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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: La révolte des salariés sans papiers

by Ludovic Tomas

Clandestine Workers - The Revolt

Translated Sunday 27 April 2008, by Edward Lamb

With the support of the CGT (General Confederation of Labour) French trade union, nearly 300 illegal immigrant workers occupy, as of yesterday morning, their respective work places in and around Paris. Coming out of hiding to emphasize the fact that they play an active role in the nation’s economy. A comprehensive press review that can be read in the pages of l’Humanité.

No confit de canard (preserved duck leg) on the menu at the restaurant Chez Papa yesterday, the only thing cooking was social conflict in the kitchen. Twenty-six cooks of a Parisian restaurant chain featuring culinary specialties of the French South West occupied the emblematic birthplace of the trademark in the Capital’s 10ème arrondissement , beginning at 8 o’clock this morning. Apart from three of them, none have French national identity papers although they have been working for as long as ten years for the same franchised chain of gastronomical restaurants. All of them have long term work contracts, pay Social Security contributions, rent and taxes. But, for them, no incentive bonuses. «Even if they work like madmen.»

A first time event in France

That movement, organised by the CGT labour union, is a first time event in France. It is to be placed in the context of a growing phenomena having reached, yesterday, a dozen and a half companies located in the five administrative divisions which compose the Ile-de-France region. A total of two hundred and forty-three employees from different professions, according to Francine Blanche, federal secretary of the CGT, in charge of wage-earners and immigrant rights, have undertaken an unlimited strike. The restaurant and clothing sectors, as well as the construction and transportation industries, private security agencies, industrial cleaning companies, centralized group buyers, garden centres, domestic services…such are the employment sectors which hire, in most cases deliberately, illegal immigrant workers. « Most people working in those fields are not Whites. Only Blacks and Arabs accept to work for such low wages », one employee reminds us.

«We cannot continue to work in such conditions. We don’t even have the right to speak out », explains Diakité Amara, who’s been working at Chez Papa for eight years. «The ventilation hood over the stoves is out of order and they don’t want to repair it because we have no choice, anyway », declares his colleague, Camara Fodié. Natives of Senegal, Mali or Mauritania, the cooks are employed having ten-year-old falsified visas, which they bought for up to three hundred euros. « We buy them from black marketeers who, themselves, sometimes get them from the police. Employers are aware of that. Social Security agents, too. They don’t give a damn, as long as the money comes in. And we’re the one’s who make the system work », denounced one of them.

The founder of the restaurants, in 1989, and still owner of three of them, Bruno Druilhe evidently denies these accusations. « These are people sent to me by the ANPE (National Employment Agency) or recruitment offices when I call them. I’m not to blame if they have phoney identity papers. I’m only a businessman, my concern is transmitting know-how », he asserts, affirming that he is ready to collaborate with the CGT. Member of the restaurant managers union, the Synhorcat, Bruno Druilhe is waiting to know what the talks between his employer’s trade organization and the government will bring forth.

According to Olivier Villeret, of the CGT in Paris, « The police went to all the occupied business places and reported their findings to the government, who were necessarily aware of the facts. We are waiting for a signal and preparing ourselves to spend the night on the scene », he added. The strikers have nothing else to lose. « When we were told about the CGT, we were initially apprehensive about joining a labour union. A comrade encouraged us to do so and we all followed his lead », says Dramé Adama, a chef cuisinier having already obtained citizenship in 2001, yet taking part in the movement out of solidarity.

Smail Si Mohammed, himself Algerian, was hired at "Papa’s" in 2005 as a dishwasher. He was refused renewal of his one-year visa last March, despite the fact that he is in France for medical reasons. « My treatment is not finished but the local authorities consider that I have been cured. » The restaurant manager put an end to his contract but Smail has taken the issue to court.

« Our earlier struggles got these cases out of hiding », underlines Rémy Picaud, of the CGT commercial sector. They have demonstrated that they have taken their place in the national economy and that they contribute to the financial success of their bosses. » But, when the illegal situation of one of his employees becomes flagrant, the employer takes no chances. « Four people have already been fired after having been arrested » affirms the staff of Chez Papa . « We know that he knows, but no one talks about it. When things get tense with the boss, he knows that the problem will find a rapid solution because we are obliged to accept it. » resumes Issagna Traoré, kitchen manager in the 14ème arrondissement, for a monthly salary of 1 400 euros while her colleagues have to satisfy themselves with 1 200 euros for a thirty-nine hour work week.

A game of hide and seek

« When you don’t have official identity papers, working conditions are more difficult because you have no freedom. That’s a part of the game of hide and seek you must play in order to work and there are lots of things you can’t do. You feel underestimated and you are submitted to more pressure. Certain people tried to go through the administrative procedure, but they were refused. Today, we are attempting a joint action, because we’re fed up. All of this must cease. At Buffalo Grill next to the Grande-Armée quarters, they obtained citizenship, why not us ? », asks Issagna Traoré.

One question instigated by security agents at Fabio Lucci stores where the strike, begun on March 27th, is not without a certain influence in the result of yesterday’s united struggle. Today, at 6 o’clock P.M., other illegal immigrants call for a demonstration of solidarity in front of the shop on avenue Jean-Jaurès (métro Porte-de-Pantin) in Paris.

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