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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: Des sans-papiers bien entourés

by Marie Barbier

Undocumented Workers Surrounded by Friends

Translated Monday 15 February 2010, by Gene Zbikowski and reviewed by Henry Crapo

Dozens of workers have been in a sit-down strike at the rue du Regard, near the Jardin du Luxembourg, in Paris, for the past two months. The courts have ordered them to leave the premises. A statement of solidarity has been signed by a long list of celebrities. Reportage.

He’s been there for a week now, every day, at six in the morning, “in case the police come.” “He” is Laurent Cantet, winner of a Golden Palm at the Cannes Film Festival for his film “The Class.” He says he is ready “to be a buffer between the police and the [undocumented] strikers” in the rue du Regard, who face immediate eviction. “The right to strike is a constitutional right which is non-negotiable,” he says. The filmmaker is not the only one to have taken this position. In a matter of days, an impressive solidarity movement has formed around this sit-down strike.

Among the hundred signatories of the text “The sit-down strike in the rue du Regard is under our protection” one finds the filmmakers Jacques Audiard, Abdellatif Kechiche and Bertrand Tavernier; the actors Yvan Attal, Josiane Balasko and Isabelle Carré; the politicians Pierre Laurent (French Communist Party), Harlem Desir (Socialist Party), Olivier Besancenot (New Anti-capitalist Party), Jean-Luc Mélenchon (Party of the Left), and Noël Mamère (Greens); and the trade unionists Francine Blanche (CGT) and Annick Coupé (Solidaires).

“The government has been systematically evicting the sit-down strikers (50 evictions so far),” they write. “This is, de facto, the expression of a desire to forbid them exercising their right to strike by depriving them of a place to exercise their strike.” And they promise: “If the police intervene, we commit ourselves to doing as much as possible to come to the rue du Regard to protest and bear witness to the disgraceful character of these methods and to proclaim our solidarity with these workers in their struggle.”

At number 8, rue du Regard, life goes on. Since December 7, 250 undocumented workers have been occupying the premises night and day. Their struggle is part of the vast strike movement launched by 6000 strikers in the Paris region. The strikers are demanding a ministerial circular to legalize them under simplified criteria. In the courtyard, half of which is covered, some are finishing their meal while others are beginning their ablutions, while still others are praying in a corner.

“A few of us are temporary workers, but the majority of us are from individual companies,” explains Sissoko Ousmane, the strikers’ delegate. Scattered among the different companies that they work for, these workers have come together to occupy the building housing the Job Training Insurance Fund for Artisans and Construction Workers (Faf-Sab). This organization holds that its premises are being occupied illegally and went to court, which ruled in its favor. On Tuesday February 2, the Paris court of first instance ordered the strikers to clear out. Since 2 p.m. on Wednesday, the police have been authorized to evict the sit-down strikers at any moment.

In the hall, a schedule is posted to ensure that a member of the support committee is always present, night and day. Jean-Paul, a member of the committee, notes that a hundred people are ready to come here immediately when alerted, in order to help the strikers through “passive resistance.” Sissoko confirms this: “We shall not be violent. We aren’t looking for a fight, but we aren’t going to allow them to just evict us like that, either.”

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