Pam Barker | Director of TLB Europe Reloaded Project
French police are indeed at breaking point and taking matters into their own hands in the form of yellow-vest-style ‘Act I’ militancy. (Last Saturday was dubbed ‘Act V’ for the Gilets Jaunes.)
Today, they’re having an evening meeting with Christophe Castaner (pictured), Minister of the Interior. The police union Alliance is calling on members to stay in their stations tomorrow, effectively closing police stations for the day, and only respond to emergencies. Rolling news is interviewing police representatives and showing anonymous police complaining of extreme fatigue and pressure as well as poor pay and working conditions, such as working 14 hours straight and not being able to eat or drink. The 2019 national police budget will see a drop of 62 million euros according to RT France.
Militant police action is being presented, falsely, as a reaction just to recent heavy deployments around France, and Paris in particular, because of the Yellow Vest protests. French politicians in Macron’s party have been shamelessly asking the Yellow Vests publicly to cease and desist because of police burnout, but this is hardly the responsibility of the citizen protestors. This RT report from a year ago, however, French cop who attempted suicide twice tells why more colleagues are taking their own lives, explains how suicides have been increasing since at least 2014 and how pressure on police was generated through two years of state of emergency measures triggered after the attack on the Charlie Hebdo offices in the centre of Paris in January 2015 (the Charlie Hebdo affair, most likely a false flag, has been called France’s 9/11). (See also this Al Jazeera report from 2016 highlighting police complaints about their training in relation to dealing with terrorism, and the laxity of the penal system.)
This excellent Gefira piece from June of this year, High suicide rate under the French police as the state is under permanent attack, contains a map of France showing where police have been attacked, and briefly profiles some of the cases of surprising violence directed against them. It is known that the banlieues, some of the rougher areas in France, now contain higher percentages of illegal migrants, and the violence there seems to be morphing into something new and proportionately more dangerous. Police don’t seem to be getting the support they need to deal with this.
And let’s not forget that the French government was taken completely by surprise with the resignation of the previous Minister of the Interior and initial Macron supporter, veteran socialist Gerard Collomb just 3 months ago, who returned to the city of Lyon as future mayor. His departure was somewhat rancorous, and underscored that there were various problems brewing, not least the disconnect shown by Macron to the daily realities on the ground that police have to deal with. (Collomb said in an interview that received little publicity that France didn’t need any more migration and hinted at social and security problems around France resulting from ethnic tensions, a big admission coming from a leftwing politician.)
The WSWS article titled French government staggered by Interior Minister Collomb’s resignation indicates that police had already been stretched by responding to violent citizen protests against Macron’s labor law, a neoliberal move designed to give workers fewer labor rights, and other government measures before he was even President:
Above all, Collomb’s departure takes place amid persistent and broad-based protests and complaints among the police and domestic security forces.
This already erupted into public police protests at the end of 2016 and in 2017, to which Collomb alluded in his resignation speech at the interior ministry on October 3, mentioning the ongoing “revolt” of the police. Thousands of policemen had marched multiple times in cities across France, demanding more funding and recognition for the repression of mass protests against the labor law that they were carrying out under the state of emergency and the so-called “war on terror.”
So the Yellow Vests are just the straw on the camel’s back in terms of police work pressure. But the new protest movement is something the police themselves have shown sympathy for (see image), and gives them a ready-made context in which to take their own action.
And just in the last 24 hours, Castaner has been moving in police – in the dark – to selectively tear down the Yellow Vest encampments around ‘rond-points’ or traffic roundabouts, which have acquired a symbolic value for the protestors as places where they come together and unify in solidarity. This is likely to be an inflammatory move.
The privatization of France is not taking place without a fight.
We’re at Breaking Point | French Police
by Joanna York
While the anger and hatred of protesters is directed at the president, it is being taken out on the country’s police forces. For the last three Saturdays, they have come under a hail of cobblestones and bottles, had fireworks aimed at them and at times simply been given the run around by rioters and looters.
Although their response to violence has not always been exemplary, as some videos on social media can attest to, the French police say they are tired of being the punchbag for Macron and his government.
Last weekend all police leave was cancelled in Paris and 8,000 officers took to the streets of the capital. The previous weekend there were 5,000 on duty when they were overrun by rioters and looters.
Rocco Contento, representative for the Paris Unité-SGP police union, told Franceinfo that the police had been stretched to their limits.
“Police resources are not inexhaustible. We were practically at our maximum. 89 000 members of the armed forces throughout France… We can’t do any more,” he said.
He went on to warn that an untenable amount of pressure has been put on the police to manage a crisis that politicians are responsible for.
“We also want to take off our vests. Not the yellow vests, but our blue vests if this continues. That’s the message that I want to give to the highest state authorities. We are in a political crisis. It’s not up to the police force to get us out of it, it’s up to politicians,” he said.
Working back-to-back days of long hours in hostile conditions, with breaks and meal times often cancelled, has left police officers exhausted according to Denis Jacob, the spokesman for national police union Alternative Police.
They said of last Saturday’s protests: “If the police have managed the situation perfectly well, with the number of injured significantly lower than the number of those taken in for questioning (1,723) the fact remains that we are very tired and weary after successive missions.”
While the police “risk their lives” at work, Alternative Police states that unpaid overtime and underpaid night shifts have left them suffering the same poor living conditions as the yellow vests they confront at the weekends.
“Between their responsibility to carry out their missions, maintain order and guarantee everyone’s safety and the feeling that they too are affected by the demands of the yellow vests when it comes to spending power, the police are at breaking point,” they said.
The union has called on the government to deploy an emergency budget to compensate police officers “as a way of showing the gratitude that they like so much to assure us of.”
If their demands are not met, they warn the consequences could be serious.
“The police, exhausted, could end up putting down their helmets and shields,” said the union
The union also sent an open letter to French lawmakers on Monday with a list of demands aimed at improving pay and working conditions of police across the country.
The letter signed by Denis Jacob spoke of the “exhaustion, weariness and deep anger” of the police.
“Since November, police have been permanently mobilized for the different gatherings and demonstrations of yellow vests which have share of violence, looting.
“The police officers have shown great professionalism and great self-sacrifice and self-control which are matched only by their willingness to serve the nation and their fellow citizens.
“However, the police are also men and women, fathers and mothers, and like any citizen they are concerned by the social crisis and the purchasing power.”
The potential for this Yellow Vests protest to spread across the EU is real.
This is The Netherlands…
The Yellow Vests movement has also hit London. If not handled “properly,” this will be the fall of Theresa May at least, and in the long term, the EU itself.