May 2nd more than 600 followers of coordination 75 of the sans-papiers (75 is the number of the department of Paris) entered as a big group the Center of the Unions in order to occupy it. In this article, some of the delegates of this occupation give their views on struggle with and against the unions.
From the time of our arrival the gate of the big hall at bottom floor was quickly closed, so the occupation was limited to the courtyard, the stairs up until the forth floor and the hallways of the floors. It was in that situation (under the rain in the courtyard) that we were obliged to stay for almost three weeks, up until the point that the city administration sent workers because of a leak and we could occupy the big hall at bottom floor as well.
From the time of our arrival, the 2nd may, we demanded to see the person responsible. We explained to him that for us isolated sans-papiers workers it is a lot more normal to occupy the Center of the Unions, the house of all workers that is, where we were in safety rather than to go to occupy our separated workplaces where we would be in danger, without the presence of the unions; to be in any case subjected to identity control and brought to a detention center. The person in charge took note of our presence and our complaints.
The two following days passed without any problems and sunday 4th may there was a meeting with CGT (Confédération Générale du Travail), RESF (Reseau Education Sans Frontières), and UCIJ (Uni(e)s contre une immigration jetable). During this meeting we repeated our complaints. We demanded from the CGT that they should undertake the necessary measures to be received together with coordination 75 by the ministry of immigration, in order for our one thousand individual files (mostly isolated working sans-papiers) to be deposited at the local administration and be investigated in the same way as the thousand files already deposited by the CGT. They (the departmental organization of the CGT) had in advance given notice about their incapability to handle these files together with the ministry (apart from those already deposited). They told us to address the national level of the CGT located in Montreuil (suburb of Paris) for them to invite us anew to the action of (that we judge irresponsible) holding strike pickets at our workplaces, where we are isolated workers and without union representation. Because of this situation, we can as isolated workers be arrested all of a sudden (if the boss call the police).
During these discussions RESF and UCIJ did not take position. (Remark that before this meeting of four there was a meeting of three, CGT-RESF-UCIJ, without coordination 75.)
The occupation is set up but the communication with the unions stay difficult
After this meeting the 4th may the rest of the month passes by without almost any other form of communication. This was the case up until the meeting with the inter-union (CGT, CFDT, FO, Solidaires, FSU) the 28th . Other meetings were held the following days where also other organizations in the defense of sans-papiers (MRAP (Mouvement contre le Racisme et pour l'Amitié entre les Peuples), Gisti (Groupe d'information et de soutien des immigrés), LDH (Ligue des Droits de l'Homme), UCIJ, Autre monde, RESF, Haut conseil des Maliens en France). At the end of each one of these meetings there were points of agreement as well as of disagreement.
The unions wanted to treat all of our files within the framework of work but this is not applicable for all of the occupants of the Center of the Unions: there are also unemployed women, children, sick... With the goal of a total depositing of the files a system, classifying all of the sans-papiers by branch of work but also juridical and social status - for example, a worker without papers that cannot, unlike many others, provide pay slips because she or he has always been working illegally, perhaps with the papers of somebody else, or is still a housewife - was agreed upon during these meetings.
But it has thereafter been neglected by the unions and associations to the benefit of a table in the middle of the courtyard where the files should have been entrusted to them to examine, one by one, to judge the if they would be accepted in the first place at the local administration, those that the coordination 75 would be equivalent to a kind of case-by-case treatment and therefore an attempt to bring them back in accordance with the "official line", because once the individual informations have been collected every occupant could be the subject of individual pressures and for example be pushed to quit the occupation under the pretext that their individual case would then be dealt with.
Speaking of this, a simple remark: for what reason should one not have confidence in the files as they have been put in order by the currently entrusted delegates in the coordination 75, that have matured during eight in this kind of business, preparing files? They can anyhow always say that we are too mistrusting but our mistrust appears justified to us, even more as the unions and associations continue to propose, as prerequisite, that we end the occupation of the Center of the Unions before beginning any real cooperation with us. Coordination 75 have responded to this demand that it is waiting for the putting into place of the Commission for the depositing and following-up of files (decided as well in the talks) and the first regularizations, before any decision. One will say that our position is more flexible than the one of the syndicates, ours which do not leave the occupation of the pending strikes until the last sans-papiers is regularized. In the face of our determination to stay in the places one may think that the situation is in an impasse.
Are we on our way out of the impasse?
The 23rd June a first step was taken. A letter signed jointly by the union, the associations, and coordination 75 was sent to the ministry of immigration. There, we demanded an audience to make this ministry more sensitive to the situation of the isolated workers without papers.
The second step was taken the 25th of June. There was a whole series of inter-union meetings, the associations and the coordination 75. (The Haut conseil des Maliens en France was absent, they had not been given notice in advance. We as well were not given notice of the meeting until the very last minute and we demanded that henceforth the High Council of the Malians in France shall be invited in time to every meeting.) A real step seemed to have taken place already in advance. The inter-union meeting and associations declared themselves ready to accompany us to the local administration for a group depositing of our files, that which we had been demanding since the month of april. What was left was agreeing on a date. We declared that our files would all be ready for the 2nd july. It was after this date that a meeting with the local administration could be called upon.
We have moreover demanded that the mixed Commission for following-up of files (inter-union, associations, coordination 75) shall be set up and that the official address for it shall be here at the Center of the Unions in the name of Ud-CGT, for all the sans-papiers concerned. A verbal promise has been given to us, but on the condition that we cease the occupation from the time that the files are handed over to the local administration. Sur quoi, we have confirmed that in any instance, we will wait for the first regularisations before sitting down to discuss the abandonment or not of the Center of th Unions.
The perspectives: unitary and autonomous forms of organization and struggle
For the continuation of the movement we make a point of reaffirming our determination to continue our struggle. It is nevertheless suitable to underline some aspects.
Of course we always welcome that the unions take upon themselves the files of the isolated sans-papiers workers, exactly like the CGT has done and continue to do for other sans-papiers workers. The problem is bigger than this though.
On the one hand there are the other sans-papiers. Those that do not work, like the housewives, the children, the old, the sick ones. As well and to be repeated, there are all those who despite working cannot produce the valid work documents or pay slips because they have always worked illegally, sometimes since decades, in the darkest/most illegal situations of exploitation.
On the other hand, that which, to us, really seem to be the most important for the future of the movement, there is a lesson to be learned from this experience that we are currently living through.
It is clear that from now on, the sans-papiers, if they wish to affect the decisions that concern them they should find unitary and autonomous forms of organization and struggle. It is necessary to construct a relation of force in relation to the government if one wishes to obtain the regularizations to which we have the right, by our contribution of work to the economy and by our cultural contribution to the French society. For this, it is important that all the collectives of sans-papiers in France make efforts to converge in thought and in action, it is necessary to go beyond the present particularities. The whole movement of the sans-papiers should not, any longer, have to rely on the good will of the associations of support and the unions. It should find its real voice and tell about itself and its real strength.
This is not to say that we have to, or want to go without the support of all the associations and unions. This is to say only that the movement of the sans-papiers should, from now on, find its independence and its unity like it is appropriate for the men and women that rise up for the respect of their rights.
What the coordination 75 welcomes above all is accordingly that current movement organizes itself and expand itself to include all the collectives of sans-papiers in Île-de-France (the region around Paris) and in France as a whole. To do this, we have to begin to open up in practice. That is the reason for why we have taken this initiative: we have given a delegate the responsibility to send invitations to our debate the 28th June to different collectives. For our part we will really begin the opening up at this occasion. After the debate it will be necessary to unite with the other collectives to discuss the next steps, to organize the continuation all together, to give a new form to the movement. It will be necessary to initiate the call for a unitary meeting comprising all the collectives of sans-papiers so that we can speak the same language. This begins, for us, the debate this Saturday. The unitary meeting can, if it is the wish of everyone, can be held after this debate. It will serve the purpose of objectives and perspectives of the struggles for the months and the year to come, and above all to prepare the return after the vacations.
We think that all the collectives are basically agreeing in that there shall be unity in the movement. We do not deny that there were differences of opinion earlier on but it is now time to go forward. We insist on that this unitary meeting in Paris could take place to discuss the terms of action of the continuation of the struggle, to put pressure on the government in order to gain the global regularization of all the sans-papiers. It seems more and more clear today that the regularization of anyone is achieved by the regularization of everyone.
It is imperative that a good understanding exists between the collectives. The probable consequence of this shall also be an understanding with the unions and associations and it is this that could produce a real pressure on the government. This is essential.
The big unitary meeting that we wish to happen, if it really takes place, could be not only a means of putting pressure, capable of taking the movement out of this impasse where it has entered, but it would also be a great moment of information: above all between us, collectives of sans-papiers, thereafter against all public opinion in France.
(This is a translation from french of an article from the first special number of "Le quotidien des sans-papiers" covering the occupation of the Center of the Unions at rue Charlot in Paris. Read the same article in french: http://sanspapiers.info/ Click on le journal de LA BOURSE DU TRAVAIL OCCUPEE, first issue)