French ‘yellow vests’ interviewed

Some Yellow Vest demonstrators in Albert, France

Translated from Dutch NOS TV today, by Heleen D’Haens:

These yellow vests have been at a French roundabout for weeks and intend to stay there

In the middle of a roundabout near the center of Albert, a small town in the North of France, a Christmas tree is decorated with fluorescent yellow garlands. “Of course we are ready to celebrate Christmas here”, says Mireille Severin (52) laughing, “If we have to celebrate Easter here, we will.”

‘We’ is about fifty people who have been at the roundabout every day since 17 November, the start of the protests in France, every day from 9 am to 5 pm. Even now that President Macron has canceled the increase in the tax on fuel, they continue with it. “He does that to appease us”, says Severin. “But we want more, we want some real change.”

What is the ‘real change’ that the demonstrators in the yellow vests want? What are they demonstrating against? We asked five demonstrators in Albert.

Paulette Verdez

Paulette Verdez, 75, retired:

“My husband and I are mainly here for our grandchildren. Our granddaughter is 22 and has a diploma as a caretaker, but she has not been able to find a job for a year. That should not be possible, really? So we come here every day, until five o’clock in the evening. I bring something tasty for everyone every day.

We do not have it easy either. My husband is 80, every month he receives a 400 euro pension. If we are unable to make ends meet at the end of the month, then we will walk through the fields to pick up beets. We sell them in the city. Really. I am not ashamed to tell that: we can not do otherwise. That’s why we’re here.”

Anthony Langlet

Anthony Langlet, 29, unemployed:

“Every month I have 730 euros, to spend them on rent, electricity, the car, food … Every day I am calculating, if I want to go to the McDonald’s I have to think first: can I pay it? No more hobbies, doing nothing in my free time … I lost a lot of friends.

For me, this government is not actually a government. They are bankers, they only think of profit-profit-profit, at the cost of their citizens. In order to solve that, I think the entire system has to change drastically. We need a parliament in which both rich and poor people are represented, according to their numbers in France. I may ask for much, but I think it is possible. Even though Mr. Macron thinks very differently about that.”

Jérémy Casubosqui

Jérémy Casubosqui, 22, unemployed:

“I am only 22 years old, this is my first demonstration. I can not find a work as a stonemason in the area, so I am here all day, from 9 am to 5 pm. I take pictures for our pages on social media. Who knows, I’ll get better at it, and I can become a photographer, that’s my passion.

I do not go to Paris to demonstrate. Violence is in principle not a good idea, but unfortunately it is one of the ways to achieve something in this country. A lot of violence was used in the demonstrations of May 1968, which many people now speak of. If something was achieved then, then it was because of that. Sometimes violence may be necessary. But I prefer not to do it myself.”

Mireille Severin

Mireille Severin, 52, animal caregiver:

“I get my salary on the 11th of the month, on the 12th I’m already in the red again, it’s not just people without work who have a problem: even with a job, I do not get my fridge filled. I have even taken vegetables from a container bin of the supermarket: outrageous what is thrown away there!

We do not have money for normal things, let alone for something fun. The cinema, a restaurant … even with children or grandchildren we can do nothing fun.

We must also be honest: this is not just something of the last years. It has been going on for 20, 30 years. But instead of helping us, they push us into the abyss. The capital tax, yes, Macron has abolished it. But what he does not seem to understand: we have no capital at all! Instead of helping us, Macron helps the rich. He lets us suffocate. That is what I find so terrible.”

Pierre Marie Chrétien

Pierre Marie Chrétien, 66, retired:

“I voted for Macron myself, but I am very sorry about that now – that man does just whatever catches his fancy! I agreed at the time that pensioners also had to make sacrifices to get the country back on track,

Pierre Marie Chrétien sounds as if he voted for Macron already in the first round of the presidential election. Among the second round of that election’s Macron voters, many did not like him at all, but voted for him only to prevent neofascist Ms Marine Le Pen from becoming president.

but not as harshly as happens now. I can just make ends meet, because I have taken a cheaper health insurance. I pay only 40 euros per month, instead of 53. But that means I can not go to the dentist any more, and my glasses are no longer reimbursed.

I am retired, so I am here all day: I light the fire at 7 am, and leave at 5 pm. We would of course like Macron, together with his government and the entire parliament, to resign. I am not going to give up. Even if I would be here alone, I would continue to demonstrate. I’ll stay until something changes.”

The yellow vests movement arose in France weeks ago, as a protest against an announced increase in taxes on petrol and diesel.

Now that the French government has canceled the increase in the tax on fuel, the yellow vest movement in France is primarily protesting against the loss of purchasing power. Recent research by the French Institute for Statistics shows that French households lost on average € 440 in purchasing power between 2008 and 2016. According to the survey, the decrease is mainly a result of fiscal and social policy.

Secondly, the yellow vests protest against high unemployment, they say. In France it currently stands at 9.3 percent, against 3.7 percent in the Netherlands.

In addition, many demonstrators in yellow vests demand a higher minimum wage. That is currently 1498 euros per month in France.

Ahead of today’s marches by “yellow vest” protesters against President Emmanuel Macron in Paris, the French government issued unprecedented threats of a bloody crackdown in the capital. Amid rising support for the “yellow vests” among students and workers, and mounting popular anger with Macron, top officials are warning that they will stop at nothing to intimidate and threaten protesters. Some 89,000 riot police and armored vehicles are to be deployed today: here.

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