French town preps for major protest as tensions mount

Tensions have been mounting in Valence after news broke of an employee being fired for supporting the gilets jaunes

The mayor of Valence (Drôme) is preparing for up to 10,000 gilet jaunes protesters this weekend, after a visit by President Macron and the firing of a local Amazon worker heightened tensions in the area.

Between 6,000 and 10,000 people are expected to attend the protest tomorrow (Saturday February 2), according to Drôme authorities.

Nicolas Daragon, mayor of Valence, has confirmed that due to the protests, the town centre will “only be accessible to residents - whether on foot or in a vehicle -, and anyone working in a professional capacity”.

The plans come as news broke that a local Amazon employee was fired after posting a message in support of recent blockades near his workplace; and after President Emmanuel Macron visited Valance as part of his Grand Débat in January.

Mr Daragon said: “From 7h to 21h, we will do everything we can to ensure there are no problems. We have placed barriers in front of more than 300 trees. We have sealed up all the bins, and secured any visible fencing.

“In pedestrian streets, we have re-tarmacked areas that were not secure, so that people cannot use paving stones as projectiles. Anyone wanting to use the urban surroundings as projectiles will find nothing available to them.

The march was first confirmed three weeks ago, but support has increased in light of the Amazon employee’s news, and the visit by President Macron to the town.

Mr Daragon added: “I cannot take big risks in a town like this, which is [normally] not prepared to handle these kinds of events. We noticed that emotions were high on social media. And let me be clear; until Emmanuel Macron visited Valence, only 1,000 people were interested.

“The number of participants has soared since the President’s visit.”

Support has also been growing for the protest this week after news broke that a local Amazon worker, previously employed at the company’s site in Montélimar, was fired following a Facebook post in support of the gilets jaunes blockade nearby.

On November 22 2018, in a pro-gilets jaunes Facebook group, he wrote: “Well done to everyone for the blockade at Amazon. I was so happy to be blockaded coming out of work! Friday will be ‘Black Out Friday’. I will join you when I am not working. Blockade everything.”

This week, it emerged that he was one of five employees to be disciplined for “lack of company loyalty”, “denigrating of the company” and “desire to damage society”. Legally, this is sound, as it is against the national Code de Travail (work code) to “damage the functioning” of your employer’s company.

Yet, representatives of workers’ union CGT, who are accompanying the employee to his disciplinary hearing, reject the decision to fire him completely.

In a statement, the CGT said: “He did not call specifically for the blockading of Amazon, but confirmed his support for the movement. In this case, why has he been fired?”

The union has now called for a strike on February 5 in support of the employee, “but not a blockade”, the statement said, especially in light of news that another Amazon employee had called for a similar blockade of the company site, but had not been fired.

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