IN A country whose population has been famous for demonstrating at the drop of a hat, ever since Parisians assaulted the Bastille in 1789, the Yellow Vest movement launched in October 2018 has brought the population to the brink of total breakdown.
While Emanuel Macron’s international image, based on his wide-ranging initiatives, grows exponentially, domestically, he is being challenged as no French president in recent memory. Successes and failures both flow from his self-identification as a ‘Jupiterian’ leader. What works with Angela Merkel and Vladimir Putin, increasingly antagonises French workers and students.
Not only France’s powerful unions, but its free-wheeling rebels refuse to accept a retirement overhaul that would eliminate special regimes for certain professions. Stressed-out train drivers have allied with ballet dancers whose bodies fail them at 35, to oppose the one size fits all project based solely on the number of quarters worked. For the first time, trade unions affiliated with left, right and centre have been joined by the massive, leaderless Yellow Vest movement. But what is most remarkable is that the rest of the citizenry, usually quick to complain about transport stoppages and other inconveniences — as I experienced during several decades of life in France during two different periods — increasingly accepts chaos over Jupiterian order.
A few days ago Emanuel Macron gave a speech to the assembled high brass of France’s military, outlining his defense policies for the coming years. It illustrated both his classical background based on Descartes, and the talent for oratory that attracted the attention of his high school drama coach, whom he eventually married. Macron’s public style owes as much to De Gaulle as to Jupiter, as illustrated last year when a rebellious worker addressed him informally as ‘Manu’, short for Emanuel, only to be told to show respect to the presidency and get back to work.
That exchange was illustrative of the profound change in the culture of French workers’. Breaking with their predecessors who moved in lock-step with their respective unions, right, left or centre, and faced with a choice between short-term jobs and meagre unemployment benefits, they gradually turned a new type of activism. In 2016, they gathered in ‘Up All Night’ outdoor meetings to discuss an ideal future based on direct democracy. Ironically, this contributed to the birth, in 2018, of the Yellow Vests, a Know-Nothing-like movement centred in the provinces, where the Muslim population is expected to increase from 10 per cent. (While not mentioned on its English language channel France 24, the on-line journal Defend Democracy Press posted videos of police violence used in the latest confrontation in Bordeaux).
By 2019, traditional long-lasting strikes were being replaced with direct actions that sap the power of both traditional unions and the government. As examples, Paris militants cut off the electricity in the centrist union’s Paris headquarters and closed the Louvre to tourists, while the Paris Opera Orchestra gave free, outdoor concerts, and French National Radio drowned out its director’s New Years greetings by playing revolutionary anthems.
And then there is the growing opposition to the power that lies in Brussels, raising French awareness of the influence of the United States going back to the creation of The European Union. Presented to voters as more ‘Europe’, it was actually designed to more tightly bind the 28 formerly independent countries to the international banking system and multinational corporations, via Davos, Bilderberg, the OECD, powerful foundations — and NATO.
In his military address, Macron made clear his intention to use France’s independent nuclear power as its get-out-of-the-American jail card. However, he is unlikely to accept the aspirations of French workers for an alternative society based on worker-run industries and a new internationalism in which globalisation will benefit ordinary citizens.
New Eastern Outlook, February 14. Deena Stryker is a US-born international expert, author and journalist who lived in Eastern and Western Europe and has been writing about the big picture for 50 years.