Who Are The Gilets Jaunes? France’s Fuel Tax Protesters Pose Major Opposition to Macron

December 6, 2018, 6:59 PM UTC
Demonstrators in Paris built a barricade during a protest Saturday of the Yellow vests known as Gilets jaunes. The group is railing against rising oil prices and living costs in France. ABDULMONAM EASSA AFP/Getty Images
Abdulmonam Eassa—AFP/Getty Images

An organized uprising in France is threatening President Emmanuel Macron’s plan to raise taxes on diesel fuel in what the administration said was an effort to transition to green energy.

The protest, called the “gilets jaunes,” or yellow vests, sprung up after organizers coordinated to wear a uniform fluorescent yellow vest that working class motorists have to carry in their cars by law, the Guardian reported. It started as a protest last month against the proposed tax because it would hurt the working class, and particularly people who make a living from driving.

As Libération, a French daily newspaper, described, the mobilization emerged without a leader or a formal demonstration, and without a specific list of demands. The protest started online, as petitions were passed around and workers posted videos on social media.

But it has since grown into an opposition to Macron and his neoliberal policies, Mark Bray, a historian at Dartmouth college told Fortune.

“The average demonstrator in this protest is a working class person who wants to have an affordable lifestyle, wants the resignation of Macron and is either centrist, sympathetic to the left or sympathetic to the right,” he said. In this case, “the populist right-wing opposition to the tax dovetailed with leftist radical opposition to Macron,” in solidarity with struggling workers.

The rioting pushed Macron’s administration to back down.

The French president dropped the fuel tax on Wednesday after Paris endured some of the worst riotings since 1968, but protestors are now demanding more. On Thursday, drivers in their yellow vests continue to block roads while demanding broader tax cuts and more government assistance, the Associated Press reported. High school students also staged a walkout Thursday as part of a nationwide action opposing university admissions procedures and a rise in administrative fees.

One poll showed that 66% of people back the gilets jaunes, even as the riots continue.

Important matters moving forward, Bray believes, is whether the “working class rage will be funneled into a successful bid by [the far-right leader] Marine Le Pen,” or “a first step toward the rebirth of radical working class movements on the left.”

Subscribe to Well Adjusted, our newsletter full of simple strategies to work smarter and live better, from the Fortune Well team. Sign up today.