Faced with an unprecedented movement, President Macron and his government, bewildered and under pressure to act, finally gave in on the first demands on 10 December: abandonment of the fuel tax, cancellation of the rise in the CSG for pensioners earning less than €2,000, €100 rise in the minimum wage for more than 5 million employees and self-employed workers, tax-free overtime, exceptional €1,000 bonus exempt from income tax, and so on...
The sum of these measures was estimated at between 10 and 11 billion euros. But nothing has changed, and the situation has even escalated... Why?
Three lessons from the negotiations
1. To negotiate, you need at least two people.The government's attempts to open negotiations with the yellow waistcoats proved futile. The self-appointed interlocutors to open dialogue with him were quickly dismissed by the movement. With the support of the public, the crisis continued to escalate, despite the excesses, violence and destruction caused. In business, bosses know that to defuse a conflict, they need credible interlocutors capable of selling an agreement to their rank and file. In the case of this unprecedented, protean movement, which rejects any form of representation, particularly by the intermediary bodies, this was mission impossible, and those who criticise the government would do well to abstain or to be more measured.
2. All negotiators know that making concessions for nothing in return, instead of calming things down, makes the other party more demanding and encourages them to ask for even more.. And why was that? Because before, it had been explained to him at length that the coffers were empty; and now, suddenly, under the pressure exerted, the cash drawers open and pour out their floods. The obvious conclusion: if they've given in, they've still got it. All they have to do is step up the pressure to get even more. Unrequited concessions clearly encourage bad behaviour. I've always said: " You can give in without helping yourself ". But could the government have done otherwise? Quite objectively, and to be fair, given the unexpected scale of the movement and the one-upmanship that accompanied it, my answer is no. In retrospect, it's always easy to say that the government should have dropped the fuel tax at the start of the movement. In retrospect, it's always easy to say that he should have dropped the fuel tax at the start of the movement. But if he had decided to do so, wouldn't he have come in for the harshest criticism for repeating the backtracking of his predecessors in the face of the streets?
3. To resolve a conflict, you need to identify and deal with the real problem. To defuse the crisis, the government's response was essentially financial and budgetary. In so doing, it has reproduced a typically French approach to conflict, which consists of buying social peace by giving money. Of course, hard cash does have an impact in easing tensions. This enables staff representatives to return to their base and proclaim loud and clear that they have succeeded in wresting tangible concessions from the boss. In reality, the real problems are often avoided in this way, with the complicity of both management and the unions. In our case, while the carbon tax, the CSG on pensioners' incomes and the 80 km/h speed limit may have been the triggering factors, they were merely indicative of an underlying malaise. Some were quick to describe it in terms of purchasing power or as the expression of a feeling of tax injustice. In reality, I think that it relates to much deeper needs of recognition, belonging and, above all, meaning. Only a true sociological study will enable us to analyse all the contours of this issue with the benefit of hindsight. In any case, I hope that the answers that emerge from the Grand Débat, a unique exercise in the annals of the Republic, will address these three fundamental needs. Because, as the President said in one of the debates, reinstating the ISF (which, incidentally, was only abolished on capital income) will not automatically improve the quality of life of those present.
In conclusion: turning crisis into opportunity
As we have seen, from the outset, the gilets jaunes rejected any possible recourse to intermediary bodies such as trade unions or political parties.
It therefore seems to me that one of the major lessons to be learned from this crisis, which could ultimately make it a positive one, is to seize it as an opportunity to reinvent social dialogue in France. To do this, the social partners - trade unions and employers - need to revisit their traditional ways of operating. With generations Y and Z having profoundly changed their relationship with their companies, and with social networks having an ever-increasing impact on the way people express themselves, the usual responses are less and less satisfactory. Without this transformation, they will be even more marginalised (than they already are) because they will be less and less representative.
The weakening of the trade unions would unfortunately be very serious for the proper conduct of social dialogue, as there would no longer be any strong and credible intermediaries between the public and the government. It is not possible to negotiate with 50,000 people who represent only themselves, nor is it possible to hold a large-scale referendum every morning to poll the employees of a company or the citizens of France.