In order to “live with dignity”, he denounces absent from the presidential campaign

Contrary to the themes of the presidential campaign, opinion polls show strong expectations of citizens on the issues of health, employment and the environment.

This discrepancy can only come as a surprise given the demands expressed during the social movement of the Yellow Vests and the Great Debate that is expected to respond to them. Since November 2018, complaints have been picked up by the yellow vests on the roundabouts and places of action of this movement. The rural mayors of France are resuming this initiative between 8 December and 11 January 2019.

Finally, the government asked the mayors to leave notebooks for free expression between January 15, 2019 and March 15, in parallel with the “Great Debate”.

But contrary to the commitments made by the Head of State, the private companies that digitized part of the contributions did not make these practices public. The National Library of France where they would be kept has not yet given access to the public research groups and the National Archives of France, which have inventories of digitized collections, have refused to disclose them. We have therefore chosen to digitize and transcribe these notebooks of complaints ourselves, the originals of which are kept in the Departmental Archives.

Citizen research

All the notebooks, with the exception of those kept separately by the yellow vests, were transferred in February 2019 to the services of the Prefecture, then classified and made accessible to the Departmental Archives, according to the regulations in force. The Cahiers des Vests jaunes were open to roundabouts, while those of the rural or government mayors were opened in the town hall or parliamentary offices and deposited in the departmental archives.

This is how our team, made up of citizens – Yellow Vests and not – and academics, was able to strip all the papers that could be communicated to the public. After the anonymization, digitization and transcription of the documents, we obtained a corpus of 1996 contributions studied using the free software IraMuteQ. This analysis makes it possible to distinguish “classes” of words, as many thematic sets that draw subgroups of converging expectations.

Examination of the notebooks opened in Gironde, where we conducted our research, reveals the needs in terms of standard of living, taxation, public service or even ecological transition, which we have designated with the expression “power to live”. The term purchasing power focuses on consumption, but the complaints are more about the satisfaction of needs than the desire to consume and buy.

We have highlighted the importance of many concerns that so far have not been mentioned in the election campaign by a survey based on quantitative and qualitative methods. In the ten different classes that we have identified, the issue of social justice appears as a priority, confirming the observations of local mayors and journalists.

Social justice at the heart of the Gironde needs

The claim to be able to live in dignity from one’s job or retirement is the most cited (15.4% of the corpus). Go through the salary increase proposed by this man from St Germain du Puch “Let the work find its fair remuneration”; or access to work for this woman from Cenon “she works indefinitely for young people”. Libourne claims “the increase in SMIC, even the ‘people of nothing’ need to live with dignity”. An Audengeois also calls for “the indexation of pensions to inflation”.

The consequences of the state’s withdrawal from social policies reinforce inequalities. The treatment of addiction by private groups raises questions for this Blanquefortaise “Old age is not a concept that can be bought. The EHPADs should all be subject to the 1901 law. “Health is seeing its means drastically reduced. You don’t save on health ”for this couple from Audenge.

The power to live is also synonymous with solidarity. Thus this request by Blaye on the “revaluation of salaries, pensions, disability and survivors’ pensions”. The denunciation of this mother from Blaye reflects the need for solidarity with people or their loved ones with disabilities:

“I only ask to be able to live in dignity with our salary and to have a little more means and support for families, like me, who have a disabled child”.

While the five-year period opens with the promise to relocate the homeless, this other woman from Parempuyre goes further and asks to “build new temporary shelters for the homeless. […] because France must be the country of human rights and lead by example “.

Access to housing is regularly mentioned, as in Montussan, where “the restoration and extension of rent control to access a roof in decent condition” is called for.

Better distribution of taxation for better redistribution

Taxation (13.1% of the corpus) is one of the levers of social justice. In complaints, the suppression of the ISF is a very strong symbol of the injustice felt. This Blayais asks like so many others “the restoration of the ISF”. We denounce for this man from Bouliac the tax evasion of large companies that “must be fought with ferocity instead of attacking the poor and the middle classes” and the absence of solidarity from the richest.

At the Audenge roundabout on the Bassin d’Arcachon, the yellow vests were mobilized and the complaints collected. We propose the “Abolition of the CICE which gives tax advantages to large companies”, of “Taxation at the source of dividends, stock market capital gains, GAFA. Fight against tax havens “. A class consciousness looms: «Is it legitimate for the mega-rich (more than 10 million euros in goods, capital, shares, etc.) to participate less and less in the common dish? This implies a greater participation of the lower social strata ”for this anonymous of Blaye.

Tax justice is inseparable from the environmental issue for this 74-year-old from Saint-Ciers-sur-Gironde, who evokes the “need to maintain ecological taxation to finance the energy transition and fight global warming by putting the principle of pollution into practice. Some contributions offer very detailed concrete measures and demonstrate a thorough knowledge of certain subjects, without it being possible to determine the origin of this information – professional skills, militant knowledge, information read in the press or online. The increase in compulsory expenses and levies (CSG) is perceived as an injustice: “give us back the CSG that you have wrongly stolen from us” write this Mérignacais and this Cubzacaise. The same complaint is formulated against VAT, “the VAT rate is not fair, too high for basic necessities, not high enough for luxury products ”writes a gradignan.

Develop public services

Public services must compensate for social and territorial inequalities (14% of the corpus). At Artigues, we are committed to continuing to:

“Finance education, health, safety […]justice, research, art, culture, public service is the true way to level social inequalities “.

Their privatization worries this man from Le Temple “Stop the privatization of public services”, as well as their disappearance for this person from Avensan “Too bad to keep public services”. They also concern regional planning “Recreating public services so that small towns and medium-sized centers do not die” suggests this Blayais, underlining the disparity between metropolitan and rural areas. The power to live is also expressed in the wish for a “true participatory, ecological and social democracy for the future of our children on planet Earth” (St Girons d’Aigues Vives).

Some of these demands belong to the usual instances of the left: the defense of public services, the defense of taxation as an instrument of redistribution or the development of public transport. Others are specific to the Yellow Vests movement and transcend the left / right divide, such as the referendum on citizens’ initiative, the recognition of the white vote, included in various electoral programs in 2022.

Where are the complaints in the presidential election?

Today, it is only at the end of a campaign deemed weak and demotivating that the central question of the power to live appears in the programs, confirming the skepticism of citizens.

While participating in the “grievance books”, they were divided on the effectiveness of the approach. Inequalities have widened and the executive is far from having satisfied this demand for “power to live”. On the other hand, greater confidence was expressed in the mayors in listening to the expectations: “Thank you for reading me, your task is difficult but you are the elected representatives of the people, our representatives, do us honor” have enjoined three years years ago this Russian.

The request to be heard by political representatives seems to be more satisfied by local elected officials due to their greater proximity. On the eve of the presidential election, the people we met in the context of our investigation cannot help but notice the difficulty of candidates to make these requests and the lack of media attention on some of them.


Di Magali Della Sudda, Politologist and socio-historian, Po Bordeaux e Sciences Nicola PatinHistorian, University of Bordeaux Montaigne

Danielle and Gilbert Lefebvre, Stéphane Mestre, Marcel Guilhembet, members of On-the-Ric contributed to this article.