Since 15 April, a series of unprecedented strikes by undocumented workers have taken place in France. In the greater Parisian region alone, an estimated one thousand undocumented workers are involved in strike action. The strike and actions, led by the CGT and other unions, is mainly concentrated in construction and restaurants. All the disputes are demanding the mass regularisation of undocumented workers. The strikers chant, “Le cas-par-cas, on n’en veut pas!” — “We won’t accept case-by-case treatment !”
The strike has caused considerable disruption to many businesses in Paris. But as sans-papiers are generally isolated, with only one or two at a time in a given workplace, only a few workplaces – a couple of dozen in Paris – have been shut down or seen business seriously affected.
I spoke to a member of Co-ordination 75, a federation of Parisian sans-papiers neighbourhood collectives, who summed up the situation: “We have around 600 workers in Co-ordination 75 who are involved in action. But those 600 workers between them have 300 bosses! The CGT is unwilling to organise joint picketing with regularised workers to support striking sans-papiers. It’s too dangerous for isolated sans-papiers to try to picket or blockade their workplace, and for Co-ordination 75 to organise flying pickets.” Several restaurants have been occupied, such as the Charlie Birdy, organised by the CNT and Solidaires, or Chez Papa, organised by the CGT.
French bosses have been putting pressure on the government to “resolve the situation”. The Sarkozy government remains publicly opposed to mass regularisations, preferring a “tough stance”. The CGT has brokered a deal with the immigration minister, Brice Hortefeux, to obtain 1,000 regularisations for the striking sans-papiers immediately. Opinions are divided within the sans-papiers movement on this issue. Some consider this to be a sell-out deal to divide and prematurely end the strike movement, others see it as a principled and necessary short-term move to preserve the will of the strikers for the long term.
Ali, an Algerian member of Co-ordination 75 explained, “Hortefeux has said, okay, we’ll regularise 1,000 sans-papiers to end the strike. The CGT gave him a list of only 600 names, without consulting us. The idea is to regularise 600 of the leaders of the various collectives, the best organised, most militant workers, to shut us up. 600 is an insult, though — there are tens of thousands of sans-papiers in the Parisian region alone!”
But a member of Solidaires union defended the decision in light of the difficulties facing the strike, saying “The activists who are leading this mobilisation are at the end of their tether. They aren’t able to open up any new sites, they can’t extend the mobilisation. With their current forces they can’t continue the fight, so they have decided to retire in good order and to strike harder later. Sans-papiers want the regularisations for which they have fought and taken risks. If we don’t prove now, in practice, that struggle pays, the movement will shrink. The desire to cash in our gains today so as not to find ourselves isolated tomorrow is legitimate.”
Neither side, however, denies that the leadership of the CGT has acted in an authoritarian way, not consulting with other activists and unions, and stifling criticism.
The French Trotskyist group, the Ligue communiste révolutionnaire (LCR) points out that the way Hortefeux has dealt with the deal, by suddenly declaring to various ministries that only regularisation requests rendered by the CGT would be considered, effectively locking out other organisations, was calculated to divide the movement, and put activists in competition with each other.
The LCR is supporting the strikes energetically. Jérôme, an activist from the LCR involved in the strike movement, said, “The laws on residency and freedom of movement are imposed on workers, not on bosses, experts, celebrities, or famous sports stars. Workers’ families are obliged to be ‘whiter than white’. When workers fall ill they become a so-called unbearable burden, working-class pupils and students are undesirable, pensioners are told to go and look elsewhere. By grounding this battle firmly in the terrain of the class struggle, the initiators of this movement have done a great service to all sans-papiers, and to the whole working class.”