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'Yellow vest' leaders call for resurgence to protest French pension reform

The Local France
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'Yellow vest' leaders call for resurgence to protest French pension reform
A protester, wearing a yellow vest, waves a French flag at the start of a rally in October 2022. (Photo by JULIEN DE ROSA / AFP)

Four years after the start of the start of one of France's most powerful protest movements, the 'yellow vests' (Gilet Jaunes) have announced plans to mobilise on Saturday, to protest rising inflation and the government's plans to push forward pension reform.

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The group also told BFMTV that it would be protesting the government's repeated usage of "Article 49.3" which in their view cut short democratic, parliamentary debate in order to pass the 2023 budget.

The Yellow Vests will be primarily mobilising in the Paris area, but organisers have not "excluded other rallies" across the country, according to BFMTV.

Turnout

The 'yellow vest' movement is a far cry from its heyday when tens of thousands of people took to the streets all over France to protest. 

Small 'yellow vest' protests continued throughout 2020 and 2021 - sometimes merging with anti-vaccine passport protests and Covid conspiracy theory groups - but even in Paris they could muster at best a couple of hundred people.

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Leaders say they have noted a higher than usual response for the event on January 7th. One Yellow Vest organiser told BFMTV that the call has received "a lot of momentum and response in the media and on social networks."

Nevertheless, reporting by BFMTV showed that only a few hundred people reported that they planned to definitely "participate" in the movement on Saturday on Facebook events. One such page called "Tous à Paris le 7 Janvier" only counted 336 internet users who confirmed plans to participate.

According to reporting by Ouest France, "chances of large-scale mobilisation" on Saturday is low, citing analysis by Stéphane Sirot, a historian specialising in social movements. 

Sirot said that the Yellow Vest's last mobilisation in Paris - which marked four years of the movement - only gathered a few hundred demonstrators. 

"There have been resurgences of the movement but they have never managed to rekindle the flame of 2018."

Pension reform

The rallies are scheduled just a few days ahead of the President Emmanuel Macron's government unveiling its controversial pension reform plans. Unions across the country have promised to mobilise against pension reform, primarily the president's goal of raising the retirement age from 62 to 64 or 65.

In a survey carried out by Public Senat in mid-December, approximately 67 percent of French people do not support plans to gradually raise the retirement age to 65, with most stating that this project is "not a good reform."

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At the start of the Yellow Vest movement, the group protested for over 60 weeks consecutively, initially protesting the unpopular fuel tax meant to help finance the country's green energy transition, and ultimately calling attention to rising cost of living, inequality, and a sense that city elites had forgotten non-urban France. 

However, the movement began to lose momentum in Autumn 2019, though there have been some "waves of mobilisation" coinciding with the introduction of the Covid-19 health pass, Magali Della Sudda, a researcher at Sciences-Po in Bordeaux, told France 24.

Della Sudda said in April that the movement could "gain traction again" particularly "if Macron puts his pension reform back on the table."

Locations

The routes for Saturday's protest are not yet finalised with the Paris police préfecture, but according to BFMTV, the group hopes to rally at 11am at place de Breteuil in Paris 7th arrondisement, with the goal of marching toward either Denfert-Rochereau or place d'Italie later in the afternoon. 

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