Resistance to racist repression in France

An inspirational new anti-racist movement is developing in France, taking on both the state and the opportunist trade unions and aid organisations. France has introduced four new anti-immigrant laws since 2004, leading to increased repression of migrant workers. In response, hunger strikes, demonstrations, workplace occupations and strikes accelerated with thousands marching to demand the legalisation of some 400,000 sans-papiers (undocumented migrants). CHARLES CHINWEIZU reports.

Since 2 May 2008 the Bourse du Travail, building of the Confederation General du Travail (CGT) trade union federation, in Paris, has been occupied by around 800 men, women and children from the Coordination des sans-papiers 75 (CSP75), in direct challenge to the CGT’s attempts to stifle and control the movement. The CGT is closely allied with the social democratic French Communist Party. CSP75 is an umbrella group for all the self-organised sans-papiers collectives in the Paris region (the postcode for Paris is 75).

Repression and resistance
Repression of migrants has intensified in the last five years due to France’s attempt to control immigration in the face of a growing economic crisis, rising unemployment and falling house sales. Detention capacity has increased from 790 in 2003 to 1,700 in 2008 in France’s 22 Centres of Administrative Detention (CRA). In 2007, 35,000 people were imprisoned and 23,000 deported. This is below France’s annual ‘target’ of 26,000 deportations and there are increasing raids on migrant workplaces and areas, with mass roundups of sans-papiers for detention and deportation.
Following the death on 21 June 2008 of Tunisian Belkacem Souli, the Vincennes, CRA was burnt to the ground and 14 detainees escaped. After years of brutality there is growing resistance and hunger strikes, fires, refusals to lock down for the night and scuffles with police have become common. In August the CRA at Mesnil-Amelot, near Charles de Gaulle airport, was also set on fire.

Treachery and resistance
In November 2007 a new law obliged employers to submit residence permits for their workers to the police. This was met by massive resistance, including strikes and workplace occupations, supported both by the CGT and by many employers from the hospitality (restaurant, cleaning), retail and construction industries, who are dependent on cheap labour in order to maintain profitability. Under pressure from the business lobby, the government amended the law in January 2008 to allow post-employment legalisation. An employer who has taken on an ‘illegal’ immigrant ‘unknowingly’ can therefore now apply to the préfecture (local police authority) for the person’s status to be made legal.

After secret meetings with Immigration and National Identity Minister Brice Hortefeux, the CGT and human rights organisation Droits Devant accepted the government’s insistence on ‘case-by-case legalisation’ and submitted 600 requests for legalisation of sans-papiers who are CGT members to the Paris préfecture. CSP75 then attempted to submit a further 1,000 applications but the préfecture refused to accept them and the CGT refused to assist, declaring the strike over and the movement

In response to this sell-out, CSP75 occupied the Bourse du Travail. CSP75 says it supports the CGT’s applications but, ‘there are the other sans-papiers. Those who do not work, like the housewives, the children, the old, the sick ...[and] all those who, despite working, cannot produce valid work documents or pay slips because they have always worked illegally, sometimes for decades, in the darkest/most illegal situations of exploitation.’

The CGT, together with various NGOs and ‘left-wing’ and aid organisations, tried to isolate the protesters, locking the main hall, blocking milk deliveries for the children and medical treatment, and telling others groups to boycott the ‘divisive’ occupation. The CGT demands that CSP75 end its occupation before it will take up its 1,000 cases, insisting that the files be handed over one by one to be examined for merit before submitting to the préfecture. CSP75 rejected what is effectively case-by-case treatment by the back-door, demanding that its 1,000 dossiers be considered on an equal basis with the CGT’s. Some of the collectives within CSP75 take an even more radical stance, stating that they will not end the occupation without achieving total legalisation of all sans-papiers.

The sans-papiers movement in France is not divided along ethnic or national lines and this unity gives it an immense strength, which is now being built on in the latest stage of the struggle. The migrant workers occupying the Bourse demonstrate an increased level of political consciousness and awareness of the need to break from the opportunist grip of the trade unions. The occupation is well organised, producing a regular newsletter, holding demonstrations outside the Bourse twice a week, staging frequent marches, keeping in touch with other sans-papiers collectives across France and mobilising support from every possible quarter.

Victory to the sans-papiers!
No to immigration controls!

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FRFI 205 October / November 2008


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