Gilets jaunes et coups de gueules

The subversive messages started going around on Facebook in October. It was all very hush-hush, in the spirit of the resistance that characterizes such movements in France. The gist was this: Stop! Enough already. The French people are already taxed to death. It is time to stand up and say no more. Ça suffit!

In protest against the latest round of price hikes at the gas pumps, 60% of which is tax, we were urged to get out our high-visibility vests on November 17 and join the protests and blockades to bring the country to a halt.

So was born the popular movement of ‘les gilets jaunes’ – the yellow vests – in France. The name is a natural as every French vehicle is required to have one of these on board.

And then, a couple of weeks ago, this video went viral.

Its author, Jacline Mouraud, has become the unlikely, sweet-faced spokesperson for the movement. Or perhaps not so unlikely. Because she speaks a certain amount of truths, simply but with heart. And there is no denying that the Macron government seems to be tone deaf to the outrage of the working poor, those who earn the minimum wage of around 1200 euros net per month (9 EUR per hour).

As she asks the government: What are you doing with all that extra money from our higher gas prices, the radar traps, the ‘contrôles techniques’ on older vehicles? Other than buying new dishes for the Elysée Palace or updating your swimming pools!

She also spews quite a bit of misleading information – fake news, in popular parlance. There is no ‘carte grise’ or license for bicycles, nor a government plot to get us all riding around on trottinettes.

But it has got a lot of angry French people out to protest since Saturday.

Sadly, two people were killed and over 600 injured, among both protesters and the police. And it ain’t over yet.

The higher prices for gas, especially for drivers of diesel vehicles of which the poor represent the majority, is just the tip of the iceberg. The ‘ras le bol’ (sense of being fed up) among the French goes beyond the government’s carbon tax to compensate for new, more ecologically friendly, modes of transport. Even the poorest taxpayers understand the need to cut pollution. It is the fact that people here feel their purchasing power diminishing, that seniors can no longer count on their pensions to cover the cost of living, that working people cannot make ends meet.

It is a context that is popular and political and fired by a sense of social injustice. I hear rumblings of student protests and if that happens, well…who knows?

What do you think about the ‘yellow vests’?


  1. Susanne · November 22, 2018

    The yellow vests are a brilliant form of protest making it obvious the protesters are the visible majority. The whole business of taxing I understand, too. Universal healthcare, for instance, in Canada is taxpayer funded. But governments should be accountable, too. Another form of protest, harkening to the Revolution – dress as a piece of cake. But the vests are easier.

    • MELewis · November 22, 2018

      Yes, it is a brilliant idea, isn’t it? I read a comparison with the ‘bonnets rouges’ of the Bretons in 2013, but I must admit the yellow vests are far more visible!

  2. Dale · November 22, 2018

    It feels like I am in Quebec. Wait. I AM in Quebec… which,of course, is the most taxed of all the provinces… we did follow French rule and laws, didn’t we?
    IT is a most interesting protest gesture.

    • MELewis · November 23, 2018

      Interesting that the historic taxed-to-death tradition still carries on in Quebec. How much does gas cost per litre in your parts? Around here it’s about 1.45 EUR at the cheaper supermarkets.

      • Suzanne et Pierre · November 23, 2018

        Gas is still much cheaper in Canada/Quebec than in Europe. Recently, it has gone done to about 1.15$ (about .75 E) so we are still good… I do understand the protest but don’t understand the violence that is surrounded it… (Suzanne)

  3. Gus Fergusson · November 22, 2018

    Im just glad were going to be out of it. Cooperatives have always had a doubtful future which is just what the EU is!

    • MELewis · November 23, 2018

      I hope you get what you wish for. I’m still not convinced you ever will be out of it! 😛

  4. Katherine Wikoff · November 22, 2018

    The yellow vests are brilliant. It’s interesting to learn that every vehicle is required to have them on board. It adds a touch of irony for the protest’s symbol to be an item that’s another example of government control over drivers.

    • MELewis · November 23, 2018

      Yes, and even more ironic that one of the protestors campaigning for lower gas prices was killed when run down by a panicked driver trying to get her daughter to the hospital!

      • Katherine Wikoff · November 23, 2018

        That’s really terrible and very sad. I haven’t seen anything about these protests yet in our press. Of course, we have plenty of our own bad things happening to fill our newspapers and broadcasts!

  5. coteetcampagne · November 22, 2018

    While my sympathies are with the protesters, down here we have a distinct trend toward the kind of thugs who would give football hooligans a bad name manning the barricades.
    Plus we cannot fuel our cars, our small businesses are critically affected, and the very expensive venue booked months ago for pre Christmas promotion will now be devoid of customers, as no one wants to run the gamut of the protestors and road blockages.. And no, I won’t be getting a refund on my fees

    • MELewis · November 23, 2018

      How awful. I was listening to an analyst saying that the movement would lose support if the protestors go too far in terms of their behaviour so they may defeat their own purpose. I do agree it’s a shame to let small businesses suffer at this time of year especially. Hopefully it will fizzle out soon!

  6. The Pink Agendist · November 23, 2018

    I’m against them from every angle. The conditions of the “working poor” in France are comparatively excellent (in regard to most of the rest of the world.) This idea of the state as a parent instead of a partner isn’t good in a general sense. Over-reliance hinders progress.

    • MELewis · November 23, 2018

      I see your point and agree in principle. But most people don’t see the big picture in terms of how well off they are compared to the rest of the world…and many French view the state as a beneficent paternal figure who will protect them. The government should be smart and choose its battles wisely or face the wrath of its constituents.

      • The Pink Agendist · November 23, 2018

        Isn’t that the point? A beneficent paternal figure has expenses, and the money has to come from somewhere. All these things the French govt. offers, considerably more than say, the Spanish government – have enormous costs. One of the classic French authors, I can’t remember which one, once said something like “France is a paradise where all the residents think they’re in hell.”

      • MELewis · November 23, 2018


  7. davidprosser · November 23, 2018

    Over all, I am in favour of the yellow jackets.They are very flexible, lending themselves to cover any and every protest.Deciding to not use gas for a day won’t impact the retailers or the Government coffers too hard at first but repeats certainly would. Each little hike in the duty is felt in the pocket of the public and is a relatively easy way for Governments to raise money but the effect on the poorly paid is just to reduce the amount of driving it’s possible to do. Good for the Environment but bad for the feeling of those who already feel the fuel charges are to much. Time for the protesters to apply more pressure or time for the Government to find another method f raising revenue for a time?

    • MELewis · November 24, 2018

      You are right, David, it’s definitely time for the government to find a better way to fill its coffers than through the gas pumps. But I think it boils down to much more than gas prices — people are really up in arms about being taxed on so many levels. Where it gets more complicated is that many of the protestors are violent and want to ‘casser’ and clash with the police. We are seeing that today on the Champs Elysées. Maybe it won’t hurt the shop owners on that ritzy stretch but there are many independent business owners who count on this time of year to make their living. Lovely to hear from you as ever! xo

  8. awtytravels · November 24, 2018

    I’m well and truly ambivalent about this. Italy, often lagging behind in many fields, has been a precursor for this sort of protests. We had the “movement of pitchforks” and, of course, let us not forget the M5S with its “F**k off days”.
    I sympathise with those taxed to death, I sympathise with those on a term contract at 1000 euro/month, I really and truly do. But I don’t with those who’ve always worked “in the black”, not paying a single euro in taxes, then protesting because they get minimum pension. I don’t sympathise with those who moan that there’s no work, and yet the company my brother works for ALWAYS struggles to get factory workers (at 1500/month in a place where a mortgage is 350/month) because nobody can be bothered to apply – and there are many such examples in Italy.
    I feel for France, because when this popular rage is stuffed in the ballot box you end up with a government of cretins (I was about to use a shorter, four-letter, word starting with c) like we have on our side of the Alps. Stick with Macron guys, you don’t want to be in our same ship!

    • MELewis · November 24, 2018

      Well said, Fabrizio, and I can certainly see your point. It’s not easy to get by on the minimum wage but it’s also easy to complain without doing anything about it. There is a real lack of willingness to do the low-paying jobs around here too, especially given our proximity to much higher paid work in Switzerland. So far we have been lucky to avoid the extremes in politics but I fear what the future holds if people refuse to see that change is needed. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and hope that things get better in Italy before long!

      • awtytravels · November 24, 2018

        Well, it’d be hard to get them any worse, even though they’re doing their damnedest to!

  9. francetaste · November 26, 2018

    I was offline when you posted this, but I have to say that protesting a tax on diesel–which turns out to pollute far more than car makers had said–is a bit like smokers protesting higher cigarette taxes. The majority of cars I see with gilets jaunes are the diesel-guzzling 4x4s. I feel no sympathy for the driver of a Qashqai complaining that it’s going to cost him more to dirty the air.
    While the minimum wage is low, France does a pretty good job of redistributing income. Low-wage workers get quite a few benefits that phase out as income rises. As it should be. The thing is, that in larger, costlier cities, the minimum wage is no higher, and I don’t know but I bet the benefits aren’t either.

    • MELewis · November 27, 2018

      The whole thing is such a mess. People are essentially laying the responsibility for years of loss of buying power at Macron’s door. I guess the increase in diesel fuel is just ‘la goutte qui fait déborder le vase’. Aside from the president’s proposed measures on energy, which are never going to satisfy the gilets jaunes, today I heard on the news that the government would now cover the cost of condoms with a doctor’s prescription. Good god! I have nothing against prevention of STDs but this ‘mentalité assistée’ is driving me mad!

      • francetaste · November 27, 2018

        I didn’t know about the condoms, but I think it’s good–STDs aside, it acknowledges some responsibility on guys for birth control.
        As for how people feel about purchasing power, the Gini index (which measures income inequality) has gone up after a few years of decline, but the big jump was from 2006 to 2007. OTOH, France is doing great compared to the U.S., which even in 1979 (oldest data available) was worse than France is now, and things have just gotten more dire.

  10. fatdormouse · December 1, 2018

    I’m totally pissed off with the yellow jackets. I can’t imagine that Mr Macron gives a toss that my journey home is disrupted for 40 minutes because of some people blocking the road. I don’t suppose THEY give a toss that if I’m late for a lesson I lose money. I have a colleague whose elderly mother was traumatised when one of the protestors opened her car doors and yelled in her face because she didn’t have her yellow jacket prominently displayed.
    HOWEVER Whether the hike in fuel prices is environmentally led, people like us who live miles from any working railway, with two buses a day (6.30 am and 7.30 pm) rely on their cars. We have no choice.
    So, TBH, while I don’t really support the actions of the YJs I do support their cause. I just think they need to be doing something other than disrupting the every day lives of those they claim they are trying to help.

    • MELewis · December 1, 2018

      It is legitimate to support the cause but not the actions. I sympathize that you are caught in the middle and being personally hit without feeling that anyone cares about your voice. I just wish people would stop protesting and start working together to find real solutions to the problems we face. That may sound simplistic and naïve, but no more so than those who criticize Macron, surely the best president France has seen in a great many years, without suggesting any real solutions.

  11. avriii · December 5, 2018

    Very interesting read 🙂 I think that from afar I agreed with Macron’s carbon tax – perhaps because mainstream news had made it seem like a necessity against climate change and possibly it is – but now that I am here in Paris I feel differently and as if the problems really do come from the fact that there is such a distance between the decisions being made for a people and those making the decisions. Then again I wonder if anyone from the gilets jaunes movement would step up and get into politics? I don’t support the violence but it is hard not to support the movement of people determined to make their voices heard.

    • MELewis · December 6, 2018

      Thanks for adding your perspective! Interesting to here from an expat in Paris at the moment. It’s funny, here in province there is a feeling that it’s the Parisians and the rest of the country — as if those in the capital live in a bubble that is entirely disconnected from the hinterland. I guess the issues runs deeper than that and affect the whole country. I just wish people would see that destroying property is no way to get things done…how about dialogue, discussion and negotiation? It breaks my heart to see the damage and I fear it’s far from over. 😢

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