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More on the Gilets Jaunes January 12, 2019

Posted by Citizen of Nowhere in Uncategorized.

There is a lot of misinformation in the media about the GJs and this citizen was happy to attend a presentation from the political scientist Lev Lhommeau (Catholic University of Leuven) at the Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung about the current state of play. His information was based on a group of French social scientists who have taken the trouble to do representative surveys within the movement and its supporters. Unlike so much of the media, who have been flummoxed by the lack of spokespeople and leaders that they can talk to.

Here are some highlights from the notes I took.

Attitudes to political parties and trades unions

“Neither left nor right” is commonly used by the far right to disguise their rightist nature. 30% of GJs describe themselves in this way, which reflects their alienation from the intermediary institutions – an academic term for political parties, trades unions and other civil institutions which should enable the citizen to influence the actions of the state. Some associate with political parties of the left and right – see below – but they would be a minority.

81% think political parties shouldn’t be represented in their movement and 64% think trades unions should not be involved. But some sections of the movement have shown solidarity with striking workers, especially the hyper-exploited like Amazon warehouse workers.

Social profile of the GJs

According to the research typical GJs have the following profile:

– Middling education – they are not uneducated, but mostly haven’t gone to university – I guess something like Leaving Cert in Ireland.
– The age spectrum like the typical population but with rather fewer young people
– They are predominantly rural and small town based – see my previous post
– 45% are women – with working-class women prominent as organisers rather than the usual over-representation of middle-class women
– 47% have never taken part in any political action before
– At work they take orders (few are even lower management) or are single self-employed.

Where should we place the JGs on the political spectrum?

Questionnaires among the activists present an interesting picture. Compared with the general population those who don’t identify as ‘neither left nor right’, identify significantly with more with left – especially with the more radical left. There’s a decisive dip in the centre and then a small peak on the radical right. But the spectrum is skewed decisively to the left. At least at the moment.

What evidence is there that the GJs have been captured by the far right?

It isn’t there at the moment.

Immigration is a pressing issue for just 1% of the GJs questioned. About 8% of them support Le Pen’s RN, compared with about 12% for France Insoumise. The right has expressed increasing frustration about not being able to capture the GJs for their racist and Poujadist politics.

Polling suggests that the Le Pen’s party remains at a high level of 24% coming up the European elections, but the period of the GJs ‘Acts’ haven’t led to an increase in the Nationalist Rally’s support.

The materialism of survivors

The GJs see themselves in context of Brecht’s line “Erst kommt das Fressen, dann kommt die Moral.” (First grub, then morals). They are just about surviving on an average wage of under €1800 per month, and having to run a car even to be able to go to a supermarket, let alone work. Thus the phrase from one of the GJ women “we worry about what’s going to happen to us at the end of the month, never mind what’s going to happen to the planet in one hundred years!”.

However in many of the discussions about goals many would like to see a combination of livable conditions and ecological sustainability. It’s just that that isn’t an option for them under current capitalist conditions in France.

State repression

The repression of the GJs by the 5th Republic has been vicious. There have been twelve killed in the violence so far (including a pensioner who got a tear gas grenade in the face while standing at her window), and hundreds of injuries. The police use rubber bullets freely which has led to eyes shot away, and the exploding tear gas grenades have caused loss of limbs. Kangaroo courts for ‘rioters’ mean that people arrested have only summary justice.

The support for the GJs in France among the general population has dipped slightly but remains remarkably high (well over 50%) given the propaganda by the state and the media, and the levels of violence.

The GJs as an expression of the political crisis of the 5th republic

Each of the five last Presidents of the French republic have seen a decline of their popularity and legitimacy during their term of office. Each one has declined faster than the other, with Macron’s decline beating all records.

The presidential system designed to cement De Gaulle’s power is no longer fit for the challenges of a France during a period of ongoing crisis of capitalism.

How will the movement end?

Recent political movements seem to either win their specific goals (Irish water and pro-choice movements), morph into political parties (15-M -> Podemos) or fade away. What’s going to happen to the JGs remains to be seen.


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