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Gilets jaunes: Protest of the rural poor? November 30, 2018

Posted by Citizen of Nowhere in Uncategorized.
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Mouvement des gilets jaunes, Andelnans, 24 Nov 2018
The Gilets Jaunes movement in France is threatening an already unpopular Macron government. The movement is blocking roads and petrol stations and clashing with police throughout France. The protest is morphing from a protest against fuel rises, into a general one against another turn of the austerian screw, inflicted by that former great white hope of the European Centrists, Manuel Macron. Macron’s popularity continues to nose-dive.

Interestingly, demographically the GJs are primarily a movement of the working rural poor in France. Urban support is limited.

Anyone who has lived in rural Ireland knows the syndrome; because of the political decision not to provide adequate rural public transport, you are locked into maintaining a poison-spewing monster just to get to work or the shops or to maintain a social life. It’s even worse if both partners are working.

A urbanite can often avoid these costs, and what with the generally lower wages in the country, compulsory car ownership means the real wages of rural workers start at several thousands per year less than their urban equivalents, simply due to the costs of cars.

If you accept the need to use ‘Green market signals’ rather than direct public intervention to effect environmental change (which I don’t) then it makes sense to raise taxes on fuel. However this ignores the needs of rural workers locked into traveling long distances by car every day.

Mouvement des gilets jaunes, Menoncourt, 25 Nov 2018

There’s all sorts of potential for the GJs to become a Poujadist anti-environmental reactionary force, and Le Pen of course has come out in support. But then it could go the other way and be the next wave against centrist austerity.

The CGT trades union has called for support of the GJs as part of a demonstration for social justice tomorrow. There has to be an alternative.

Comments»

1. WorldbyStorm - December 1, 2018

I’m often baffled by the disinterest of the left in rural workers – particularly here in Ireland. There’s a sort of default that only urban workers really ‘count’, and yet talk to Brian Hanley and others and their sense of pools of rural radicalism across the years is very strong. Agree completely, good to see the CGT at least making a bit of an effort there because while some movements aren’t open to progressive influence some can be.

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FergusD - December 1, 2018

The CGT has changed its tune then. It was denouncing them as being far right. No doubt the far right is trying to exert some influence but the lorry driver who started it all is definitely not far right judging by his statements. This is a movement which a radical left should try and give some leadership to. Sadly the CGT doesn’t fall into that category.

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FergusD - December 1, 2018

Also, from my experience I. Rural and small town France it would be very wrong to assume the population is naturally right wing, there is a strong left wing tradition. No doubt most are disenchanted with the SP (PSF) and May be drawn to the answers of the far right, but I don’t think that is inevitable by any means. I don’t see Melenchon as much hope though.

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Pasionario - December 5, 2018

The rural south-west in France is a traditional anti-clerical and Radical (in the historical sense) heartland. And the region still skews to the left.

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CL - December 5, 2018

“The lack of institutional framework is one of the things that sets the yellow vests apart from previous political movements and give them independence from any particular party, politician, or political leaning….
the yellow vests are an amorphous group of people from all different political leanings in France, including socialists, communists, conservatives, far-right extremists, anarchists, and even centrists who identify as former Macron supporters….
the movement has defined itself in opposition of Macron, a man who self-identifies as “neither right nor left,” and so it is neither on the right or left itself. …
we can’t understand the yellow vests without looking at the disintegration of France’s traditional left-right divide. ”
https://qz.com/1482415/the-yellow-vest-protests-are-a-unique-moment-in-french-history/

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rockroots - December 2, 2018

To be fair, the Irish Labour Party was fairly strong among rural labourers. A socially conservative type of activism, for sure, but at times that kept the party afloat nationally. Willie Penrose certainly identifies himself as from that tradition and has spoken about being ostracised by the village priest as a youngster for his trouble. There aren’t rural labourers anymore, mechanisation has done away with them. There ARE farmers with, in some cases, quite a bit of land but who have to take second jobs just to make ends meet, but even Labour seems to have retreated to the towns and suburbs. Michael Fitzmaurice probably best represents rural anger, but he’s pretty far from the left.

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Daniel Rayner O'Connor - December 2, 2018

Exactly. In December 1923, the ITGWU closed its membership to farmworkers as their struggles were too expensive. (This decision buggered it in the small towns, too, but that’s another story). Accordingly, the farmworkers had to depend on the rather LP for any halfway decent deal (they got one in ’36). In return, they kept the party afloat v. FF in the ’30s.

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WorldbyStorm - December 2, 2018

Very fair point RR. I’ve said it before. The Officials in the late 60s-to early 70s ‘open’ iteration, or at least partly open iteration did good work I’m told organising in rural areas amount working class people and it’s telling to me that that was more or less abandoned subsequently by the bright (almost exclusively) boys who thought the urban working class was where it was at.

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2. makedoanmend - December 1, 2018

Thanks for this article WBS. Might we be witnessing a protest movement of the deplorables (or as the USAians might say, those who live in “flyover” country)? From what I’m reading in the Irish MSM the hitherlands beyond the beyond the pales aren’t doing so well. There is grist for the mill, so to speak, but it is Bannon and his type that are trying to organise – or probably capture the market as their lingo would warrant.

I also like that they Gilets jaunes are using such an ubiquitous garment, indicating safety, as a symbol. I don’t know why – just seems practical and possibly quaintly radical.

Organising in rural areas can’t be a picnic. There are different social and cultural bonds that exist in rural areas than those of urban areas in some respect. Traditions about voting patterns run deeply from generation to generation. People are often more socially intimate and know each other’s proclivities and family histories to a great degree. The urge not to rock the boat is paramount. Quite often one doesn’t like to be seen as too different or air one’s views too strongly, but there are exceptions. Rural living involves certain isolation tendencies and one doesn’t want to be more isolated due to strong opinions. Issues in rural areas, while widely connected to national interests, are not completely convergent. In short, it takes a different approach in organising in rural areas and towns, and one will just have to accept that you probably never attract more than a minority of opinion. A social club is probably more efficient than a tight political organisation unless said organisation, like FF, acts as both a source of social meeting along with getting pot-holes on your road fixed.

Mind you, I remember a friend form Dublin saying that one day whilst walking in the city centre a FF member stopped and informed him that he couldn’t get him a job in the civil service right after leaving school. Turns out friend’s Dad has approach the FF apparatchik without telling son. (This was back in the bad days of the 1980s.) I wonder if Dublin still retains a bit of the rural ways of working?

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3. makedoanmend - December 1, 2018

Oh, and thx Citizen of Nowhere – my bad

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4. yourcousin - December 1, 2018

“you are locked into maintaining a poison-spewing monster just to get to work or the shops or to maintain a social life.”

I would point out that it is difficult to advocate for a group whilst simultaneously talking down about their live’s.

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WorldbyStorm - December 1, 2018

Isn’t it true that the dependence upon individual combustion engines is greater in rural areas (of necessity) as distinct from more collective forms of transport elsewhere? That’s no reflection on those who have to use them more – even a bicycle is a non-starter for most in rural areas, and electric cars/trucks are so far the thing of science fiction.

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Citizen of Nowhere - December 2, 2018

I’m not advocating against fuel price rises – they should happen, but in the context of adequate public transport provision and electrification of transport.

But one has to understand the poisonous trap that fossil-fuel-capitalism has locked rural workers into.

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Jim Monaghan - December 3, 2018

Public transport will never be adequate for car lovers, urban or rural. A lot of what goes for “investment” in rural Ireland is for white elephants such as airports. Indeed such is our culture of clientllism and patronage, I cannot see this changing much towards viability etc. A cynical comment, surely the much cheaper housing is some sort of compensation for the extra fuel.

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GW - December 6, 2018

Dead on there Jim, unfortunately.

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5. CL - December 1, 2018

Suicides per 100,000:

Montana: 26

New York: 8.1

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yourcousin - December 2, 2018

And your point is?

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CL - December 2, 2018

That rural areas have serious problems that are being dealt with more adequately in urban environments.

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6. yourcousin - December 2, 2018

On that we are in agreement. I think raising fuel taxes in France is literally another world away from Montana suicides. I also think that plenty of New York State residents live in a rural area so maybe not quite an apple to apples thing.

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CL - December 2, 2018

The rural urban divide is probably not so stark in a very small country such as Ireland, e.g. but in a continental size country such as the U.S. some states are definitely more rural than others. And it is interesting,-politically, socially, demographically, psychologically,-that Montana has the highest suicide rate in the U.S while NY has the lowest.

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yourcousin - December 2, 2018

I obviously can’t speak to other countries urban/rural divide. But yes, here it’s huge, and I find myself firmly straddling it as I was raised with and associate with the rural side of that divide. There are many positive aspects of that side along with a whole slew of things that one might generously describe as problematic.

My original comment aims to high light the fact that if the left doesn’t want to cede that entire spectrum to reactionaries then the very first step is for folks to abide by the golden rule, and engage those folks and their grievances with the same respect that they themselves would want afforded to them.

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CL - December 2, 2018

Exactly.

‘But it is in these places – in “peripheral France” (one could also talk of peripheral America or peripheral Britain) – that many working-class people live…
So if the hike in the price of fuel triggered the yellow vest movement, it was not the root cause. The anger runs deeper, the result of an economic and cultural relegation that began in the 80s…
Western elites have gradually forgotten a people they no longer see. The impact of the gilets jaunes, and their support in public opinion (eight out of 10 French people approve of their actions), has amazed politicians, trade unions and academics, as if they have discovered a new tribe in the Amazon.’
https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/dec/02/france-is-deeply-fractured-gilets-jeunes-just-a-symptom

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7. Citizen of Nowhere - December 2, 2018

France remains a surprisingly large and rural country, which I guess contributes to the impact of the fuel price rises.

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8. Beyond populism… | The Cedar Lounge Revolution - December 6, 2018

[…] CON has some very useful thoughts on the French situation here on the CLR, for those who might have … […]

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9. CL - December 11, 2018

” Macron’s actions upon moving into the Élysée Palace have shown his government to be nothing more than a continuation, by more brutal means, of the politics of deregulation and austerity that his predecessors had championed….when people realized that his “revolution” merely accelerated financial capitalism’s reign—more insecurity, less collective solidarity, each man for himself—the revolt, similarly, sidestepped all intermediary bodies….
The movement is rooted mainly in small provincial towns and is chiefly composed of the lower middle class. Shop owners and craftsmen are heavily represented, but there are also laborers and their children. Notably, women make a far higher proportion of the protesters than usual…
In eighteen months, he has gone from the embodiment of a dynamic France benefiting from globalization to a tritely traditional France for the rich….
the organizational method of the Yellow Vests “corresponds to that of the sans culottes,” the commoners in the earliest moments of 1789, “only with more women.”…
the Yellow Vests embody a revolutionary gesture. The unspoken message that the Yellow Vests are relaying to the power elites is “No more.”
https://www.nybooks.com/daily/2018/12/11/from-sans-culottes-to-gilets-jaunes-macrons-marie-antoinette-moment/

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yourcousin - December 12, 2018

Funny, I’d always thought that Macron represented a concerted effort of the mainstream to keep a Le Pen from power. Not so much a triumphalist center, but a desperate compromise.

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Joe - December 12, 2018

Le Pen has to be odds on to be the next President of the Republic after Macron.
This is not a good thing.

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Fergal - December 12, 2018

Hope not Joe.. as a friend put it to me in the second round run-off between Macron and Le Oen skin to a run- off between Pinochet and Thatcher.. and you’ll end up with Pinochet eventually

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