Liberté, égalité, fraternité: Precarious generation

Submitted by Anon on 22 January, 2004 - 4:49

By Vicki Morris

In December 2003 more than 200 workers at Pizza Hut in France struck a deal with their management, after mounting a month of strikes. The details are not public yet.

Last autumn the company decided to franchise out its French restaurants, a move that would mostly likely lead to even less respect for workers' rights. The move helped to galvanise the workers.
The workers' demands included:

  • 10% pay rise for all
  • No malicious sackings
  • Respect for trade union rights
  • A "13th month" pay bonus for all workers.

One of the strike leaders and a representative for the trade union CGT (Confédération Générale du Travail), Abdel Mabrouki, has just published a book about his experiences campaigning for workers' rights in the fast-food sector: Génération Précaire (Le Cherche Midi, ISBN 2749101905).

In October 2003 Mabrouki was acquitted of having defamed Pizza Hut two years previous by distributing a leaflet titled "Shame on you, Pizza Hut", and "Pizza Honte" (Pizza Shame).

This description of the author and his book comes from the website of the campaign Stop-Précarité (Stop Casualisation).

"Insecure employment status, aggressive management and low salaries; that's just how it is at McDonalds... and at Pizza Hut. The inexcusable working conditions that provoked the first big fast-food strike at McDonald's Saint-Germain in December 2000, the first in a long series of conflicts.

Who is leading these 'hamburgrèves' (hamburger strikes)? Abdel Mabrouki, 31, employed by Pizza Hut since 1993, a long career in an industry where the employees don't make old bones.

Abdel decided to stick it out - despite several attempts to make him redundant - because he wanted to shake things up. And when the management decided to punish Abdel, who up until then had worked at the counter, by transferring him to washing up, he was overjoyed!

The washing-up corner made an ideal observation point to log the complaints of all and sundry. Absolutely ideal for giving this young trade union rep a crash course in the disgusting lack of respect for work regulations: ill-fitting uniforms, flexible hours, non-declared accidents, etc.

But neither can a trade unionist be completely happy with the leadership of a historic trade union that is sometimes detached from the real working lives of these new casual workers.

With irony and with anger, Abdel Mabrouki describes what lies behind the décor of fast-food multinationals and in so doing condemns the management style that in this time of globalisation threatens all sectors of the labour market.

His account, punctuated with a thousand and one edifying and often funny anecdotes, is the first testimony of the precarious generation*."

Across France in recent years there have been a spate of strikes in fast-food chains - at McDo, Frog pubs - more or less supported by or organised by the trade union movement, but getting most of their impetus from the young workers who toil in the restaurants.

The campaign to organise casual workers in sectors unfamiliar to established unions will become especially important in France now. The government has begun to "do a Thatcher" and move large numbers of unemployed workers off unemployment and into "training" schemes that do nothing more than provide cheap labour for private businesses.

* In French, "la génération précaire"; this translates in English as "generation of casual workers" but doesn't sound half so poetic!

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