Thursday, August 29, 2019

Yellow Vests, a modern Anti – austerity crusade: What does the future hold?

Photo by Pascal Maga
The Yellow Vest anti – austerity campaign has been a recurring issue in the news and social media.  It is an important issue that largely marked the 21st century, a century of contestation and resistance, with a variety of social movements emerging as a result of crises of the neoliberal status quo.  These crises have actually empowered populist movements like the Yellow vests to spread all around the world, pressuring for more and more change at a regional and international level.  Essentially, it has been a contemporary crusade fought by tools like demonstration and non – compliance and resistance to the repressive nature of the system.  In this blog post, I will analyse this modern form of crusade, which has a banner and a symbol which makes it a full - grown resistance to the elites and the globalized structure they created.

The Yellow Vests is a social movement of austerity as Kerbo (1982) would classify it.  The 2008 financial crisis that hardly hit the Southern European states and forced other states like the North and West Europe to bailout them out, crippled countries like France, Belgium, the Netherlands both economically and politically.  In fact, if we pay closer attention to Eurostat Reports about the Labour market we can see that a new precarious class was formed with new characteristics. For example, the modern precariat as they call it is made up of educated young people who find themselves in situations of uncertainty as far as employment, standards of living and income is concerned.  This is the class who indeed constitutes the soldiers fighting to reverse an outcome formed by actions of the past and restore their will to the political scene.

However, how is this crusade organized? Is there a master – mind behind it advancing his or her own interests and presenting them as the interests of the people?  In general, the Yellow Vest groups are ones in a similar shape and organization as the Occupy Movement and the Indignados in Spain and Greece.  Their actions are coordinated through social media, they have no leading spokesperson and they encompass a variety of demands.  Evidence of this can be found in the official Yellow Vest France Charter which outlines the group’s demands and the official Yellow Vest website.  Demands range from political concessions like referendums to be included in the constitution to social like end to police brutality, economic like fairer taxation and a better immigration and assimilation policies ( ;  Now, this can also act as an indication of the different ideological groups represented in this new social movement who are using his opportunity structure to possibly advance their own agendas. 

The Yellow Vests movements especially in France, Canada and Belgium where resistance and protesting was more dynamic due to the country structure which allowed for it, were often criticized heavily by the local and international press.  This does not mean that the existing governments did not receive any kind of criticism as a response to the dealing of the situation, they did indeed.  However, it is important to consider the fact that especially the Yellow Vest France and the Yellow Vest Canada were under scrutiny, not only by their governments and the press which possibly sided against them but by the people themselves in social media.  In fact, the people who did not like how the Yellow Vests chose to pursue their agenda, even formed groups such as the Foulard Rouge in France.  Criticism focused on the fact that the Yellow Vest movements were encompassing a lot of right – wing extremism due to the fact that groups like Soldiers of Odin in Canada and Rassemblement National in France were massively present in demonstrations exhibiting anti – immigrant attitudes ( ).  This is particularly alarming as there have been claims that it is likely that right – wing extremist groups are using the Yellow Vests demonstrations to appeal to the people and potentially increase their electoral base.  Certainly though, taking the example of France, populist movements both from the left and from the right have been in support of the movement and its demands.  Therefore, could it be possible that figures like Jean – Luc Melenchon and Marine Le Pen have been using the movements popularity to promote their agendas and increase their parties’ electoral base especially in a time of political disengagement? And if yes what will happen next?

As often reported in the news the Yellow Vest demonstrators have been steadily declining since the first big demonstration of 17 November in France and by now the movement has been rather quiet.  Does that mean that we have seen the end of it?  In similar cases like the Occupy Movement and the Indignados demonstrations, the movements died after a while as participation fell but their demands were not erased, and it seems like their agendas were inherited by later movements, like the Yellow Vests.  So, if we follow the idea that history repeats itself, then we can expect a new movement to adopt the Yellow Vest agenda and bring it back to the surface again in the future.  Or could this agenda be incorporated by left- or right-wing populist who will use it to unite the people against the establishment and get in government in countries like France and Canada? Actions by the people like demonstration and active protests cannot change the societal structure but they can introduce small changes that though seem insignificant can in fact accumulate and create further opportunities for change.  This is a crucial task.

The Yellow Vest movement is a new type of social movements. As seen in social movement literature and particularly in Donatella della Porta’s research, there is some kind of wave of anti – austerity protest groups all over Europe sharing similar characteristics after the 2008 financial crisis. The Yellow Vest movement is understood as another occasion of that. This is crucial if we want to possibly predict the future of such a group as the movement can essentially disappear.  Are the changes and concessions emerging from such movement going to last or are they going to disappear as well?  Is there an agent who can potentially use the movements appeal for economic and political benefits?  This post claims that there is a high possibility that populist movements both on the left – and right – of the political spectrum have the capacity to do so.  This can be a golden opportunity for them to unite a seemingly disconnected political base and create a sense of unity that can promote them and get the in government.

Fotini Iacovou

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