The meditations of young immigrant workers - Mogniss H. Abdallah

The following text was written by Mogniss H. Abdallah, a second generation immigrant and activist living in Paris. It was published in Patchwork,Paris: Cinel, 1980. Mogniss' involvement in developing immigration media, including "Rock Against Police" concerts, led to a (failed) attempt by the French government to deport him in 1979. Three years after this article was published he would found, with his brother, the IM'media Agency that produces a variety of reports and films on immigrant struggles.

Studying the second generation, those immigrant children born and/or schooled in France, has become a new sociological chic. But they are also and primarily, a serious worry for capitalist planning that wants to fill in any gaps in its plans for dealing with anticipated social conflict. There is an urgency here. The French educational system must be used to screen out social misfits during the schooling of some one million immigrant children emerging from the suburban cities (housing complexes) where they are born and raised. This is a new social figure, still young, whose socializing behavior includes resistance to the isolation, to the ghettoisation, and to the absence of legal protection that characterizes immigrant status.

The State is militarizing its methods due to its inability to control a whole series of new forms of recomposition among immigrant youth outside of the strictly limited territory reserved for them: the spontaneous reappropriation of social services (e.g. from school cafeterias to the showers of Sonacotra centers, from university restaurants to public libraries, from subway food machines and public transportation to sport centers) the self-reduction of prices, i.e. free entry of local and of major city-wide concerts, the creation and growth of youth gangs bringing together members from many areas around Paris, and so on.

What is at stake? As opposed to what is generally thought, the real issue is the control over tomorrow's labor-power, that of part-time labor in a restructured factory. It is not the rehabilitation of racism as a factor of domination perennially guaranteeing the "superexploitation" of immigrant workers.

The State is already devoting considerable sums in order to attempt to integrate young immigrants into the social consensus. It is prepared to spend more to facilitate their increasingly massive role in the labor market in the years ahead. On the cultural terrain which has already been obtained (and which thus has a privileged status for State expenditure) as an area of planning for the sociocultural demands of immigrant children, the State has sometimes been forced to give money and free rain to the creative imagination of the children of Nanterre, Gennevilliers, Vitry, etc. As a result the State has not always obtained the results it wished. For example, if the Weekend Conference at Nanterre was sometimes divided on various issues, nobody walked into the trap of cultural institutionalization. Today, some of those in attendance are preparing a play on prisons that asserts the right to illegality! Similarly, there are numerous young immigrants in the Barre Vocational Classes where they succeed in signing up for class after class just in order to obtain some money.

"Work? There is none — which should not hinder the satisfaction of our needs. It would be ridiculous to want to do work that can or could be done through automation. Long Live Automation! Down with work!
from an anti-Barre pamphlet

They take the money, skip the classes and go to the movies — at State expense. In this way they are able to transform the ridiculously low training wages into social income for their own purposes.

In more strategic terms the State is attempting to deflect youth resistance to the transition from school to work by restructuring the school. One way this is being done, which anticipates youth demand for income, is to alternate school and waged on-the-job training in factories. But this project is only for a future generation, todays "adolescents" are still misfits.

These misfits are refused all initiative, except that of registering for unemployment, of illegal or part-time work. They are deported — through the application of the new Barre-Bonnet-Stoleru Laws designed to remold the labor force. Innumerable deported "delinquents" (maybe 90%) return to France illegally. [ed. note: returns allowed by lax governmental enforcement that helps change the legal/illegal segmentation of the labor force.] They are also murdered — both outside and inside the prison: the assassination of Yasid (21 years old) at Strasbourg, of Abdelkader (17 years) at Valenton, of Kadar (15 years) at Vitry in two months; but also those who fall — anonymously — from random shots during demonstrations, and the so-called suicides of those like Taleb Hadjaj, a prison militant.

Such methods are a real measure of the inability of the State to control this new social figure and of its panic. The panic is theirs, but there are some imbeciles who would spread it among us, in the name of defending the national dignity of immigrant against the racist antagonisms of the colonial period. And in the name of defending jobs.

All these immigrant misfortunes are attributed to an unfinished colonial war. Did not a few residents of Sonacotra threaten to bring out their old rusted rifles from NLF days? On the basis of this logic identification with the culture of the "country of origin", young immigrants are expected to return with joyous heart to military service in the Sahara to reinforce the socialist revolution in their country. In other words Stoleru is only doing them a service by deporting them! Locating the legitimacy of struggle in misery is in fundamental contradiction with the self-valorizing behavior of immigrant youth. There is certainly a rupture with misery on their part, a refusal of what they have experienced among their parents. And their parents are angry with them for this — to the point of treating them as harkis — as totally assimilated "little French" — traitors to their culture. We can certainly speak of harkis, and especially of the children of harkis! Let us speak of those that despite being citizens in the service of France for years on end are still considered foreigners. Let us speak of the television programs where these older harkis speak an excellent French but whose presentations are accompanied by French subtitles! The return "home" to Algeria, or elsewhere, is no response to the total sociocultural autonomy being demanded by young metropolitan immigrants, usually illegally: e.g. by refusing national service (military, electoral, taxes, etc.) either in France or in Algeria.

We also find some imbeciles, or well-intentioned sorts (in Cinel for example) who want to move into institutional areas. We suggest they abandon their endless denunciations of racism (which is only an epiphenomenon) and undertake a better project, dictated by our subjective will, to obtain a specific social right to free circulation throughout Europe (the EEC has already discussed the possibility.)

On the side of theoretical discourse, they can undertake a recasting of the classical theses on delinquence being legitimated by a marginalization within an "alternative" cultural framework seeking tolerance, in favor of new theses on the political legitimacy of social delinquence as a diffuse mass phenomenon whose development is impeded by the "delinquent" dimension that their chaste education forbids them to assume.

On the side of militant "autonomists", they might attempt the recomposition of the young French proletariat (just a wee bit racist) with that social figure that carry, spontaneously, uncontrollably, and daily, a theorized practice that is not always fully lived, and thus is often deformed.

On our side, that of young immigrant proletarians, we are undertaking the coordination of activities in separate housing complexes, and worker inquiries into restructuration, the modulation of the productive apparatus with self-valorization of young workers, with metropolitan culture, etc.

Here then are some of our mediations with intellectuals, with autonomists, and with ourselves.