“Yellow Vests vs the EU”: A Debate Full of Vivacity and Radicalism in Paris

A packed house at the Bourse du Travail for a real debate, during the close of the grand debate of Macron, and a stone’s throw from the European elections. On the platform, figures like Jérôme Rodrigues, Torya Akroum of the Rungis collective, François Boulo, the “lawyer of the Yellow Vests, or Juan Branco, a lawyer close to the La France insoumise; but also researchers like Ludivine Bantigny or the sociologist Frédéric Pierru. A warm atmosphere and slogans chanted in unison that dominate the room.

Against anti-social neoliberal Europe…

It is 7pm at the Bourse du Travail, Boulevard du Temple in Paris, and the 500 seats of the room are already occupied, while the crowd continues to flock to attend the debate: Yellow Vests versus the European Union. In front of an attentive public, the guests followed one another to portray an unequal and austere “Europe of markets”, subjected to neoliberalism, the “dictatorship of the ultra-rich”. If the analyses on the origins of the antisocial nature of the EU diverge, everyone stresses the stakes of the European elections for the Yellow Vests.

Bantigny, the first to speak, spoke about the “trap” of the divide “for and against Europe” that is imposed on us, and which can only be escaped by taking the subject “head on”. Pierru, in turn, compared the march of “Macronian progressivity” to a “moonwalk”, a march backwards from progress, and it opposes the internationalism that runs through the working classes in Europe. Juan Branco, who spoke after him, characterised this election as a “democratic parody”. “Do not use it,” he advises. Following him, François Boulo, taking up the Macronian dilemma, “it’s me or chaos”, said: “I want to take the risk!”. After the grand debate, “good riddance”, Rodrigues summed up Macron’s program for a Europe in which “you walk or you die”. And Torya Akroum concluded the roundtable: “It is not Europe that imposes, but indeed the big bosses and the French government”. “Going back to the root” of the problem – this slogan seems to be the consensus.

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Only one meaningful answer: struggle and solidarity

It would be wrong to consider the Yellow Vests as a homogeneous political subject. The opinions expressed were very diverse and the disagreements did not fail to be forcefully pointed out in a very reactive room. But many statements seem to have won over the public, for the most part; like the calls for May 1st, to put insurrectional scenarios back on the agenda: “If they seek this confrontation, it is likely that they will find it. We have reached a breaking point. This era of impunity is coming to an end,” warned Juan Branco. Or calls for internationalism, with these words of Torya: “We workers, unemployed, retirees, students, we have our social class in common with other European countries […] The real problem is not immigration but the distribution of wealth” – a statement that was greeted by bursts of applause.

Another highlight of the evening is when Jérôme Rodrigues reported the presence in the room of the daughter of Zineb Redouane, the woman in her 80’s who died following the shooting of a tear gas grenade in Marseille in Act 3 while she closed her shutters. Standing, the Yellow Vests paid a long tribute to her with a lot of emotion.

After a few animated questions/answers concerning the need or not to participate in the European elections, the debate focused on the national situation, evoking the end of the grand debate but also making the link with the state of the various struggles in progress, like that of teachers. Reports have been drawn on the recent struggles, particularly on the railway workers’ strike. “They should not have to dictate our strike,” Torya insists, questioning the union bureaucracies before proclaiming “The union base, it is already a Yellow Vest”. During the debates on Europe there were multiple positions, but the will of reconsideration appeared, which, as Ludivine Bantigny summed up, is not translated as a nationalist issue but as a “solidarity between peoples”.

The evening concluded with Victor Hugo: “Nothing is stronger than an idea whose time has come”. And Boulo added, “This time has come”. The room engaged in singing. Quite an atmosphere.

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Jules Fevre, Revolution Permanente

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