“This is a turning point in history!”

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Make no mistake, the Gilets Jaunes are in this for the long haul.

Today, April 13, was the twenty-second successive Saturday that they have taken to the streets in huge numbers to revolt against President Emmanuel Macron’s neoliberal regime.

Five months on, there is still the energy, determination and critical mass to bring about a major change in the course of modern French history.

Each new round of police violence, each new draconian piece of repression, each new sneering dismissal of the yellow “mob” by right-wing politicians, just seems to give the uprising a new burst of energy.

The Mediterranean city of Montpellier was not the main Yellow Vest event in the south of France for Act XXII – all eyes were on Toulouse, where a massive turn-out was met with police violence and teargas.

But, remarkably, some 5,000 people turned out in Montpellier to support the Gilets Jaunes cause and condemn the brutality with which they have been repressed.

This is where the real strength of the movement can be seen – in the scores and scores of protests held in cities and towns all over the country week after week, which are hardly even noticed on the national, let alone international, level.

The Gilets Jaunes hold protests in Montpellier every week, but this time they were marching alongside the French human rights league LDH (Ligue des droits de l’homme) and various local associations, trade unions and left-wing political groups, such as France Insoumise.

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As people gathered in the warm spring sunshine on La Place de la Comédie in the historic centre of the Montpellier, Yellow Vest Nathalie told me this coming-together was a good thing.

“We need this convergence,” she said. “There needs to be lots of us out there”.

Fellow protester Charlotte agreed, saying: “At the start the Gilets Jaunes didn’t want to work with other groups, but now they realise we have to come together”.

A few metres away, Jean-Luc told me the same thing: “It is very important that the struggles converge, because it’s only that way that we’ll win.”

The huge protest through the streets of Montpellier featured all the diversity and energy for which the Gilets Jaunes have become known.

French national flags waved proudly as clenched fists were raised to the sound of The Internationale, as broadcast by the CGT trade union’s lorry. Later they switched to The Clash.

A feisty young woman beat ferociously on a drum and people sang and danced to the now-familiar Yellow Vest songs about the reviled Macron.

“Work, consume and shut your mouth!”, came the ironic chant. “Don’t watch us, join us!” passers-by were urged.

When the protest arrived back at the Comédie after its second tour of the city centre, it was met with applause from a small group of Kurdish protesters who had gathered there.

The respect was returned by the Yellow Vest protests. “Tous ensemble!” they shouted. “All together!”

The police presence this time around was minimal, except when there was an important public building, or the rail station, to be protected.

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Montpellier is the seventh biggest city in France and has expanded rapidly in the last 20 years or so.

But while the sprawl of new business development around the city has brought in a degree of superficial wealth, the underlying issue of poverty has not gone away.

Valérie told me she had been waiting for the last seven years for something like the Gilets Jaunes movement to explode.

She added: “I am a single mother, I work, and I work just to survive”.

Fellow protester Lucile said it was “scandalous” that her elderly father had seen his pension reduced.

Even petrol prices were going up again, despite the respite earned by the first wave of Gilets Jaunes protests back in the autumn.

I asked protester Pascal whether he thought the Gilets Jaunes uprising could succeed in its aim of bringing about radical change to France.

He said: “We haven’t got any choice. If we fail, it’s slavery”.

He said time was on the side of the Yellow Vests and they knew it, which was why the protests kept on going and going.

This same point was made by a placard suggesting that the protests had only just begun – there were only another 160 Saturdays before the end of Macron’s presidential term in May 2022.

Stressed Pascal: “People realise that this is our last chance. This is a turning point in history”.

Jean-Luc said: “It’s a very big movement, the Yellow Vests, which has lasted five months and is going to keep going.

“Macron is never going to resign. The only way out is the dissolution of the national assembly.

“And we need more than that. We need the end of the fifth republic, we need different ways of representation – delegation, direct democracy.

“That’s going to be a revolution, if we move into a sixth republic”.

Valérie was also confident that success lay ahead. She said: “This is the first social movement which has lasted.

“I knew, even back in January, that it would go on at least until the European elections. There will always be another good excuse to keep going!”

Lucile said she could no longer put up with the contempt shown by Macron or the violence used against protesters.

“People go on a protest and are beaten up by the police and it doesn’t shock anyone. That’s what shocks me!”

She was less sure than the others I spoke to that the Gilets Jaunes movement would ultimately triumph against the raw power of global neoliberal capitalism.

But she added: “Days like today give us back some hope!”

Report by Paul Cudenec, a member of Shoal Collective.

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Only another 160 Saturdays of protest to go before the Gilets Jaunes see the back of Emmanuel Macron…

For more Yellow Vests reports see our Gilets Jaunes page

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