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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: Le soutien aux travailleurs sans-papiers s’amplifie

by Marie Barbier

Support for Undocumented Workers Growing

Translated Tuesday 23 February 2010, by Gene Zbikowski and reviewed by Henry Crapo

Since Feb. 2, the 250 strikers in the rue du Regard have been living under threat of being evicted from the premises they are occupying, but they are benefiting from an impressive solidarity movement.

“Enough is enough.” Mahamadou Doucansy awaits the police steadfastly at number 8, rue du Regard in the 6th arrondissement of Paris. He will not let himself be trifled with. Since Dec. 7, this worker, together with 250 other undocumented strikers, has been occupying the premises of the Job Training Insurance Fund for Artisans and Construction Workers (Faf-Sab). On Feb. 2, the Paris court of first instance gave them 24 hours to clear out before giving the police their marching orders. Two weeks on, the strikers are still there, more determined than ever.

“Their right to strike is being violated.”

“We shall go all the way,” Mahamadou states determinedly. Indeed, these men have nothing left to lose. On October 12, 2009, they came out from the shadows, shouting for all to hear their status as workers without rights in 21st-century France. Mahamadou is 32 years old. He first set foot on French soil on October 13, 2001. “Almost nine years have gone by,” he sighs, “and still no documents.” He has worked in construction since his arrival. As a specialist in waterproofing, his daily work is on sheet metal roofs with bubbling tar, for which he is paid laborer’s wages – the minimum wage.

“Since I’ve been on strike, my boss has called me twice for me to come back to work. I told him: No, I don’t want to continue to work without documents. I asked him for a signed promise to hire me so that I can be legalized, but he refused.”

Evictions are something that the rue du Regard strikers know all too well. Since they began their struggle on October 12, they have been evicted five times! They occupied the National Federation of Public Works in the rue de Berri for a month, before being evicted, the AXA skyscraper at la Defense for four hours. Each time, the police violently evicted the strikers from the place they were occupying, and not always with a court order...

“Whether they are covered by a court order or not, the authorities’ position is always the same: eviction,” said CGT trade union activist Raymond Chauveau bitterly, who came to the rue de Regard to give his support. “These workers’ constitutional right to go on strike is being denied.” In the course of the four-month strike, the trade union has registered evictions from 50 occupied sites.

Making labor movement history.

In this particularly tense context, support is welcome. Here in the rue du Regard, everyone remembers Josiane Balasko, Antoine de Caunes and Lilian Thuram sharing a twelfth-night cake with the strikers, amid a swarm of photographers and cameramen, a month ago.

Since then, the list of their backers has grown. Yesterday [Feb. 17] it exceeded the impressive number of 260 signatures by personalities, politicians, scientists and trade unionists, ready to mobilize themselves in case of eviction by the police.

Beneath the shelter that protects them from the rain but not the cold, teapots of bissap (a drink made from hibiscus flowers) helps the strikers to keep warm. “Everyone here is a worker who has no rights,” notes Mahamadou. “They have been working in France for years, paying into social security, paying taxes, and not one has documents.”

These workers who, according to Raymond Chauveau, “are writing a new chapter in labor history,” pose a fundamental question to French society: “Will France accept having entire sectors of its economy keep running thanks to workers who have no rights?” At number 8, rue du Regard, they are still waiting for an answer.

Four months of battle

- 12 October 2009 : The beginning of Act II of the strike movement and of occupations by undocumented workers. They demand a procedure for regularization with improved and simplified criteria.

- 24 November 2009 : The minister of immigration issues an order that “reinforces arbitrary prefectorial authority” according to the eleven organizations at the origin of the movement.

- 7 December 2009 : 250 workers occupy the offices of the Insurance Funds for Training of Wage-earners in Manual and Construction Trades, rue du Regard, Paris.

- 2 February 2010 : The Court, le tribunal de grande instance de Paris, gives the strikers 24 hours to leave the premises.

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