More than a quarter-million people across France joined protests on Saturday against planned hikes in gas taxes. Drivers blocked roundabouts, highway access roads and intersections.
The demonstrations have harnessed a broader discontent with high taxes and, for some, with the policies of President Emmanuel Macron.
Most of the 2,000 demonstrations were in the suburbs, exurbs and rural areas of France where people rely on their cars to go to work, visit the doctor and do their grocery shopping. Some protesters also blocked access to border crossings.
Most of the protests were orderly, though one person was killed and more than 200 were injured in accidents or altercations around the country, according to the Interior Minister, Christophe Castaner.
In Paris, some 1,200 demonstrators almost reached the Elysée, the presidential residence, where they shouted, “Macron quit,” and blocked the Champs-Élysées.
That hostile tone, though, was not evident in most small towns and suburban areas.
“We are not political people; we do not belong to a union, we are citizens,” said Didier Lacombe, a retiree who lives on a fixed income near Éragny, a small town about an hour west of Paris.
“The taxes are rising on everything. They put taxes on top of taxes,” said Mr. Lacombe, as he and his wife prepared to join what has come to be known as the “Yellow Vests” protest after the vests that are required in French cars and that were worn by the demonstrators.
“It is not the tax on gas, it’s everything. The injustice is greater and greater,” he said.
The protesters, whose movement coalesced rapidly over the last six to eight weeks through social media, have grown quickly in numbers. While the demonstrations were no larger than those organized by unions who object to labor reforms, they were strikingly consistent, given the distance between gatherings, which reached from the Mediterranean coast to the northern industrial areas of the country.
The demonstrations are unlike some past protests that pressed for higher salaries. Now, people are seeking a reduction in the gas tax as well as expressing frustration with payroll taxes, which are used for social services like health care and social security, said Alexis Spire, a senior researcher in sociology at the National Center for Scientific Research, a government research agency.
The French taxes, known as social charges, can top 40 percent of paychecks and are used to cover health care, unemployment insurance and other services.
“It’s a big difference with movements such as the Tea Party in the United States,” Mr. Spire said, because the French want government involvement. “The French are very attached to their model of social protection and they are also very attached to government services.”
For those living outside of cities, it is often hard to feel they are getting their money’s worth. Unemployment has remained stubbornly high at nearly 10 percent. Rural hospitals have closed, making it more difficult for those in need to access health care despite the country’s universal health insurance. Mayor’s budgets are shrinking in some localities, which means city hall might be open for fewer hours or the administrative jobs that used to be done there have moved to another town. That means more driving for those left without services.
“It is a very large front that brings together people who are angry about different things, and it is drawn from a number of different segments of French society that has coalesced around outrage about taxes and the increase in gas prices,” said Jérôme Fourquet, the head of opinion polling for IFOP, a leading public opinion research firm.