[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.