More striking, however, has been the complete lack of interest from the media and politicians on this side of the Channel.
The most significant wave of protests since 1968 has been happening for the past 26 weeks – for nearly six months – and yet it barely elicits a reaction on these shores. This is a movement of people demanding greater democratic and economic control. They are fighting against a neoliberal order that has eviscerated their living standards and robbed them of their communities and of social solidarity. It ought to be a natural cause for the left. So where are the stump speeches expressing solidarity? Where are the parliamentary Early Day Motions? Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has in the past signed or initiated Early Day Motions expressing solidarity with far-flung Venezuela, Palestine and many others. But nothing on the gilets jaunes. And why haven’t Britain’s supposedly ‘internationalist’, pro-EU trade-union leaders extended their support to struggling French workers?
Even more worrying is the silence towards the French government’s growing authoritarianism. At the time of writing, independent journalist David Dufresne has counted over 780 separate and verifiable serious injuries caused by police violence. Protesters have had their hands blown off and scores have lost an eye. Macron’s government has introduced new laws banning unsanctioned protests and censoring so-called fake news (aka anti-establishment content) on social media. Opposition leaders have had their offices raided and prosecutors have attempted to conduct warrantless searches of investigative newspapers. Imagine the chorus of condemnation if this were happening in Viktor Orban’s Hungary? Yet there is barely a murmur of disapproval against France’s liberal strongman.
But the real cause of this indifference is an awareness, at least on some level, of who the gilets jaunes are, their place in society and what they are fighting against. Many of the yellow vests are in the same demographic as the ‘deplorables’ in Trump’s America and the ‘gammon’ of Brexit Britain, who are widely loathed by the political and media establishment. Not only that, the gilets jaunes are fighting against an undemocratic, neoliberal order that is backed by all wings of the generally pro-EU establishment. They are yet another manifestation of the populist insurgency that is tearing up the political rulebook across Europe. This is why the gilets jaunes terrify observers in the UK – and it is also why they deserve our solidarity.
“We no longer wish to suffer the decisions of European authorities and the diktats of the castes of financiers and technocrats who have forgotten the most important things: the human being, solidarity and the planet.”
So said a statement by one yellow vests group led by Ingrid Levavasseur, an unemployed nursing assistant from Normandy who has organized the filing of ten candidates for European elections.
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