Leadership? France’s Yellow Vest Movement

By | February 10, 2019

[February 10, 2019]  I’ve been remiss of late by not writing about France’s Yellow Vest movement.  Mouvement des gilets jaunes is a populist, political movement for economic justice that began in France last November.  It is of interest to those of us who study leadership that there is no visible leadership in the movement.

The movement began, like so many others, because of what many citizens saw as a system that places an unfair burden on a select group of the population.  France’s President Emmanuel Macron announced fuel and tax hikes that hit the middle class and rural populations the hardest.  With rising prices and an economy that was stagnant, the on-going and simmering anger evolved into large demonstrations in several large cities.

Since that time, there have been Yellow Vest movements in Belgium, Germany, Canada, Italy, United Kingdom, and many others.  Unfair government practices are at the heart of many of those who are protesting in the name of fairness and justice.  There are some political historians who now compare the French Yellow Vest movement with other similar movements such as the Occupy Movement in the U.S., the Five Star Movement in Italy, and the Orbanism in Hungary.

The movement has been organized in a horizontal fashion. Informal leaders have emerged (as to be expected whenever people gather for any reason) but they have been rejected.  Some of those leaders were threatened unless they stood down.  Some suggest the movement, which is based largely on the hatred of politicians, has rejected any “would-be politicians in the movement” for this same hatred.1  It is of interest that hatred has also been directed at journalists.

France’s Yellow Jacket movement remains unassociated with any specific political party or trade union.  Ideas that develop are spread via social media and thus we do have some indications of an emerging, low-level leadership within its ranks.  No organization, however, can exist for long without leadership.  This fact has long been considered sacrosanct among historians and philosophers who study human endeavors.

The lack of any identifiable or chosen leadership has put the movement at a serious disadvantage.  For example, how does the French government negotiate with an entire movement?  The leaderless aspect of the movement also contributes to the dissemination of disinformation because no one is in charge.  Either the movement will have to organize better or it is doomed to failure.


  1. https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/dec/03/paris-streets-riots-violence
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Author: Douglas R. Satterfield

Hello. I'm Doug and I provide at least one article everyday on some leadership topic. I welcome comments and also guests who would like to write an article. Thanks for reading my blog.

19 thoughts on “Leadership? France’s Yellow Vest Movement

  1. Dale Paul Fox

    Many protesters are calling on the president to resign. Like so many idiots who think that by asking the head of state to resign, they will accomplish nothing.

  2. Shawn C. Stolarz

    Those hoping for the protests to fade away, however, could be in for disappointment. The government’s move doesn’t address the deeper problems at the heart of the grassroots uprising. In the end, this was never just about the fuel tax.

    1. Drew Dill

      A common error that those who love socialism make all the time.

      1. Wilson Cox

        The fact remains that most gilets jaunes sympathizers in France are not opposed to the state’s role in the economy—they simply want it to act more fairly

    2. Fred Weber

      Further contributing to the cloud of dread now enveloping the Elysée is the fact that the gilets jaunes count broad public approval—a rarity for any political movement in France.

    3. Jonnie the Bart

      Just keep thinking socialism will work if only we give it one more honest try. hahahahahah

  3. Gil Johnson

    It’s not just about the fuel tax; it’s about anger at ever-increasing burdens on the working class.

  4. Joe Omerrod

    How big is the movement? No one knows for sure. By French standards, the demonstrations have been modest in size. But they are unusual in that they erupted spontaneously in multiple places around France, without any union or political party organizing them.

    1. Dale Paul Fox

      Many people who have not participated in the protests say they support them or are sympathetic to those on the street. This tells us something.

    2. Martin Shiell

      Socialism at work. Since public transportation is limited in rural France and the suburbs, most of the Yellow Vests have no choice but to use their cars — and are especially sensitive to fuel tax hikes. And that tax comes on top of already high payroll taxes that help the government pay for the health care system, social security and unemployment insurance, among other things.

  5. Max Foster

    The Yellow Vest movement will either adopt several informal leaders or it will fizzle out into a street brawl. Just because people are unhappy, doesn’t mean they will get what they want from the Socialist govt of France. I wish them luck but they must get out of the socialist mindset first. Then progress can be made.

    1. Dennis Mathes

      Yes, I agree with you Max that either the mvt will get organized or it is at its end.

    2. Maureen S. Sullivan

      I think you have made an excellent point that French protestors have not yet publically recognized.

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