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by Jean-Paul Piérot

Unite !

Translated Tuesday 29 April 2008, by Gene Zbikowski

April 16 editorial on the struggle of undocumented workers.

Mr. Hortefeux has a few things to worry about.

The immigrant workers, whom he obstinately refuses to legalize, no longer want to try to go unseen. They don’t mean to be treated as underground workers when they do honest jobs that benefit society. They are cooks in fast food restaurants where other workers grab a quick bite during the noon break, or they prepare the fine food for business luncheons in the avenue de la Grande-Armée. And it might very well be that, at the restaurant in the 10th arrondissement of Paris, which they have been peacefully occupying since yesterday, civil servants from the Interior Ministry have sampled the cassoulet that they cook with loving care. These men and women, most of whom come from France’s former colonies, work to keep our streets and airports clean, they clean the linens and the suits that are dropped off at the dry-cleaner’s. There’s no end to the list of service-sector companies in which these “undocumented” workers are employed at meager wages – a fate that they share with most workers – and who are forced to keep quiet and be docile, continually threatened as they are by being caught in a raid at a subway exit once they’ve finished their day’s work.

No, they no longer want to lower their eyes at the approach of a uniform, rightly feeling that they should not have to live with fear wrenching their guts. And yet, they are the chosen quarry of the minister of “national identity,” whose road map has been established by the French president and which can be summed up, more or less, by the figure of 25,000 deportations a year. You might think that the task does not require particular qualifications, besides an unhealthy dose of inhumanity. But you would be mistaken, because the minister is capable of feeling compassion. Of course, a young man drowned last week trying to escape an arrest that would have put him in a detention center, the last stage before the airport runway. But, a few days later, they announced on the radio that Mr. Hortefeux had just delivered, in extremis, a residence permit to a young woman who is being treated for cancer in France. In Nicolas Sarkozy’s France, men and women are hunted down, separated from their friends, torn from a country where they want to earn their living with dignity, just to satisfy the xenophobic fantasies of part of the president’s electorate.

The present occupant of the presidential palace worked hard throughout the presidential campaign to sow the seeds of division among the people. “The France that gets up bright and early” against the France of welfare sponges, private sector workers against civil servants, the French against the immigrants. Divide, divide and divide again so as to get into power, but it must be admitted that he has not managed to divide and conquer as he would like. This is not the first time that undocumented workers have fought for their dignity.

The CGT trade union has made a mighty contribution to that struggle. Associations like Droits devant!, left-wing elected officials, and more and more citizens have been supporting them. From the Buffalo Grill restaurant chain to the rue de la Grande-Armée, from the Modelux laundry to Paris Store, their courageous combat has, if anything, been popular.
The spectacular form of action undertaken yesterday is proof that a new stage has been entered. Solidarity has become a core value for today’s workers – both documented and undocumented – whose purchasing power and social security rights are under attack. This is true in France and in Europe, with the Greek workers in the Saint-Nazaire shipyards and the Rumanian metalworkers in Pitesti who make Logans for Renault, and the steelworkers at the ArcelorMittal plant in Galati. “Workers of the world, unite” is the epigraph to the Manifesto that Karl Marx wrote 160 years ago... A lot has changed since 1848, which was also, let us not forget, the year that France abolished slavery in her colonies, but for workers, unity remains the necessary precondition of their strength.

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