Documents on cleaners' strikes in Paris and Milan, 2002

Submitted by Steven. on November 13, 2006

Leaflets and information on strikes of cleaning workers in Paris and Milan.

We can get rid of all this shit!
(on strikes in the cleaning-sector in Paris... and Milan)
Behind the beautiful new clean service-sector society, behind the spotless hotel rooms, offices, conference halls, supermarkets, train stations and administrative centres hides the crappy jobs and miserable wages. Alongside the workers who come from Europe, there are huge numbers of immigrants working too, from Turkey, Eastern Europe, Southern Africa and the Maghreb States. The companies hope to use the often precarious living situations (insecure temporary-resident status, a poor knowledge of the German language, no recognised qualifications) to divide and intimidate the workers. But work is also the place where people come together and discuss the shit conditions.

Since the 7th March 2002 people working for Arcade, Paris (mostly Maghreb immigrants) have been on strike (see back page). The strike breaks through the endless pacifying lies of "You can't do anything", "No-one will join in", "they will just sack you". It follows the months long strike at the Paris McDonalds (2001-2002) which the precarious workers organised and carried forward themselves and which gained a lot of support from other people. The other interesting example in this context is the strike of the railway cleaners in Italy (see below).

Why are we interested?
We work in offices, factories and call centres or try to make ends meet with unemployment benefits. So we realise that our situation will only get better through escalating the struggle and overcoming the exploitation. We made this leaflet because we think it is important to circulate the experiences of workers' struggle from different areas. So we can learn from the struggles and use the experiences in our own areas. Then we won't have to leave the struggle up to whichever union or other bureaucracy, who always end up putting the breaks on us and controlling us. We have enough ways to fight against the pitiful wages or stressful work ourselves, from go-slows to strikes?

Contact: [[email protected]]

Report from Italy
Strike and Blockade by Cleaning Workers of the Italian Railway

The train and station cleaning of the Italian railway has been subcontracted to an external cleaning company. They write out new contracts every few years. Last year the railway demanded that the cleaning firm accept 40 percent less money. The workers in the northern towns are mostly from south Italy, or immigrants from north Africa, Asia, South America. They pretty quickly understood what the cost cut meant for them: dismissal or wage cuts and increased exploitation. The job is already pretty shit: Doing piece work on the trains with the foreman on their backs, controlling everything. One worker said: "It is a job that you never really finish". All the immigrant workers have temporary contracts for one, two or three months and many are working through temp agencies.

But the workers reacted together. Since October 2001 there have been a series of strikes in many Italian towns. The unions just wanted to negotiate over pay scales and only allow short strikes, just flexing their muscles, but the workers did not go along with this. Since mid February they have basically taken matters into their own hands. In Milan the workers have done a six day go-slow, blocking the tracks in the main station for hours and stopping the use of scab labour. They are showing where their strength lies: In the self-organised actions that hit the capitalist where it hurts.

The blockade disturbed transport near and far. During the go-slow the station was overflowing with rubbish. At the beginning of April, after a further strike, the unions, lead by Cgil, the largest union in Italy, signed a contract with the cleaning firm and the railway, stating that there would be no dismissals and no worsening of conditions. The Cgil sold that as a victory and demanded that the workers ended their strike action. The workers let this go ahead... and two weeks later began the dismissals. The question is, whether the workers can now manage to shake off the control of the union and take further action that "brings the transport to a stand still".

Leaflet from Paris
An end to slavery:
Solidarity with the Arcade strikers

Arcade is a company that is almost completely unknown. But is has something to do with most of the French hotels of the Accor group as a sub-contractor. In the Accor group are the hotels of Atria, Coralia, Etap, Formule 1, Frantour, Ibis, Livertel, Mercure, Motel 6, Novotel, Parthenon and Sofitel.

The Acrade employees clean the rooms of this hotel chain. It mainly deals with women from the "third world", who can often hardly read or write at all, and have sometimes come to France without official papers. They are therefor in a fairly weak position against their exploitation.

Officially these women get 7.16 Euros per hour before tax, which is barely over the legal minimum wage. However, they really work under a piece work system where they are paid after the rooms have been cleaned. They have to clean a certain number of rooms per hour and have 17 minutes per room. When they fall short of these guidelines, the additional necessary work is not paid; and it is often the case that the women cannot work keep to these times because of the constant control. If there is no work to do, it is counted as if the women did not come to work. The contract is part-time, but in reality the women work more than 35 hours a week. Arcade believed that their personnel would be easy to handle and couldn't defend themselves: without official papers, without a real knowledge of the law, with a poor knowledge of French. Therefor the company did not miss the chance to squeeze their employees like lemons. If they then became completely exhausted and their spines just wouldn't co-operate any more, they were sacked.

This all happened completely openly with the help of the contractors, the Accor Group, who wanted to reduce their costs and always imposed severe conditions on its subcontractors. But since the 7th of March 2002 some of the Arcade workers have been on strike and have done some actions against the managers of Arcade and Accor, to push through normal work conditions and decent wages.

Their demands are:
* An extra payment of 305 Euro for everyone at the end of the year.
* An end to the threats and the pressure on the staff to keep to the work times set out in the contracts.
* Full time contracts for all employees (151 hours per month)
* A withdrawal of all sanctions, particularly the eight dismissals.
* A reduction of the piece work per hour to two and a half rooms for the three star hotels and three rooms for the two star hotels.

Within their line of work the strikers have up to now only been supported by the SUD union, but the solidarity is escalating.

Support the women in their struggle against the modern slave handlers. Don't sleep in Accor group hotels. Make it known in your country what is happening today in the heart of rich Europe. Protest at the receptions and to the managers of these hotels. Protest in writing against this form of exploitation and speak out your solidarity with those on strike.

Solidarity committee for the Arcade strikers

News about the strike on the website: []
E-mail: [[email protected]]

From 07.2002