Last updated on 28th July 2019
A testing day for the government, on May 1st 2019 in Paris, was, after the closing speech of the “great debate”, to show nothing of a social challenge of Yellow Vests that Macron failed to appease. The police attacks at noon, including on the CGT procession and the “Solidaires“ truck, with a desire to break the momentum of the Yellow and Red Vests, failed to prevent the unfolding of a very strong mobilisation on this first day of May.
The battle for numbers has already begun, but it is tilting this time rather on the side of the social movement. Faced with the observation of a major mobilisation by the press and the media – “twice as much as May 1st 2018” according to BFMTV, “the strongest mobilisation for 7 years” according to Ouest-France – the Ministry of Interior several times revised its numbers by at first announcing 16,000 demonstrators in Paris, and then 22,000 at the end of the day. The reality is probably between the census carried out by the media – 40,000, and 80,000 for CGT – for Paris. In metropolitan France it would be nearly 310,000 protesters according to the CGT. A mobilisation that is among the strongest mobilisations since March 22nd 2018.
Despite the police’s obstacles
At the edge of the announcements of the “grand debate”, these figures embarrass the government, which did everything on this day of May 1st. Thus, in order to prevent the demonstration, beforehand more than 17,700 “preventive” checks in Paris were carried out near the stations, body searches, confiscation of “potential weapons”, including cameras, helmets, as well as yellow vests, a dozen metro lines affected by closures … and an impressive number of police charges – an expression of the new technique of maintaining order advocating “contact”, launched before the start of the processions, near Montparnasse Tower, where the demonstrators began to gather at noon.
Failing to manage, due to the numbers, to block it completely, the police charges tried several times to break up the demonstration, to divide in particular the Yellow Vests and the red vests of the CGT. Uncommonly, the union processions of the CGT and “Solidaires” were targeted by a police attack at around 14:00, going as far as gassing Martinez [Philippe, the leader of CGT – ed], who momentarily exfiltrated before returning to the protest, which is confirmed by “Médiapart”, which said that the “official square of the CGT was directly targeted by law enforcement, like the truck of the ‘Solidaires’ trade union”. To the knowledge of Médiapart, “this is a first”.
Thus, “preventive” checks, body searches, fully locked the demonstration throughout the course… The true message of the end of the “great debate” was given: any opposition to Macron will face the truncheon and police intimidation.
Castaner tries to capitalise on policing
On May 1st the scenes of Fouquet’s did not occur. And we are even lucky, given the incredible police system put in place to protect La Rotonde – a restaurant where Emmanuel Macron had celebrated his victory in 2017. From then on, the chaotic scenario of a “Paris, capital of the mutiny” predicted and fuelled by the government did not take place.
But if order was maintained by the ministry, it was at the cost of a state of siege in the capital, and a large locking of the Parisian procession. Before and during the demonstration, the police continued to divide and separate the processions, attempting to create divisions between yellow and red vests. Despite the provocations, not only did the procession start, but the demonstrators marched well together, on the same protest route and clashed with the same repression.
Castaner blames protesters for a hospital attack
“People attacked a hospital, nurses had to preserve the resuscitation service, our police forces immediately intervened to save the resuscitation service,” responded Christophe Castaner this Wednesday evening, from the Hospital of Pitié-Salpêtrière.
However, this story relayed by the major media is very different from the one presented by the many videos and some protester testimonies as expressed in particular in this video relayed by David Dufresnes. A witness explained to him by mail:
allo @Place_Beauvau – c’est pour un signalement – 746— David Dufresne (@davduf) May 1, 2019
«J’ai vu ces manifestants à l’entrée de l’hôpital de la Pitié-Salpêtrière qui voulaient se réfugier parce que une colonne de CRS arrivait par le haut du boulevard (…)»
Paris, #1erMai, 16h environ, source courriel pic.twitter.com/uYB6zAHdA8
If for the Ministry of the Interior, the “attack” on the “hospital” is therefore characterised, this story is very different from those illustrated by the many videos filmed at the scene.
Quelques points supplémentaires : oui, des manifestants ont bien voulu encadrer (et peut-être entrer dans) La Salpêtrière. Après que les CRS aient repoussé les gens, boulevard de l’hôpital, ceux-ci ont fui là où ils pouvaient, dans la panique. #1erMai #1erMai2019 #fetedutravail pic.twitter.com/GygOz5pOBv— Wladimir Garcin-Berson (@vladogb) May 1, 2019
L’épisode de la Pitié-Salpêtrière a été filmé en direct depuis la rue par Yasin Blotas, sur la page Civicio, à partir de 1:16:39.— Sylvain Ernault (@SylvainErnault) May 1, 2019
Des manifestants de tous âges sortent de la cour. Il faut d’abord se demander s’ils ne se protégeaient pas du gaz. #1ermaihttps://t.co/g2RePyB7Iq pic.twitter.com/mwCwmhBgw7
The prank “attack of the hospital” would not be a first for the government either. Indeed, it is enough to go back to 2016 with the famous “breakage“ of the Necker Hospital in 2016, which was simply a story of political manipulation. In any case, it would be very convenient to constuct counter-fire in order to focus attention on the famous “breakers” rather than the number of protesters.
CGT and “Solidaires” attacked by the police
Throughout the demonstration the provocations of the police were incessant. Several police attacks targeted the trade union organisations, be it the CGT procession or “Solidaires”. “The police charged the CGT, grenade shots even reached our van!” said Philippe Martinez, the leader of CGT. “We did not stop being harassed by the police,” said Eric Beynel, spokesperson for “Solidaires”. “Sud-Rail” activists were attacked and gassed in their trucks. So it was obviously not the breakers who “stole the party from the trade unions”, as Castaner says.
The newspaper “L’Opinion” justifies this repression by stating that there is an “infiltration of violent individuals in the parades, including that of the CGT”. The “Alliance” police union affirms this even more clearly: “Philippe Martinez is part of the collateral damage”. The government is trying to send a clear message: it was a question of police provocations trying to explode the convergence of yellow vests and red vests. The goal was to replay the scenario of May 1st 2018, where the direction of the CGT had, on its own, cut the procession in two.
A second reading could be the government’s desire to humiliate the CGT, yet fond of “social dialogue”, but which is not part of Macron’s plans. “Questioned on the other hand on a possible invitation to Matignon, the secretary general of the Montreuil plant claimed to have received, for its part, no phone call …” said the “Marianne” newspaper. Indeed, the government announced today that Laurent Berger of CFDT would be received at Matignon on May 6th. Laurent Berger said today in his speech that “the practical details haven’t yet been sorted out, but we will approach almost all the topics we had listed with 19 organisations. Finally, the door of the government is open to us, to slip in a foot”. The management of CFDT illustrates once again that it is ready to do anything to negotiate the weight of the chains, even going as far as “condemning the violence” even before it took place this first of May.
Preparing Act 25, then May 9, with the public service strike
The possibilities for convergence and renewal of the social movement in May are indeed there. The demonstration of May 1 was not the disappointment that the government had wished for – on the contrary, the mobilisation was very important compared to last year, in particular.
Neither divided nor impeded, yellow vests and red vests have nevertheless managed to massively march, despite extreme police supervision and the proliferation of violence against activists. May 9th, the day of a public service strike, could be the next milestone, to begin the process of striking, to expand in numbers, and build the “all together” to push back Macron.
Yano Lesage, Revolution Permanente