France: Fight state racism / FRFI 217 Oct/Nov 2010

FRFI 217 October/November 2010

100,000 people marched in cities across France on 4 September and other demonstrations were held in European capitals in protest against the destruction of Roma camps in France and subsequent deportation of nearly 1,000 Roma men, women and children.

So appalling and overtly racist were the actions taken by the French government in August that they were even condemned by the European Union (EU). France now faces the unprecedented threat of prosecution by the EU, with Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding saying she had been appalled ‘by a situation which gave the impression that people are being removed from a member state of the European Union just because they belong to a certain ethnic minority. This is a situation I had thought Europe would not have to witness again after the Second World War.’

Even a member of President Nicolas Sarkozy’s own right-wing UMP party described the raids on Roma camps as ‘rafles’ – the word used for German Nazi raids on Gypsies and Jews during the Second World War.

Raids have been carried out in all the main cities of France to meet the government’s aim of dismantling 300 illegal camps before the end of 2010. Between 28 July and the end of August, 128 had already been destroyed and 979 Romanian and Bulgarian Roma expelled. In spite of the European Parliament resolution of 9 September demanding France suspend these expulsions, 100 Roma adults and children were flown from Marseilles and 130 from Paris five days later. Another charter flight is scheduled on 30 September and the French police are working hard to fill that plane. Roma families are thus constantly under the threat of eviction.

On 9 September, French Minister of Immigration Eric Besson told the EU Commission that the action was not racist – ‘France took no specific measures against the Roma population’; the same day an internal memo to prefects [regional or departmental heads of government] leaked to French newspaper Le Canard Social gave the lie to his bluster. The memo, dated 5 August, orders the ‘systematic dismantling of illegal camps, with priority given to those of Roma’, as well as ‘immediately expelling irregular foreigners.’ It stresses: ‘On 28 July the President of the Republic set some precise goals for the eviction of illegal camps; 300 illegal camps or settlements will have to be evicted within three months, among which Roma ones are a priority’.

International law is supposed to protect against forced evictions and requires local authorities to provide appropriate advance notice, compensation for lost or damaged property and to grant alternative accommodation to evicted people. Roma people who were evicted in France had a few hours to gather their belongings before seeing the rest of them bulldozed over and sent to the dump, while they were left on the side of the road with a few bags and nowhere else to go.

Discriminatory policies and overt state racism have been gradually increasing throughout the last few years in France. For the government, it is a useful way of distracting citizens from attacks on social benefits and recent corruption scandals involving members of the government. Along with the youth and the Muslim population, Roma people are publicly associated with criminal activity and their removal is promoted as part of a crackdown on crime. At the end of July, President Sarkozy demanded that ‘the Ministry of Interior put an end to the settlement of illegal camps by Roma people, these constituting no-law zones that France cannot tolerate any more.’ Having prepared the ground in this way, the government now plans legal reform to facilitate the future expulsion of Roma migrants and anyone representing ‘a threat to public order due to repeated acts of theft or aggressive begging…abusing the right to short-term stay in order to evade the stricter rules for longer stay [and] representing an unreasonable burden on [the] welfare system’. UMP leader Xavier Bertrand called those who protested against such stigmatisation of the Roma ‘complacent hypocrites’.

However, polls show that 55% of French citizens believe these measures directly contradict ‘the values of the French Republic’, despite what the Sarkozy government claims, and more mass protests are planned. The fight against state racism in France will continue.

Anjela Broustal

French government attacks Muslim population

The French Senate has voted by an overwhelming margin, 276 votes to 20, to approve legislation banning the Islamic headscarf or hijab and other ‘conspicuous religious symbols’ from being worn in French schools. The vote repeated a similar landslide in the lower house of the French Parliament, 494 votes to 36. Almost the whole French establishment has denounced the wearing of Islamic headscarves by young girls to school, with parliamentarians vying with one another for who can espouse ‘secularism’ the loudest. Ironically, only Jean-Marie Le Pen’s National Front, has opposed the law, on the grounds that it is a cosmetic exercise and does not sufficiently confront the problem of immigration.

Both French women’s groups and French Muslims, including women, are divided on their approach to the ban. On International Women’s Day, Muslim women marched both for and against the law.

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Côte d’Ivoire: French imperialism runs amok

On 4 November 2004 the Ivorian air force began bombing rebel-held positions in the centre and north of the country. On 6 November it killed nine French ‘peacekeepers’ and a US ‘aid-worker’ at a military base in Bouaké. France, with over 4,000 troops already in the country under a UN mandate, then destroyed the tiny Ivorian air force of two jets and five helicopters as they lay on the tarmac. ‘You do not kill French soldiers with impunity’, explained French prime minister Raffarin.

French military seized the airport and deployed 50 armoured vehicles in the vicinity of the President Laurent Gbagbo’s Abidjan residence. French soldiers fired into the air, surrounded the presidential mansion and placed barbed wire between them and thousands of Ivorian people who heeded radio appeals to protect their head of state. Strategic bridges were seized and armoured vehicles protected roadblocks from military bases to the airport. At the Hotel Ivoire, commandeered as a military base, French officials held talks with Ivorian army chief of staff, General Doue, while outside French helicopters continued to bomb Abidjan.

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France: the fire this time

On the night of 27 October, over 400 youth, mainly of north African origin, clashed with police on the streets of Clichy-sous-Bois, a north-eastern suburb of Paris; police responded with tear gas and rubber bullets. Within days riots had erupted all over France, from Rouen in the north to Avignon in the south. Over the next 18 days and nights nearly 9,000 cars were torched and schools, buses and shops set alight as young people fought running battles against the hated police. On 5 November there were 1,400 arson attacks in a single night. On the night of 9 November, vandalism at two power stations caused widespread blackouts in Lyon, France’s second largest city. The unrest even spilled over the border into Belgium.

Police responded with brute force and mass arrests and on 9 November, President Chirac imposed a state of emergency throughout France, giving cities sweeping powers to impose curfews, limit the movement of people and vehicles, close public spaces where ‘gangs gather’ and place those identified as trouble-makers under house arrest. These special powers, which date back to the Algerian war of independence and have never before been used in France itself, are now in force across 40 cities and suburbs of France. At the same time the scale of the revolt has forced France to confront the issue of the appalling poverty, ghettoisation and discrimination faced by its immigrant community. In this there are parallels with the uprising by mainly black working class youth that erupted in Britain in 1981.

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France: no to casualisation!

Hundreds of thousands of young people have been demonstrating and occupying universities and sixth-forms throughout France in protest at a new law passed on 9 March which significantly reduces employment rights for those under the age of 26.

The government forced the Law for Equality of Opportunities through parliament using a special article in the French constitution to bypass the National Assembly and thus suppress any debate. The new law creates a ‘First Employment Contract’ (CPE) which will allow an employer to fire an employee under the age of 26 during the first two years of employment without having to give any reason. The law has been billed as a solution to high youth unemployment, which at over 20% (and 50% in the poor suburbs) is twice the national average. The government says that rigid labour laws are a disincentive for employers to hire young people as they cannot afford the risk in the new economic climate. Increased flexibility will increase employment. In other words, workers’ rights are harming profits. This new First Employment Contract is part of a broader ruling class strategy of stripping workers’ rights. It follows an almost identical contract established in August 2005 that can be used by small businesses. In 1994 the Balladur government tried to impose the CIP or ‘Beginning Work Contract’ which lowered the minimum wage for those aged 25 and under in order to make them more employable. On that occasion mass action forced the government to repeal the law.

Resistance to this casualisation of labour has mushroomed, taking the form of demonstrations, strikes and occupations as well as direct action against the state. As FRFI went to press, 21 universities were being occupied and 46 more disrupted. The movement has also spread to the secondary schools, with 814 lycées participating in some sort of strike action. In some schools and universities teachers have joined the students in occupying the buildings.

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