They are small business owners, independent contractors, home aides, nurses, and truck drivers. Sounds a little like America. They are fed up with rising prices, decreasing purchasing power, and failing services, while all the gains go to the top 1 percent. Sounds a lot like America, too.

Macron’s other mistake, intentional perhaps, is placing the burden on working people. Nobody wants to pay higher prices, but most people do want to conserve the environment and protect ourselves from imminent effects of global warming. Why not both?

Carbon taxes should be enforced on corporations, not the poor and middle class. Instead of jacking up prices on people who are barely scraping by, any popular and successful transition to renewable energy will require progressive taxation and subsidies for renewable and sustainable energy sources (nuclear, solar, wind, hydro). This way we can afford to save our planet because we have to.

Here in America, we have a similar option. It’s called the Green New Deal.

We also have the option of emulating the French, who didn’t surrender for once. Instead, they fought back and made the government put their neoliberal plans on hold.

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