Strike for your right… to citizenship

From l’Humanité:

ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: Régularisations historiques pour les travailleurs By Marie Barbier

Historic legalizations of undocumented workers

Translated jeudi 7 août 2008, par Gene Zbikowski

Undocumented workers. Francine Blanche, the CGT trade union secretary responsible for workers’ rights, rejoices at the success of the “first wave” of strikes and occupied workplaces. Interview conducted by Marie Barbier.

On April 15, clandestine immigrant workers, in answer to a call issued by the CGT (General Confederation of Labor) trade union and the Droits Devant ! association of civil rights militants, launched the beginning of a strike movement to obtain legalization. Today, August 1, the “first wave” has come to an end with the suspension of the last picket line. Workers at 15 companies have resumed work as the great majority have obtained French residence permits.

What general conclusions do you draw from this “first wave?”

Francine Blanche: It has been extremely positive, not only with regard to legalizations, but also as concerns the economic realities which this strike has brought to light. In the restaurant, building trades and cleaning sectors, the strike has revealed realities that are more worthy of the 19th century or of the remotest parts of Asia. Third-world working conditions have been “relocated” to France. Each of these sectors, being unable to relocate production abroad, has been hiring people to work in France under unacceptable conditions.

Did you expect such a success when you launched the strike movement on April 15?

Francine Blanche: In the beginning there were 200 strikers, and the movement spread quickly. Today, the strike concerns economic sectors that we didn’t even imagine at first. This is very positive. Legalization is a means to obtain respect for workers’ rights. In the protocols to an agreement that have been signed with the companies, part-time workers are obtaining full-time jobs, wages are going up, temporary workers are getting permanent jobs, and so on. We are clarifying the social situation of these workers.

Wasn’t the CGT caught a little bit short by this strike movement ?

Francine Blanche : The role of a trade union is to help the workers when they go on strike in their own interest. Obviously, that created organizational problems for us. And the problems were all the more difficult for our trade unions at the local and départemental [1] levels as these were companies where our trade union didn’t have any members among the workforce.

Are you going to follow-up on the legalized workers who have resumed work ?

Francine Blanche: Of course ! All the more so, now that there is a trade union section at each of these workplaces. We’re going to work together for their demands, and notably in the elections to the Conseil de prud’hommes [2]. On the ground, we’ve got the means to consolidate the social guarantees that have been won, and to improve upon them.

Some sectors are continuing to be a sticking point in terms of legalizations, notably the construction industry…

Francine Blanche : Yes, and we’re quite worried. It seems we’ve gone and kicked a gigantic anthill. The big construction companies use an enormous number of undocumented workers as casual or floating workers. It’s a lawless sector in which the bosses ignore the labor laws.

Translator’s notes:
[1] administrative circumscription comparable to a county, more or less
[2] labor conciliation board, equivalent of the industrial tribunal (UK) or labor relations board (US)

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