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(en) France, CNT-F*: "Paperlesses workers": Workers made-to-measure for Capital !

Date Wed, 08 Oct 2008 09:12:31 +0200

For decades, the question of migrant labour has been at the center of political
and social debates, and of the fantacies on which capitalism feeds. ---- Except
for a brief period after the elections of 1981, when there were a few partial
improvements, immigration law has made the status of working foreigners ever
more precarious. ---- The last Ceseda Reform of 2007 is one of the most
discriminatory and repressive texts since the Pasqua Act of 1986 which deprived
thousands of their right to live and work in France. Apart from its
fundamentally coersive orientation, it is designed to recruit foreigners
according to the needs of the national economy and to maleable workers who live
in constant fear of deportation.

The circular of August 22, 2007 on work permits gives people the hope of having
their status regularized without actually guaranteeing anything. Migrants are
subjected to a whole arsenal of restrictions without any regard for the
constituional principle of non-discrimination. The criteria listed in that
circular remain entirely at the discretion of local authorities. The decision of
18 January 2008 establishes an exhaustive list of occupations open to migrants
under restrictive conditions and subjected to bilateral agreements with their
countries of origin .

In that same spirit the European Union seeks to get total control over all
movement of migrants across its borders, as we can see in the recently
passed Directive that authorizes periods of detention up to eighteen
months. All proposed legislation points toward more selection, more
control, more repression. None of this has anything to do with respect for
human rights, judicial remedies are very limited. Time limits for raising
appeals are being shortened while the conditions for doing so are made
more restrictive, limits on arbitrary administrative decisions are being
relaxed, arrest warants are becoming easier to obtain, the procedures for
renewing residence permits are becoming ever more complex.

The Strikes

A strike of undocumented migrant workers began in and around Paris since
April 2007. More than 1500 workers in restaurants, in construction,
cleaning and domestic workers were involved. The CNT stands for the
regularisation of all humans, be they workers or not. Although this
struggle sometimes involved case by case negotiations with government
authorities, we decided to take part in order to obtain papers for our
fellow workers. Here are two eyewitness reports on strikes started by the
CNT of greater Paris.

The « Charlie Birdy » or how to make a nightclub swing
On Sunday, April 20, CNT members armed with banners, flags, posters,
stickers and a supply of food met. Their mission : to take over the bar «
Charlie Birdy », just off the Champs-Élysées, considered the world's most
beautiful street, at least according to some.

On the way, we meet up with our five undocumented fellow workers who are
going to fight for their regularization.

Once inside, the strikers and the CNT members take positions behind the
bar and in the easy chairs of the club. Meanwhile others are busy outside
floodinding the neighborhood with CNT propaganda; "French or migrant, same
boss, same struggle", "Workers have no country but international
soldarity". The manager freaks out and starts to tear up everything in
sight, but our threat to close down the place helps to calm him. Soon
enough, the owner turns up with his buddies from the police.

Unfortunately, we have committed no crimes and the police have no right to
intervene in labour disputes. With bad grace, the owner agrees to apply to
the préfecture of the 92 arrondisment for the regularisation of the five
workers. We settle down to stay. Our colleagues who work in the kitchens
of other restaurants of the same chain have decided to occupy the place
without blocking it. We choose a place from which we can keep an eye on
the door, with comfortable couches, a couple of tables and the easy
To stave off starvation, people bring along snacks and couple of fellow
workers stock up enough to last several days.

But it isn't all fun and games. That bar closes at 5 AM seven nights a
week. Those among us who are totally exhausted take naps in a compartment
in the basement that we have liberated.

Meanwhile, others have to stay upstairs and endure the crap music turned
all the way up and the dirty looks of bourgeoise who take us to be bums
stretched out on their precious couches. After five o'clock there is the
cleaning and the deliveries. It gets exhausting. After fourty-seven days
of this occupation Moussa, Souleymane et Madikoulé get their papers. That
leaves Hadji and Simbala whom the emigration authority stubbornly refuses
to regularize. The strike is over, but the struggle continues.

How PastaPapá became a self-managed restaurant between the Champs and the

On May 20 a new wave of strikes hits the Île-de-France. With support from
Solidaires and CNT eight undocumented cooks take over the restaurant of
the founder of that chain, for whom they have worked many years. Now it is
the turn of PastaPapá, close to the Champs-Élysées, a few hundred meters
from the "Market", the "Charlie Birdy", the "Quick" and the "Bistro
romain", which have already been taken over.

The beginning was tough. The boss had a fit, started screaming, pushing
people around, breaking up chairs, trying to scare the strikers. Next
morning he switched over to the lock-out. Within a few hours he emptied
his restaurant, blocked the toilet doors, cut the current and left.

Grateful to be rid of him, we got organized. Cleaning, shopping, cooking ;
the day to day tasks were planned and assigned. Every evening there was a
general assembly of strikers, unions and supporters. Decisions about the
legal battle (follow-up on the files) and on the financial resources
(concerts, solidarity events) were taken. Food drives in working class
neighborhoods proved to be so effective that the strikers were able to
cook meals for their colleagues in the Charlie Birdy.

After three weaks, a court order forced us to sign a less favourable
occupation agreement which enabled the boss to reopen his restaurant. But
we stayed with the strikers.

After the fourth week, four strikers got a three month temporary residence
permit and a work permit. Finally, in August all the strikers received a
residence permit.

It is too early to draw final conclusions, but the workers at Charlie
Birdy and PastaPapa have shown us a beautiful example of bloody-mindedness
and solidarity in their struggle. With the open-sesame of the work permit
now in hand, the next question concerns their working conditions. Some of
these cheap skate bosses will be hearing from the black cat again real

Nil, International Secretariat of the CNT and Brice and Jessie of
Immigrant group CNT

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