Winter 1980-81 in France saw the French Communist Party (PCF) use its municipal power to attack immigrants in Paris, with the Vitry-sur-Seine council organising bulldozers to stop the construction of a hostel for 300 workers from Mali (therefore leaving them homeless) and leading member Robert Hue, mayor of Montigny-lès-Cormeilles, leading a march against immigrants he had labelled “drug traffickers”. Now again in 2009 the chauvinism of France’s institutional left has reared its ugly head.
At midday on 24th June, migrant workers without papers were dragged out of the Paris Bourse du Travail, where they had sought sanctuary for the previous 14 months, by fifty of the security guards of the Confédération Générale du Travail, France’s largest trade union federation. This operation by the union occurred on the same day as anti-immigration hardliner Brice Hortefeux became the new Interior Minister, as la Promethée report:
The Paris Bourse du Travail is co-managed by the left-wing mayoralty and the trade unions. With the exception of the Solidaires union, all this “happy family”, relieved by the CGT’s initiative, has chosen to remain silent so that people might forget their failure to act to defend workers without papers. These sans papiers were not occupying the Bourse du Travail in the manner of striking workers occupying their workplace, management offices or a public space. They had found refuge there. It would make sense for such union buildings to protect workers without rights being harassed by the capital’s police, given that the latter would even invade churches to get at them.
The sans papiers were not stopping union activity; at most they were bothering the back and forth of the bureaucrats who monopolise the use of union buildings and therefore deny free expression of union members who want to be in control of them. To those who have been moderate in their criticisms with the commendable goal of not damaging the main union federation, we can only ask – who is now doing most damage to the CGT’s credibility, if not its own leadership?
This piece is not itself an attempt to cover the whole problem of struggling for the regularisation of sans papiers workers, but it must be made clear that the CGT has never taken this cause to heart. It has never fully thrown itself into it. It has never integrated this specific struggle into the wider movement of the country’s workers. Activists and CGT bodies have done it, but the confederation’s attitude has exhausted these efforts and broken the united fronts that were built. The confederation’s leadership has acted as if it had made a deal with the previous Immigration Minister (a certain… Brice Hortefeux): “You make a gesture to regularise a certain number of sans papiers, then we can look after calming things down.”
More generally speaking, this ignominious episode where a union leadership attacks workers is a fresh illustration of the CGT’s mutation into a partnership union, practicing “social dialogue”; in short, a ‘reasonable’, ‘responsible’ union. This episode fits into the CGT strategy which led it to do everything possible to lead the struggle against the policies of the President and MEDEF [the French CBI] to finish in the failure of the 13th June national demonstration, and also to a certain degree led to the symbolic success of Sarkozy’s list in the 7th June [European elections]. Despite the strength of the 29th January and 19th March national strike days and the victory of the Guadeloupe general strike, these leaders have played the sorry role of a shield for Sarkozy.
The aggression against the sans papiers workers attests to the fact that, in terms of workers’ solidarity, the CGT is being eaten away at the core. This situation is more and more obvious to many activists and organisations. It is this movement that we must strengthen, co-ordinate and build. This means the defence of the CGT itself. This defence relies on an argument anyone can understand: the struggle of the working class cannot be cut up into slices. United we stand, divided we fall.