Saint-Étienne, France | AFP | A day after President Emmanuel Macron announced measures to help quell a mass revolt over living standards, “yellow vest” protesters picketing outside a shopping centre in central France on Tuesday pledged to stay put.
The two dozen or so demonstrators gathered near the entrance in St Etienne said they would only stop once the government had taken “real” measures to reduce inequalities.
“France’s motto is ‘liberty, equality, fraternity’. Fraternity we’ve found through our movement, but where is equality? There isn’t any equality of opportunity in this country,” a 36-year-old social worker, who gave her name as Nadine, told AFP.
“The real issue is wealth distribution,” said a student called Jerome and who — like many of his fellow protesters — would have liked to hear Macron renege on his decision, taken a year ago, to scrap a top-up tax on the wealthy.
It’s much the same story at the entrance to the A8 motorway in La Barque, near Aix-en-Provence in southern France, where “yellow vests” who have occupied the toll booths letting traffic drive past for free.
“I’m pleased with what we’ve achieved. After three weeks we’ve forced him to cave in,” said Arnaud Ansermier, a construction worker, speaking of Macron’s tax concessions.
“We’ve pushed the door open, but it’s not enough,” he said.
“I’m prepared to spend Christmas and New Year here, we can get what we want,” he added.
What he really wants, he said, is a better standard of living. With two children, he earns “2,000 euros ($2,290) and a bit” and finds it hard to make ends meet.
– ‘Trying to trick us’ –
Etienne Royer, a 34-year-old part-time driver, has just turned up to join around a dozen “yellow vests” gathered around an open fire next to a wall of floor-board pallets thrown up to protect them from an icy wind.
“Before, I just watched all this on the television,” he said, adding that he decided to join the protest last weekend.
“It’s important not to let the movement run out of steam because Macron is really trying to trick us,” he added.
“Closing the toll booths is one of our better weapons. Just holding up traffic quickly annoys people. And we must keep people on our side,” he added.
According to police, there were 1,900 “yellow vest” protesters blockading some 40 sites across France on Tuesday morning.
Support for the “yellow vest” protesters has nevertheless dropped sharply following Macron’s concessions, though the country remains largely split, two opinion polls showed Tuesday.
One poll, carried out by Opinionway, said 54 percent of those surveyed wanted the protests to stop, while 45 percent still backed the rallies.
Another, carried out Odoxa, showed nearly reverse figures, with 46 percent wanting protests to stop and 54 percent wanting them to continue.
Both polls also revealed a major shift in public opinion overall as more than two out of three people had previously supported the grassroots movement, which sprang up on November 17 in opposition to fuel taxes but snowballed into broad opposition to Macron’s pro-business agenda.