Socialist Worker

Undocumented workers strike for their rights in France

by Gareth Jenkins
Issue No. 2176

Sans papiers on strike in France  (Pic: Rahul Patel)

Sans papiers on strike in France (Pic: Rahul Patel)

Some 4,000 undocumented workers ('sans papiers') are striking in the Parisian region. They come from sub-Saharan Africa but lack the official papers that entitle them to the benefits that French workers enjoy.

They are hired on a temporary basis, by agencies. They work as cleaners, they do maintenance work and they act as security guards. The bosses and the agencies that do the hiring treat them like dirt.

Around 40 workplaces are being occupied by strikers. Socialist Worker visited one occupied agency in a busy street in the 20th arrondissement of Paris, in the east end of the capital.

The 15 sans papiers workers were collecting signatures in support of their demands. They were getting a lot of support in this working class area of Paris. There is a local support group and people bring money, food and sleeping bags to make sure the occupation continues.

All this gives them enormous confidence and the feeling that they are not isolated.

What the strikers are demanding is complete regularisation of their position.

A strike last year won regularisation for 1,300 workers on a discretionary basis. This year, the strikers want regularisation as of right.

Many sans papiers have lived in France for years. They are completely integrated into French society, their children go to the same schools as other French children. They are not taking work from anyone else.

But they dare not work using their own names. The bosses (and the state) connive in this. The sans papiers pay taxes, pension contributions and social security—but they cannot claim when they need to.

They have the active support of the major trade unions, which are negotiating for the government to issue a new circular that would give rights to all sans papiers.

The strike and occupations are a challenge to racist divisions and to the idea that migrants, rather than the system, are the problem.

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Article information

Tue 3 Nov 2009, 18:39 GMT
Issue No. 2176
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