By Claire Dujardin, MSc International Politics
Happy Birthday to you, Gilets Jaunes! It’s been over a year since 17 November 2018, when 282,000 of you demonstrated across the country. The discourse in the media or in everyday conversation seems to recount, either with anger or some kind of nostalgia those Saturdays of chaos as if they were ancient history. However, when I look at what is actually happening, it is confirmed that the protests are by no means dead.
What I see is a government sweeping an entire social crisis under the rug. I see Gilets Jaunes protesters still meeting on their roundabouts every Saturday. There were 28,000 on their anniversary, and although their attendance has dwindled their revendications are still the same. If they’re still here, it is because they haven’t been heard. The ‘Great Debate’ organized by the government was merely a show whose script had already been written. Gilets Jaunes demanded precarity and democracy, the government answered with a new programme yet to be implemented.
The political focus is on start-ups and businesses as if everyone is supposed to wait for wealth to trickle down to them in the form of vindicating showers after a drought.
However, Gilets Jaunes’s sporadic outbursts must not divert us away from a much wider social crisis about to explode at any moment. The Medical sector is especially hard-hit. Health workers were on the streets earlier this month. Their slogan: ‘Save public hospitals’. Since 2005, cut-backs worth nine billion euros have been imposed on hospitals. Degrading the quality of health and the working conditions of medical personnel. The capacity of 39 hospitals, in and around Paris, has been cut by more than 900 hospital beds. Done in the name of increasing efficiency in hospitals has led to a situation in which professionals, who are saving lives, must do so at the cost of others.
It is not just the working classes that face difficulties, Students are affected as well. On 8 November, Anas, a student from Lyon attempted self-immolation due to adverse living conditions. Students who only have scholarship money to rely on have to sacrifice their health or have to take on jobs on the side which compromise their studies. In 2018, 42% of French students declared having given up on a medical consultation, 40% of them for financial reasons. Such issues are faced by the vast majority of people. In 2014, a study showed that 19.1% of students in France lived under the poverty threshold. This is after the fact that 46% of French students work (in a system in which school is nearly free). Keep in mind that it is proven that the probability of passing the year is 43 percentage points higher in France if you don’t have a job on the side.
Yet the government is sticking its head in the sand over these issues, pretending not to see them. The political focus is on start-ups and businesses as if everyone is supposed to wait for wealth to trickle down to them in the form of vindicating showers after a drought. Even more sickening is the government’s practice of using distractions in the form of immigrant rhetoric to shift the discourse away from its failings. There sure is something magnetic about this subject in French politics.
The government is accumulating too many skeletons in its closet to keep it closed forever. It has to hear the demands of the people it governs. So please, Gilets Jaunes, on your anniversary I am not giving you a gift. Instead, I am asking you for one. Unite your struggles with other movements and make the general strike on 5 December a success.