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AFTER 25 weeks of vitriolic smears and propaganda thrown their way by the French state and corporate media, the Gilets Jaunes have had to grow a thick yellow skin.
But the latest attempt to demonise their movement involved a lie so grotesque that even the most battle-hardened campaigners were shocked.
It all involved a hospital, a familiar environment for the many thousands of Yellow Vests injured by police tear gas, grenades and batons since the start of the uprising in November last year.
Protesters in Paris for the big May Day demonstration, in which the Gilets Jaunes marched alongside the traditional wide range of leftwingers, came under heavy assault from the “forces of order.”
Some trying to escape from the riot police were let, by sympathetic staff, into the grounds of the Pitie-Salpetriere Hospital.
The cops hunted them down inside and handed out the usual indiscriminate beatings and arrests.
But the French state, via Interior Minister Christophe Castaner, presented a very different version of events.
He claimed the protesters had “attacked” the hospital, including the A&E, presenting them once again as a bogeyman violent rabble to be feared by the French public.
This absurd and totally fictitious account could not stand up. Video footage and eyewitness accounts quickly revealed the truth and the lie collapsed. Castaner had to withdraw his claim.
It was particularly appropriate, therefore, that on Saturday May 4 the local Gilets Jaunes in Avignon, in Provence, were demonstrating at their local Henri-Duffaut hospital.They marched there in support of health workers who have been on strike for a week in protests at cuts and deteriorating working conditions.
The protesters I spoke to were well aware of the echoes of the dramatic events which had played out three days previously 400 miles to the north.
Said Colin: “We are not about attacking hospitals but defending them. Macron and his government have passed a law against fake news and they are the first to issue false information.
“This is just the perfect example of their hypocrisy. It wasn’t about an opinion or the interpretation of something, but was simply a lie.”
As the protesters chanted for Castaner, as well as Macron, to resign, Colin said it was astonishing that the Interior Minister was still in his job.
“Either he didn’t verify the information, which is serious for someone in his position, or he he knew all along, which is even more serious.”
Claude, a retired farmer, told me that it was no longer possible for the state to get away with telling lies about protests, because everything was filmed.
“They can’t pull the wool over our eyes because they are permanently under surveillance.”
The corporate media’s relentlessly hostile propaganda is much resented by Gilets Jaunes.
“They’re liars,” said Helene. “They work for the government,” added Renee. “We haven’t got a press any more in France,” chipped in Raymond. “Everything has been bought.”
As the protesters approached the hospital in Avignon, they moved aside to let ambulances past and were greeted with supportive toots of the siren by the drivers.
Outside the main entrance, the Yellow Vest rally was addressed by some of the striking health workers.
They explained that the hospital, particularly the A&E department, was suffering badly under government cuts which had been getting worse for the last 15 years. There was a bed shortage and lack of equipment because of budgetary restrictions.
“We are not used to doing our job in this way,” said a female health worker who addressed the Gilets Jaunes.
A colleague added: “We are moving gradually towards an American-style system, where you will need a credit card to get treated.”
The French public health service was being commercialised under the “ultra-liberalism” of Emmanuel Macron’s regime, he added.
Another member of the hospital staff condemned the use of weapons which had led to so many Gilets Jaunes being badly injured and also the way that their political involvement had been added to their medical files when they were treated.
Referring to the May Day incident at Pitie-Salpetriere Hospital in Paris, he said the real vandalism was being carried out by the government which was “wrecking public hospitals.”
Micheline, who has been with the Yellow Vest uprising since the very start, told me they had experienced everything during their struggle in Avignon, including the death of a protester on a road, regular police tear gas and comrades being imprisoned for no good reason.
Because of all this it was impossible for them to give up now, she said, and her fighting spirit was echoed by the war-time resistance song blared out by the protest tannoy, to which everyone seemed to know the words.
“Macron’s election campaign was funded by the super-rich,” Claude reminded me on the second anniversary of the start of the presidency.
“He and Castaner think they are above the law and they are gods. But they will fall.”
Paul Cudenec is a member of the Shoal Collective
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