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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: On occupera un jour, un mois ... un an s’il le faut

by Ixchel Delaporte

“We’ll occupy this place for a day, a month ... a year if necessary.”

Translated Saturday 17 October 2009, by Gene Zbikowski and reviewed by Henry Crapo

In Paris, nearly 30 worksites were still occupied on October 13 in the new mobilization of undocumented workers. Reporting on site at the Fédération patronale des travaux publics (the building trades employers’ association), which represents the biggest employers in the sector (Vinci, Bouygues, Eiffage...).

Following the big strike movement to obtain legalization organized by undocumented workers in the Spring of 2008, here comes the Autumn 2009 strike. Since the morning of October 12, about 300 undocumented workers, who are actively backed by the CGT trade union, have been occupying the ground floor of the seat of the Fédération nationale des travaux publics (FNTP) [the building trades’ employers association] located at number 9, rue de Berri in the eighth borough of Paris. On the façade of the building, which is flanked by two luxury hotels, the brass plaque of the FNTP rubs shoulders with a CGT poster and a small red flag.

“The undocumented workers movement. Act II.” These words are written in black on the “strike notebooks” which are distributed to each participating undocumented worker and which bear their individual names. Following the first night’s occupation, their faces look tired but determined. You see a few of them sitting in the armchairs in the entry lobby. But most are inside, seated on the floor in the halls or on chairs, and in the three big meeting rooms. “We’ve been here since yesterday morning,” Kouaté Kandjura says quietly, one of the spokespeople at the FNTP occupation. For the moment, things are OK, but we’ve got to set up a solidarity fund to be able to buy food to eat. We are determined to occupy this place as long as is necessary, for a day, a month ... or a year if necessary.”

Fed up with being afraid to walk in the street, tired of being confronted with ID checks, the strikers seated around a big table express their anger at being treated like second-class citizens. A man from Mali, in his fifties, searches feverishly in his wallet and holds out his building trades worker ID card. He has lived in France since 1994. Since that date, he has been working eight hours a day in industrial cleaning. “I’ve got all my pay stubs. I pay taxes and sales taxes like everybody else. But I have no right to social security, or to a retirement pension, or to unemployment benefits, because I haven’t got any immigration documents. That is why I’ve joined the occupation.”

The FNTP says it is surprised to be the target of an occupation. “Our federation firmly denounces illegal work. It’s our job to inform and sensitize our member companies to fight against that. But in the final analysis, each company is responsible for what it does,” says Jean-Christophe Goux-Reverchon in justification. He is the FNTP’s attaché de press. And he affirms that force will not be used to clear out the occupiers.

For all that, no contact has been established between the heads of the FNTP and the strikers. In the mean-time, the sit-in continues. Yesterday, the three hundred strikers were preparing to spend a second night in the building.

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