Yellow Vests: The Lessons of May 1st 2019

This May 1st 2019 was the perfect demonstration of the continuity and tenacity of a now historic popular movement. Historical by its duration, because never in France has a social revolt held as long, despite all the strategies aimed at extinguishing it, as 25 weeks, and no sign of weakness in terms of both the street and the public’s support. Historical by its composition, because every demonstration, week after week, eludes all the prognoses in terms of number and aspect.

Traditionally, May 1st, Workers’ Day, has always been the flagship date for unions and organisers of marches throughout France, but also abroad.

Symbolic of the class struggle, it is a moment when all those who incarnate it and find themselves in this symbol, group together to recognise themselves, to mesh, to remember and to show that they are always conscious of this need to maintain a union against the other side, the one that benefits from the control of the working class.

Yet for two years now, the configuration of this May 1st has mutated and even finds a revolutionary inspiration …

The fight against the labor law was the first result, and we especially remember the offensive demonstrations of 2016, 2017, and 2018, with the birth of an extremely massive and closely-knitted leading procession, which resulted in fierce repression and the withdrawal of a union completely overwhelmed by the events.

This May 1st 2019 the tension was palpable for already a few days.

The proliferation of calls to “riot” on social networks showed that the patience of Yellow Vests was exhausted, faced with the permanent humiliation of the state, and the panicky response of the government had sown an atmosphere of anxiety, which was certainly desired.

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A large reinforcement of “fake news” – with incessant rumours of the arrival in Paris of thousands of Germans determined to “do battle”, and the imminence of a danger of rioting – aimed at dissuading the potential protesters to go out in the streets.

What jumped out at us was the number in the morning, at Montparnasse, which totally escaped the usual rules of the union format, both in terms of timing and its composition.

While the trade union procession was supposed to start at 14:00, at noon the crowd rushed towards Place d’Italie.

We know what happened next – encirclement, the brutal stopping of the procession from the beginning, clashes at Vavin, violent arrests, and all of this is now the proven tactics of the government and its police.

Anxiety, tension, deaf and palpable however, was felt from the beginning, and the word “revolution” had a special flavour, chanted by a crowd that felt ready to continue, not only for social demands, but for the ultimate demand – FREEDOM.

We wondered what argument Castaner and all of his clique could still find to humiliate and try to make inaudible the cries of suffering of angry people…

And here the government’s inventiveness is very beautiful.

Nasty breakers opted to attack patients in intensive care ….

The day after, the unions and staff of the Pitié-Salpétrière hospital denied in unison the media and state’s interpretation of this incident, very clearly provoked by the relentless police harassment of students and other demonstrators, who through panic entered the hospital grounds to protect themselves from the ceaseless gassing and police charges.

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Even the unions faced the indiscriminate violence of these forces of “order” (this, however, was not unpredictable, because in 2018 the police service of CGT was attacked by the police) with the exfiltration of the Secretary General Philippe Martinez, outraged, a little naively (?) by this violence.

Must we remind here that this violence has been present for a long time, and that it has no more aimed at a trade union procession than any demonstrator?

On May 1st 2019 the unions, on the whole, found themselves in an unprecedented situation where (despite them?), the popular convergence, so much spoken about for already 2 years, was spontaneously set up.

A leading procession? No!

Union activists in the rear?

Also no!

THE leading processions, and a unexpected beautiful patchwork of protesters, like bees, organised themselves spontaneously, in order to ally themselves for the strong or calmer moments, at the front of the march, in the middle, at the rear, and they made unfailing solidarity work in order to be able to exist together until the end of this memorable march.

The government’s attempts to stop the movement did not start yesterday, they started as early as December 1st, when the revolt had taken an almost insurrectional turn.

The main thing is to quickly become conscious of it (often after a night of thinking over events), because these evenings of demonstration, where everyone has given all their strength in the name of this beautiful fight, often lead to phases of spleen, what could be more human and natural?

The “grapes of wrath” are vivid and everything is possible through this incredible elan.

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So the strength of the group action could well overwhelm the action of the force of repression.

A matter of time?

The subsequent episodes will tell…

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