Macron’s answer: Threats and bread crumbs

December 12, 2018

After nearly a month of mass mobilizations across France, including mass confrontations with police, road blockades and transportation strikes, the “yellow vest” protests forced neoliberal President Emmanuel Macron into a humiliating plea for calm on national television on Monday night.

The scale of Macron’s climbdown should not be underestimated, given his contempt for the demands of working people during his reign. As Cole Stangler wrote at the Nation: “He has mocked union demonstrators in the past for being ‘lazy’ and ‘cynical’ and criticized his predecessors in the Élysée Palace for too easily succumbing to the demands of their critics. This presidency, Macron assured, would stick to its business-friendly reform agenda — even when unpopular. As the former investment banker and economy minister put it bluntly last fall, ‘democracy is not in the street.’”

Macron swept into power in the spring of 2017 as a supposed alternative to France’s mainstream conservative and social-democratic parties, and his newly formed party commands an absolute majority in the National Assembly and Senate. Mistaking his victory at the polls for solid popular support, Macron has tried to position himself as a “new man” of Europe, who simultaneously befriends Donald Trump as a legitimate interlocutor, while hoping to talk him into treating the European Union as an equal — for instance, by applying mild rhetorical pressure criticizing Trump for pulling out of the Paris climate accords.

Meanwhile, in France, Macron has pursued vicious anti-immigrant and anti-union policies designed to keep the country in a state of fear while gutting social spending and lowering wages. The last straw was a so-called pro-environmental gas tax that fell nearly entirely on the poor and working classes, finally translating simmering anger at Macron’s agenda into mass protests, starting in November.

Now, the protests are spreading to Belgium, the Netherlands and the Central African Republic, a former French colony. Plus the universities: dozens of campuses have been blockaded by tens of thousands of French students protesting a 1,000 percent (yes, 1,000 percent) fee increase for non-European Union students who want to study in France.

Macron has some cards to play and is far from defeated. He is hoping temporary concessions and massive repression will knock the “yellow vest” movement off the streets—and the shootings at a Christmas fair in Strasbourg on Tuesday evening will surely tempt him to play the anti-terror card. But it may not be so easy to convince people to retreat. The next test will come on Saturday with planned nationwide protests, some even calling for Macron to resign.

France’s New Anticapitalist Party issued this statement responding to Macron’s speech, translated by Todd Chretien, who wrote this introduction.

WE WEREN’T expecting much, as the ministers had been peppering the media for two days...and we were indeed not disappointed. However, Macron’s speech tonight revealed the nature of his policy, even as it falters against the movement of “yellow vests.”

First, it demonstrated that his method is based on brutality. That Macron’s speech begins with the question of “violence” won’t be surprising. “Calm and the republican order...must reign” — but at what price? From yellow vests to high school students, all teargassed, all beaten, and Macron simply promises that it will continue.

A mass "yellow vest" demonstration in Marseille, France
A mass "yellow vest" demonstration in Marseille, France

Then there is always the same social contempt. “I do not forget that there is anger, an indignation — many French people can share it,” he says, adding without cracking a smile that he finds their anger “just in many ways.” Who is he trying to kid? He is an agent of the rich, who wants now to make us believe in his empathy towards the most downtrodden?

Finally, he offers a catalogue of bread crumbs, followed by a lot of hot air: This is the extent of wealth redistribution flavoring the Macronist sauce. He serves up a musty dish that former Socialist Party President François Hollande offered not long ago in his “state of economic and social emergency.”

Most of the measures presented by Macron show that the president knows how to be generous...with public money, and without ever touching capital, the money of the richest.

The wages of workers receiving minimum wage will increase by 100 euros per month? The capitalists reassure themselves, it will cost them nothing since it will only recalculate full-time hours. What about overtime? Yes, without taxes or social security contributions...Even worse than former conservative president Sarkozy! What about an end-of-year bonus for employees? Sure, but at the discretion of the bosses.

And of course, we aren’t talking about a restoration of a recent small tax on the rich, are we? No, because “going back would weaken us”...The reality is that Macron’s whole policy will push us back! In the end, only retirees who earn less than 2,000 euros per month will be happy to see the unjust rise in their taxes suffered this year finally canceled. All this struggle for this?

After this speech that said nothing, the movement of yellow vests will continue, joined by the youth who know there will be more days of mobilization. Act Five of our movement is gearing up for next weekend, and all discontent must come together then.

The time is now for a general mobilization, for a blockage of the country, including a strike. Faced with this deep movement against the high cost of living, Macron must give in: put an end to unjust taxes, make the rich pay, increase wages and incomes. We can roll them back.

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