We’re head­ing for a big­ger rev­o­lu­tion than in 1789, say France’s ru­ral ‘yel­low vests’

The Daily Telegraph - - World news - By Henry Sa­muel in Gail­lon

Horns honked and a group of 50 “yel­low vests” cheered as a mas­sive lorry swung around the Gail­lon round­about in Nor­mandy, the driver wav­ing in sup­port.

Nei­ther Pres­i­dent Em­manuel Macron’s de­ci­sion to scrap the green fuel tax that sparked the na­tion­wide protests, nor dire warn­ings of ri­ot­ers march­ing on Paris to “smash and kill”, had dulled their de­ter­mi­na­tion to man their bar­ri­cade.

“We’re ready to spend Christ­mas and New Year on this round­about,” said Kevin Co­get, 26, a “yel­low vest” who had been “fil­ter­ing” traf­fic ev­ery day since Nov 17. Sea­sonal dec­o­ra­tions and the Fa­ther Christ­mas hats worn by sev­eral pro­test­ers around a fire in an oil drum proved his point.

It all seemed a far cry from the dra­matic talk of ri­ots in Paris to­day; in­stead, the mood was fes­tive in this cor­ner of ru­ral France. A woman ap­peared car­ry­ing bags of bis­cuits. “We’re with you all the way,” she said.

“It’s in­cred­i­ble how much sup­port we are get­ting,” said Mr Co­get. Peo­ple give food, drink and even money.

Al­bin Lu­cas, 28, a tem­po­rary worker in the build­ing trade, said: “I’ve never seen such sol­i­dar­ity in my life. I’d lost faith in France. Now, I think that poor, mid­dle-class and maybe even rich can come to­gether.”

Yet not many have much to be cheer­ful about. Mr Co­get lives with his partner Jo­hanna Ex­pos­ito, 25, a leisure cen­tre cleaner, on a coun­cil es­tate.

Their fridge had just been stocked with essen­tials. “I’m paid on the 29th of each month and in the red by the 12th of the fol­low­ing one,” she said. “The over­draft pays for the food.”

Ms Ex­pos­ito makes €800 (£717)) a month while her fi­ancé re­ceives €1,100 in un­em­ploy­ment ben­e­fit. “It’s pretty soul-de­stroy­ing that he gets more than me,” she sighed. “Lots of peo­ple in my en­tourage make much more than me with­out work­ing due to wel­fare. I don’t think the sys­tem should be like that.”

She comes to the round­about when­ever pos­si­ble: “We’re here to protest against all these taxes that make it im­pos­si­ble for us to live prop­erly. We want bet­ter pur­chas­ing power and higher wages.”

The list of de­mands is con­fused but there is an over­whelm­ing sense of so­cial in­jus­tice. There is deep dis­trust of na­tional me­dia. The move­ment has re­lied heav­ily on lo­cal Face­book posts but Ms Ex­pos­ito said she no longer trusted this, ei­ther, as some of her com­mu­ni­ca­tions had been “cen­sored”.

Yet the bon­homie sours at men­tion of the pres­i­dent. “He treats the lit­tle peo­ple like us badly,” said Mr Lu­cas.

Marie-pierre Nagorny, 70, a re­tired seam­stress, said: “He’s ar­ro­gant. I can’t take his claims that we old peo­ple live bet­ter than the young and should have their pen­sions cut. I started work at 14.”

Sev­eral con­fessed to hav­ing voted for far-right Ma­rine Le Pen in the last elec­tions but said this move­ment was apo­lit­i­cal. Karl To­quard, a fair­ground worker in the group, is Left-wing.

Giv­ing new mean­ing to grass­roots democ­racy, the round­about votes on ac­tions to take. Last week, they agreed to be­siege the lo­cal tax of­fice – one of dozens at­tacked around the coun­try.

Mr To­quard, 41, said the group wel­comed Mr Macron’s con­ces­sions and had let more cars through “to show we, too, can cut some slack”. But these were not suf­fi­cient – he needed to raise the min­i­mum wage and help poor pen­sion­ers, he added.

De­spite the risks, Mr Lu­cas and Mr Co­get said they would be go­ing to Paris and would take pro­tec­tion against tear gas. Both said they didn’t con­done vi­o­lence. Nor did they rule it out.

“We’re head­ing for a rev­o­lu­tion with even greater num­bers than in 1789,” Mr Lu­cas said.

Po­lice tackle stu­dents in film claim­ing to be of protests at Mantes-la-jolie

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