By LISA LOUIS
On Sunday afternoon, thousands of protesters gathered at the Place de la Nation in northeastern Paris waving signs labelled “Stop Tax Evasion” and “I want a 52% Pay Rise Just Like the CEO of Total.” The demonstrators were hoping the march against rising living costs and government inaction on climate change would mark the beginning of a nationwide protest movement. Some analysts also think it could be the start of something much bigger and more widespread. “We want to fight against government policies — they only ever take away money from the poorest,” one man wearing a denim jacket and a yellow scarf was yelling into a microphone from the cargo area of a small truck.
“Yes!” the crowd in front of him replied. “We will participate in every action to resist against these unfair policies,” Vincent Gay, the man on the truck, told DW shortly after. The 46-year-old member of Attac, an NGO fighting for social and environmental justice, added that his group was in favor of higher salaries, freezing prices for certain basic goods and decisive action against climate change.
Attac, just like numerous other NGOs, had joined a march organised by the so-called Nupes coalition . The left-wing alliance, which first came together for French parliamentary elections earlier this year, includes far-left party France Unbowed (LFI), France’s Socialist Party, the Greens and the Communist Party. Unions hadn’t officially joined the march — although the crowd included some of their members. Nupes was also asking to bring down the pension age from 62 to 60, and calling for a basic income for young people.
LFI’s former presidential candidate Jean-Luc Melenchon was in the front row among the protesters. He told journalists that the march was the first day of a cycle of protests. “You’ll experience a week like no other — this will be the combination of all forces,” he said. Then, he declared the demonstration a success, saying there had been 140,000 participants. Police later put that number at roughly 30,000. Melenchon had been hinting at a strike planned for this Tuesday. Unions for teachers, employees of the energy sector and employees at railroad company SNCF and Parisian metro company RATP will all participate.
This comes after weeks-long strikes at the majority of France’s refineries that have led to higher fuel prices and shortages. Employees there have been asking for higher wages and better working conditions. The government now fears the march, together with the upcoming strike day, could be the start of a month-long protest movement — especially as President Emmanuel Macron’s team is working on a pension reform to increase the retirement age from 62 to up to 65. Bruno Cautres, political scientist at the Paris-based Center for Political Research at Sciences Po University, thinks such a protest wave could indeed be in the offing.
“Today’s march has attracted a considerable number of participants,” he told DW. “That shows how deeply unjust many people feel our system is — also, as they realise some employees are paid a lot more than others,” Cautres added. But Philippe Crevel, a Paris-based economist and founder of think tank Cercle de l’Epargne, points out that compared to certain other countries, France’s economy isn’t doing that badly.
“Inflation stands at 5.6% compared to an average 10% across Europe — also because the government has been capping electricity price rises for households and subsidising fuel prices,” he told DW. He added that France’s GDP was predicted to grow by up to 1% next year, whereas a recession was looming in neighboring countries such as Germany.
This article was provided by Deutsche Welle