For Freedom of Movement & Fair Development!

France: sans-papiers strike for their rights

It is not as easy to find articles in english about the struggles of sans papiers in France. If you know interesting and up to date articles about those struggles please let us know!

Since last October, 6000 immigrant workers are on strike in the Paris region.

This is the third large wave of strikes in the last years by immigrant workers demanding the most basic right, to live and work in France; their slogan is “On bosse ici, on vit ici, on reste ici” (we work here, we live here, we stay here). Most of them have been working here for several years, some more than 10 years, in the hardest jobs and with the lowest wages: construction, collection of waste, restaurants, industrial laundery etc. They receive regular wage papers from the employers, pay for the social security and the income taxes but have practically no rights. For instance, even when they are sick, they do not claim benefits otherwise they would take chances of being persecuted by the administration and ultimately the police. Most live in overcrowded foyer in appalling conditions and are constantly harassed by police controls. Most of their meager income is saved and then sent back to their country of origin, countries like Mali, Senegal, Burkina-Faso and Kurdistan.

Of course their bosses know perfectly well their situation and take advantage of it. These workers will accept any job, work extra hours, do not dare to unionise or to claim their full rights. Also, it is much easier to sack them so they live in a perpetually precarious state. Their situation has been considerably worsened in the last years as it is increasingly difficult to obtain legal permits. The government has been tightening its racist oppression against them. Special prisons (centres de retention) have been created where they could be detained for long periods (up to 32 days) with little access to any legal assistance before being deported from the country.

Indeed the right wing of government of President Nicolas Sarkozy has made flagrant racism one of its hallmarks. The police has been given a sinister quota of 25,000 expulsions per year. After closing the Sangatte center where immigrants stayed temporarily before trying to cross the Channel, in September 2009 the police raided and destroyed the huts where some of the refugees had found a shelter. A ministery of “Immigration and National Identity” has been created, implicitly suggesting that immigration is posing a threat against french national identity. Its Minister Eric Besson has recently launched a large national debate on the national identity, that has become a focus for the most racist ideas and slanders.

The purpose of this politics is clear. On one hand, french bosses need these workers. They are the way to make large profits by exploiting cheap labor. On the other hand, the racist ideology fostered by the government is used to divide the working class and blame the immigrants for the evils of capitalism: unemployment, low wages, lack of social housing, etc. Therefore, it is a priority for revolutionaries in France to support the struggles of their sans papier comrades. The trade union federation CGT has done an in depth intervention in this milieu to unionise them, organise them and launch several waves of struggles. However, its action has serious political limits. First, the CGT slogan of “regularisation of all sans papier workers” excludes unemployed, older people, children etc. Instead of trying to extend the movement and draw in new sectors, CGT method has been to organize a sector of workers and then limit the struggle to them, with the aim to put enough pressure on the government to obtain legal permits for these strikers. Similarly to other workers struggles, the whole leadership has been kept tightily in CGT control. Little information is passed to the local delegates, all negociations with the government is done by CGT bureaucrats. Rank and file democracy, a key to win the struggle, needs to be fought for and won by the strikers. Finally, practical and material support offered by CGT is scanty. Solidarity by other CGT members (600 000) is virtually non existent and left to individual initiatives.

The NPA has done a vast amount of solidarity work, with local committees being set up in various cities and towns to support the refugee movement. However, it has so far failed to give a clear political content to its intervention, most of it being left to local initiatives. It is vital to raise the political slogans capable of enlarging and reinforcing the struggle. The best way to fight racism and the racist oppression by the government in France is to build across the whole country solidarity actions with sans papiers in workplaces and the wider community

Down with all racist immigration laws

Down with Fortress Europe

Open the borders

Legal rights for all

All unions, workers organisation should support the struggles with solidarity action and demonstrations