The First May Day Protest for France's "Yellow Vests" Turned Remarkably Violent

Police fired tear gas on protestors in Paris. Yellow Vests hope that will help their cause.

PARIS — During Paris' annual May Day protests Wednesday, protestors broke the pavement and threw chunks of it at the police, who responded with batons and fired tear gas at multiple crowds in attempts to control factions bent on rioting, like Black Bloc.

By the end of the day, police had detained 250 demonstrators.

Every year, tens of thousands of people take to the streets in Paris for May Day, in solidarity with millions around the world who march for workers' rights. But this year — the first May Day rally for members of France’s “Yellow Vest” movement — turned remarkably violent. The movement began protesting 24 weeks ago against what members see as President Emmanuel Macron’s pro-business policies favoring the elite.


The group has proven to be one of the biggest challenges to Macron’s presidency and has already forced him to make concessions about taxation, pension reform, and the closures of schools and hospitals. By showing up on May Day, the Yellow Vests aligned themselves with a centuries-old movement traditionally seen as pro-union and pro-left.

“Today is May Day. It has nothing to do with a Yellow Vest action. It’s a workers celebration,” Jérôme Rodrigues, an unofficial leader of the Yellow Vests, told VICE News. “Within the Yellow Vest march, you have workers who have gathered here to reinforce their demands and show that they are workers too.”

Rodrigues joined the Yellow Vests in its earlier stages last fall and lost an eye during a January rally after being hit with what he believes to be a police-fired projectile. Videos capturing the moment propelled him to the forefront of the movement. “The problem is that we have a president in France right now who not only doesn’t listen to us but also mutilates us,” Rodrigues said. “So why wage a revolution? Because the climate of violence was brought on by the government.”

Participating in May Day was important for Rodrigues and the Yellow Vests because they’ve been losing momentum lately. He hopes that the Yellow Vests’ presence at the pro-labor rally will help bolster support for their cause in the future.

“All this diversity — that’s how we win, OK?” Rodrigues told VICE News. “Today, we see that we ignored that [in the past], and that we have recovered something fundamental in France. It’s called fraternity.”

This segment originally aired May 1, 2019, on VICE News Tonight on HBO.