France shaken by ambiguous 'yellow jackets'

'Yellow jacket' protesters on November 24 in Paris.

In recent weeks, a new protest movement called the “yellow jackets” took to the streets of France. They are protesting the rise of petrol prices, issued by President Emmanuel Macron in order to cut CO2 emissions.

The yellow jackets movement, seemingly spontaneously born on the internet, immediately spread on a national scale. It brought hundreds of thousands of people on the streets of Paris on November 24. The protesters are worried because rising petrol prices will directly affect their everyday life.

However, in stating their apolitical stance, the yellow jackets are quite ambiguous. Firstly, they have refused any affiliation to political parties and unions, despite the claim to be fighting for the rights of workers and everyday people. It seems that the initiators of the movement are middle-class people without political experience.

It is no coincidence that the French right is looking favourably at the yellow jackets. They see in the movement a chance to bring down Macron. On the left, France Unbowed leader Jean-Luc Mélénchon also praised the protesters and their spontaneity, but they appear to be an expression of the impoverished middle class.

Most supporters of the movement come from the suburbs and the rural areas of France. Most are former voters of the left, disillusioned by the record of the Socialist Party and the Communists. A similar process happened in Italy, giving life to the 5 Star Movement.

It is right to fight Macron and European neoliberalism, but there is a risk that such a fight will end up endorsing reactionary policies. As the world-famous Italian philosopher Umberto Eco warned us, the angry and impoverished middle class can be a doorway to fascism, since they are angry and afraid of a further decrease of their purchase power.

We need to understand and sympathise with people’s discontent with the European ruling class, but we need to be careful before endorsing any protest movement.