The fight to exist

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Lundi, 4 Juin, 2012



Struggling to exist: the battle which thousands of men and women have been fighting for months and in some cases years – they get up everyday and go to work, but do not have the necessary documents.

One often hears about demonstrations of undocumented immigrants. I wanted to know what it is really about – what motivates their struggle. I wanted to understand the origins of such passion to really live rather than simply survive. My research took me to the CGT (General Confederation of Labour) trade union – in fact, to Francine Blanche, who is the national officer for labour rights and against discriminations.


I would like to know what you think pushes undocumented workers to go on strike? They are taking a big risk!


In fact, they take a risk every day, regardless of whether they are on strike or not. Undocumented workers always have a difficult time. They are vulnerable because of their administrative situation. They can be sent away by plane at any moment.

When they come and see us, they say that they are fed up with their daily situation at work. They are fed up with not being able to say “No” and having to do everything their boss tells them to do – simply because they do not have the necessary documents. They ask us for help for two reasons - to have documents and improve their working conditions. Documents are essential for existing and having their rights as workers respected. Things must change in order for them to not be forced to work all hours for peanuts and in order to have holidays and recognition of sick leave.


There are some theoretical rights, but in practice they have no real rights. The CGT does not want there to be workers without rights. Everyone must have the same rights whether they are from here or elsewhere, whether they are men or women, older or younger, in good health or disabled. There must be real EQUALITY AT WORK. It really is an essential value of the Republic.


How do they manage to survive during this period?

Most undocumented workers send part of their pay back home and live on very little – less than two Euros a day. That is the situation we discovered. At the beginning, in the CGT, we tried to give each one 200 Euros, especially those who are worst off. Then we organised national fund-raising. We received donations from citizens who want to help. There are also collections during strikes. There are solidarity committees composed of organisations, which bring them food and sleeping bags. Even some little cafés contribute to this system of solidarity. Also, one must not forget the solidarity at the level of the families, who support the strikers’ actions. This solidarity is essential. There is great solidarity here, and also over there in their countries of origin. When someone receives their documents, s/he rings home and happiness is shared at once.


Have some people suffered reprisals or threats?

Yes, some people have received threats. There was the battle that was called the «CERFA battle» at the beginning of 2010. We had to fight all year long to make the employer recognise his employee and admit to the fact that he had an undocumented person working for him in his company and thus, at last, apply for a work permit for him.


What happens to them if they lose their battle?


We set out to win! We stick with them until the end. About twenty of the 2008 group have not yet had their documents. They are all working in one way or another. Their situation has not yet been regularised, because the criteria in 2008 were severe. For example, you had to have worked for at least 12 months for the same employer. The 2009 and 2010 criteria still require 12 months’ work, but not necessarily with the same employer. Employers must provide pay slips. The State no longer asks questions about one’s past, but one has to prove that one has lived in France for at least 3 years.

Most have been declared. It is difficult to get the new criteria implemented, especially in Paris. Out of 6,804 strikers, 4,000 applications have been made and 2,500 people have been, or are in the process of being, regularised. 1,500 cases are thus blocked of which 900 are in Paris.

The new criteria are better than those that existed in 2008, but they are insufficient – especially for undeclared workers. Those who participated in the movement are alright, but what about the others? Rights must be won for them as well. The idea is to ensure that all the participants get what has already been won for the majority.

 Edith Meli


Traduit par Ann Simpson

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