French Riots Attract Students, Unions, and the Attention of the World

Written by Emory P.C. Whaley |



Nationwide protests against the French government and President Emmanuel Macron began on 17th November. The protests- now morphed into riots- were inspired by an online petition, fighting against proposed legislation to raise fuel taxes.


However, throughout recent weeks, the ‘yellow-vest protests’ have developed far beyond fighting the rise in fuel taxes, a tax rise which also has since been abandoned.  


The ‘yellow vests’, which protestors were encouraged to wear in solidarity with the movement, are in reference to the high-visibility vests each driver in France is legally required to carry. Most of the yellow vests have been working-class French citizens who depend on their vehicles; truck drivers, private contractors, students, parents, and many others.  


As the riot enters into its third week, other socio-political concerns have been raised.


Income inequality has become another key issue for the ‘yellow vests.’ Other issues targeted include environmental stability, education reform, and the cost and availability of housing. Due to the broad nature of requests, the rioters and protestors alike are becoming more diverse politically. Moderates and radicals are joining to bring the attention of the French government on to issues important to them.  


Historically, other modern protests have also grown and moved away from their original aims. The mid-2000’s Occupy Wallstreet movement began as a few moderate protests against the distribution of wealth in the United States. They originally had focused on the wealth gap between the top 1% and bottom 99% of the world.


Occupy Wallstreet then swiftly branched into month-long protests covering social and economic issues from healthcare reform, education reform, anti-capitalist issues, and countless other sectors of concern. Similarly, the “yellow-vest” protests in France have been following this process.


This raises questions about how long the ‘yellow jackets’ protests-now-riots will last.  


“In France, the need for education reform has inspired thousands of students to join the ‘yellow vests.'”


In France, the need for education reform has inspired thousands of students to join the ‘yellow vests.’ Some of the student protests have been held at French universities and public schools. The greatest concern for the students is President Emmanuel Macron’s proposed changes to the baccalaureate, an exam which students are required to take before entering university. Students are concerned that changing the baccalaureate will lead to inequality in university admissions.  


French trucker unions and farmer unions have also played a major role in the protests. The unions are expecting the fuel tax hikes to threaten the economic stability of their workers. Some are expecting to see trade unions and other labour unions to join, but they have not participated as of yet. There have been responses from police unions during the riots as well. The administrative staff in police unions have called for strikes, hoping that their striking will limit riot police response.  


The protesters have picketed outside of gas stations, schools, and government buildings. They have also responded to the fuel tax by blocking fuel depots and toll road booths, allowing drivers to pass without paying the tolls.  


Protests in Paris have occasionally turned violent during the past week. Fights have broken out, with rioters damaging government monuments and buildings, in an attempt to force the French government and President Emmanuel Macron to respond. So far, the French police have struggled to quell the riots.


The future of the French ‘protests’ is still uncertain. However, their lasting historical impact is irrefutable. It is not often that the modern world sees nearly 300,000 protestors across the vast political spectrum join each other. The ‘yellow-vest protests’ have already made a significant impact on the French political climate.  


International support and criticism have continuously been heard throughout the past weeks. Labour unions, political leaders, and foreign correspondents have all contributed to the discourse surrounding the events in France.


This all underscores the influence the “yellow vests” have had internationally. The world is left to keep an uneasy eye on the French protests. While, in the meantime, the French government scrambles for a solution. Will further police intervention or negotiations will be the most productive way to tame the rioting?