Paris chambermaids strike against the cleaning inequalities of the neoliberal state

In Paris the chambermaids of the Holiday inn of Clichy in the Northern district of Paris are striking in a struggle for dignity in the face of increasing dehumanization of service workers. They have decried their work conditions with the company Héméra that contract their work to the Holiday Inn. The workers went on strike after they realized that some of their colleagues had been redirected to another hotel far away, and that workloads had increased while wages stagnated. This is part of a general workers’ response to mounting inequality.

Recently, inequality has resurfaced as a major issue in “democratic” as well as in non-democratic nations. Last week, the Word Inequality Report brought to light a multilayer study of the global rise in inequality. Although Europe has seen a slower increase of inequality, compared to the rest of the world, the increase is still significant and even more troublesome since the European model supposedly relied on a system of protections against inequality.

Employment deregulation and privatization have been touted as a rational means to resist competition in Western Europe.  In the process of privatizing services, cleaners who were employed by hotels or public services are now generally employed by service companies that contract their work. This process lowers the conditions of employment. Service provider companies have multiplied, fragmenting the gained negotiating power of workers and unions. The majority of the people thus employed are women as are 70% of the poor in the world.

Within Europe, until recently France had retained some of the best labor protections, but in recent years the labor code has been reshaped under the pretext that it was too complicated. Most recently, President Macron struck the final blow, redefining labor protection.

At the Holiday Inn in Clichy, the chambermaids said, “NO!”. Blandine Laurenjolla, a chambermaid at the Holiday Inn in Clichy with 10 years seniority, was being forced to transfer to a hotel a few hours away from her home. She is a mother of four, the youngest is only 11 months old. When she complained that she would have to leave her home every day at 4 AM, she was told that with young children she should stay home. In total 2 women were forced to transfer. These transfers and the constant pressure of Héméra company on their domestic workers was such that the strike was voted and supported by a large movement of solidarity. Even some customers of the hotel showed their support.

Thus far, Héméra and the Holiday Inn have turned a blind eye to the demand for dignity and respect for work. Additionally, the workers face constant police pressure, as a chambermaid told us: “I am a chambermaid, we are picketing and demonstrating every day. The management ignores us they send the police every day.” The district’s congresswoman has said that they were not the most visible and “important” personnel of the Hotel, not the people who count. Language opposing people who count to people who are invisible has increased. This language signifies inequality.

The struggle against invisibility is constant in the cleaning service as this crucial work is in patriarchy traditionally attributed to women.

The contracted cleaners of 75 train stations of the northern “transilien” Paris railroad network went on strike after their company was sold to another service provider company in November. The companies merge, sale and buy and the workers’lives are negotiated to a lower grade. After 44 days of strike, the movement succeeded in obtaining their affiliation to the railroad collective agreement with an increase in their bonuses, a guarantee of not being transferred without their agreement and other small advantages.

This strike was a success because the train stations were visibly dirty and dirtier every day. The work of the cleaners was visible in the absence of it. Then, the public train service was more willing to push for a better ending than the warped service businesses left alone.

These movements of resistance by the invisible contracted women workers reminds us of the importance of solidarity. Contracting work is a process key in transferring public power and money into private hands that practice individualism with no concern for a sense of human dignity. The world has never been so rich and the public wealth never so low. That is the source of a human catastrophe.

 

(Photo Credit: Julien Jaulin / Hanslucas / Humanité)

What woman has the right to travel safely to escape violence, with or without a passport?

When 17-year-old Aminata fled Guinea Conakry, she did not have a passport. One of her teachers helped her to break free from a cycle of constant domestic rape and sexual assault. The helping hand handed her to a smuggler, who was also her torturer. He raped her and, once in Paris, stole her ID documents. This is how she landed in France with only her school card in her pocket. In 2012, Aminata applied for asylum.

She joined the cohort of vulnerable and isolated migrants targeted by Afro Beauty salon owners and managers in search of cheap and vulnerable workers in the “Château d’eau” area of Paris. The conditions of work were unspeakable and their wages not paid.

After 11 months of struggle supported by the CGT union, the workers finally managed to receive their salary and proper documentation. Minister of the Interior Bernard Cazeneuve promised Aminata that she would receive her “titre de sejour,” her temporary work permit necessary to stabilize her situation, now that she finally holds a regular job.

The day she was supposed to receive her permit, she was arrested and detained for 3 days.

She was accused of having provided a false passport. Aminata could not have a passport without returning to Guinea where she would have been in danger, and so she authorized a relative to secure her passport. Aminata never had any control over the process and is now accused of not providing a valid passport.

Who is going to bring to court the ones who have created this situation in the first place?

The CGT Union, who defended her and her colleagues last year against the “chateau d’eau” mafia, is now organizing to defend her rights to keep working in France, simply to have access to a decent life without sexual assault or work abuse. A petition is circulating to demand that the victim does not become the accused.

Having a passport or traveling documents is the biggest challenge for the most vulnerable populations like Aminata, especially those, mostly women, who are escaping violence. The differential of rights is growing as much as financial inequalities are rising, making violence more acceptable than rights. Who is going to defend the dignity of “the wretched of the earth”? Who has the right to travel safely to escape violence, with or without a passport?

 

(Photo Credit: l’Humanité)

In France, give the migrants legal documentation!

When the European Court of Human Rights was formed in 1959, many thought that it was a good step toward a more human Europe and hoped it would inspire better behavior beyond Europe. On June 8th, in Paris refugees escaping wars and human rights violations asked where was the European Court of Human Rights as they were thrown forcibly into a police bus on the Rue Pajol in the 18th district of Paris.

Despite a protective cordon formed of residents of the district, Communist Part and Left Front elected officials of Paris, and members of the many associations who bring support to migrants and refugees, the police special unit CRS intervened on the Rue Pajol in the 18th district. The police intervention was violent and destructive.

The refugees regrouped, after the police dismantled a nearby camp. These refugees have traveled far, mainly from Eritrea, Somalia, Egypt, and Sudan, and, since the summer of 2014, about 350 of the hundreds of thousands who have crossed the Mediterranean Sea have landed in this very visible improvised camp under the Parisian metro of Porte de la Chapelle, in the northern part of Paris.

On June 2, the first police intervention moved some asylum seekers to hotels in various areas around Paris and left others. Some came back even though they had a room in a hotel. They felt isolated, and they were starving since the authorities did not include food in their plans. As the executive director of the federation of associations dealing with social rehabilitation explained, at least in Paris, associations would deliver food to the camps.

In France, associations have historically formed a strong civil solidarity structure. Thanks to the work of associations such as France-terre-d’asile, Salam, and others, migrants receive support and food. These associations denounced the hypocrisy and repression but also welcomed the recent changes in the asylum bill that simplify the demand process and remove some of the constraints that were a true conundrum for refugees and plan for more housing structures. Additionally, since 2012, Europeans in France are permitted by law to welcome undocumented migrants in their home. These associations still question both the lack of financial support in this time of financial austerity and the expulsion process.

In fact, France terre d’asile had alerted the authorities of the formation of these camps some time ago, demanding decent solution for the migrant refugees. Today, they condemned a year of inaction that has left migrants living in precariousness and terrible sanitary conditions.

Despite an unprecedented mobilization of associations along with the OFPRA (Office francais de protection des refugiés et apatrides, the French Office for the Protection of Refugees and Stateless People), the State solution was to send the police and inflict violence on migrants.

Many camps have formed in France, especially in Paris and in Calais. Migrants face different legal situations. Some file for asylum, others don’t want asylum in France. But the main issue is to welcome them, explained Danielle Simonnet, a Paris Councilor. Although she judged it too late, she welcomed the proposition of the Mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo, to create transit camps where each migrant would receive the administrative, medical and human support needed. This is a question of pure solidarity, according to Danielle Simonnet, adding that France has not reacted in a timely manner to the situation. Among the refugees of Porte de la Chapelle, 16 of them had proper asylum documentation and still did not know where to go. In France, the law requires providing accommodation to asylum seekers. In addition, Pierre Henry, of France terre d’asile, had to intervene to get refugees out of detention centers, even though it is unlawful to detain them.

So why did the authorities respond with police instead of applying the law and behaving humanely?

Surveillance, policing and austerity are articulations of the current security mentality. The response from leaders of the right and extreme right has ranged from Marine LePen’s send them back to their war-torn countries and apply Australian immigration policies to Nicolas Sarkozy comparing the migrants to a water leak. With their disinformation, these leaders spread fear and intolerance, dehumanizing refugees and migrants. They bully the concept of solidarity. In fact, with 600 000 asylum seekers in 2014 for 500 million Europeans, Europe is not overwhelmed.

Instead, Europe must first end the Dublin II regulation that forces migrants to seek asylum in the country they first entered the EU. This regulation has caused migrants great suffering.

What of the people who live in France and don’t match any of the asylum categories? Danielle Simonet, Pierre Henry and many others respond, “Just give them legal documentation,” let them live decently, put in application the human rights concept!

(Photo Credit: NouvelObs)

In Paris, Ghada Hatem builds a house for women

The Paris suburb Seine-Saint-Denis, also called the 93, is home to a large immigrant population, and it’s there that a Women’s House will be built on the last vacant lot of the Delafontaine Hospital. This project took shape when Ghada Hatem, the hospital’s head of OBGYN, decided she had create a place for women who had been mutilated, chased and had experienced violence during and after the journey that led them to Seine-Saint-Denis. Ghada Hatem found a space on the hospital grounds. With the support of local elected officials and institutions, she was able to secure the major part of financing for this project.

The maternity hospital of Delafontaine registers about 4200 births every year. The majority of the women come from all sorts of precarious situations and origins. Ghada Hatem explains that many just arrived, are undocumented, and without social protection. Her department provides emergency social protection, which is possible in France and called “pass peri-natal”. It guarantees free coverage immediately to pregnant women, regardless of status.

Because of its particular social and geographical situation, the department is composed of surgeons, psychologists, sexologists, social workers and nurses that are formed to run support groups where women who have already been through so much violence can start to reconstruct their lives.

Moreover, 15% to 16% of the women who give birth there have undergone FGM (Female Genital Mutilation), which makes delivery more difficult. The department sent their surgeons to attend training with Doctor Pierre Foldes who has developed the surgical technique to rebuild the missing clitoris. More than rebuilding, he also understood that the reconstruction must be psychological as well. Women like Waris Dirie say FGM means torture and a crime, and should not be dignified as a cultural, or religious tradition. These women are in great need of attention and information.

The department also provides guidance and support to women who face unwanted pregnancy, domestic violence, forced marriage, as well as excision. Because of the sometimes unattainable demands, Ghada Hatem conceived of the Women’s House in this area.

She believes that there is a need for a space outside the hospital that will provide the warmth and welcoming to counterbalance the harshness and violence that has impacted the lives of these women. She understands that women are not going to liberate their voices in a hospital waiting room. The department has translators in Turkish, Tamil, Chinese, and personnel fluent in other languages. She herself can give assistance with Arabic (her own language). They are also equipped with translation services through phones. All this will be enhanced in the Women’s House. The Women’s House will be open only during the day. Her regret is not to be able to provide over night shelter.

Ghada Hatem’s department also performs over 1000 abortions every year and offers contraception consultation to women. Previously, Ghada Hatem worked in a military hospital in Saint Mandé, in the eastern suburbs of Paris. Despite numerous threats and insults, she created an abortion clinic inside the military hospital. Today, this service to women continues and no one would question the presence of this clinic anymore.

She was recently interviewed about her engagement and her project. When asked about abortion rights, Hatem said she regretted the lack of activism among young doctors, reproaching them for having “a more technical approach and a less militant vision of this matter”. Nonetheless, she welcomed the action of the government with the FRIDA plan (Facilitating the Reduction of Inequalities in Access to Abortion) as well as the effort to keep abortion centers open during the vacation month of August, when everything closes in France.

Her project is ambitious but based on understanding “what is lived by women”, ce que vivent les femmes.

Meanwhile, the flux of refugees is growing and increasingly desperate. Médecins sans Frontières has reported that never before had they observed such high levels of conflict and crisis. They estimate that about 51 million people have had to leave their home countries to escape crisis and/or conflicts.

Instead of financing costly militaristic systems of surveillance and control, the EU should be offering the last Euros necessary to bring this project centered on women and their needs to completion. At a time of instability due to capitalist neoliberal thinking, the European Union should learn from women like Ghada Hatem.

 

(Photo Credit: Elle / Mathieu Zazzo)

In Paris, a victory for migrant workers and for labor rights!

 

In Paris, this week 18 women and men, 14 of them undocumented immigrants, won an eight months battle for labor rights and human dignity. They are known as the workers of the “57” named after the address of the Afro Salon “New York fashion” 57 boulevard de Strasbourg in the heart of Paris.

They escaped their countries for various reasons. They are from Guinea, Ivory Coast, Guinea or China. Fatou left Ivory Coast because her life was threatened, she says that she wants to work and to pay her taxes to be part of the society. Alphonse from Burkina Faso had a visa to Turkey and then went to Greece where there was no work, and then came to Paris. He says that he had a lot of illusions, and then he saw how the bosses were merciless. His dream is to be finally happy. They each have a story rooted in intolerance and exploitation. They landed in Paris. Not all of them speak French. They all needed to work.

Many hair salons directed at migrant clients have settled in this district of Paris. Over time, a traffic involving the owners and managers targeted vulnerable and isolated migrants who needed work and dreamed about a safer more stable life. The managers recruited the workers of the 57 in the streets, enticing them with conditions of work and wages, which they never delivered. Instead, the workers had to work six days a week from 9AM to 11PM without interruption. The conditions were awful and harmful. The products they were asked to use contain carcinogenic agents, and they were used in rooms without ventilation increasing their toxicity. Their wages were extremely low from 300 to 400 Euros and irregularly paid.

Initially they had no work contracts. They first went on strike when they had not been paid in two months. Their bosses threatened to denounce them to the police, but they stood up for themselves. They reach out to the Union “CGT” for support after the managers and owners conveniently declared bankruptcy and disappeared, but not before shouting at them real threats against their lives. Their disappearance meant no possibility to regularize their immigration status.

As the general secretary of CGT Paris declared, this is modern slavery. They may not be physically shackled but the chains are now administrative and used by employers who exploit them. These chains are still heavy and violent. Still the techniques of slavery remained. The workers were separated according to language so they would not be able to communicate between each other.

But the workers responded with an extreme sense of solidarity. They endured threats. They disrupted the status quo with the authorities that allowed this worker trafficking to exist. Their courage and determination attracted attention. A group of film-makers made a little film to alert public opinion. Then, council members of the district and the deputy mayor of Paris multiplied the injunctions to the Minister of the Interior to obtain state protection, as required by law, for the workers. The union CGT pressed charges for human trafficking. Under French law, if an undocumented immigrant files an official complaint, the latter should receive a temporary residence permit. Regardless, the authorities were slow to move. While the workers were not going to be deported, their rights to work and to dignity were not restored. Artists mobilized and show their solidarity. Paris counselors of the leftist majority and the Mayor of Paris voted a text of support for the workers declaring that the non-protection of these employees will implicitly show support for these practices that imply exploitation of workers.

Finally, this week the Minister of the Interior regularized the 18 workers, providing then adequate documentation and the support of the state after eight months of hard struggle. Moreover, this victory is a good sign for many, especially those workers in this area who experience harsh conditions of life and work with abusive employers.

We should note that labor rights and laws to support them are being constantly questioned as human rights are again being defined according to origins and class. Their defense is crucial. At a time of merciless neoliberal control with climate and social destabilization, migration takes another dimension as asylum seekers are incarcerated or kept in unsafe situations threatening their lives. Cities like Paris should be involved in the protection of the most vulnerable residents and workers. Nothing is possible without strong solidarity between national, documented and undocumented humanity.

 

(Photo Credit: http://www.collectifdescineastespourlessanspapiers.com)

Chambermaids in Paris reject precariousness

 

The dirty secret of the European “developed economies” adjustment to the rules of the neoliberal market is being increasingly questioned. The neoliberal ideological tool of work flexibility has reached the welfare states to dismantle the social protection laws and produce social vulnerability. The cost of labor is now presented as the reason for unemployment and public deficit while the number of billionaires has doubled since the beginning of the financial crisis.

After the revelations of the precarious condition of over 7 million German workers who live with about 400 Euros (about $ 500) in a country with growing inequalities and poor protection of women workers with regards to pregnancy and child care, here comes the “Zero hour contracts” of the United Kingdom. Le Monde recently published an investigation of these contracts.

“Zero hour” already signals hopelessness for working people, especially women. The contracts keep workers underemployed, without work or benefits. The workers are summarily summoned to work when their labor is needed. Between jobs, they receive no pay. The materialistic order has reached a new height of mechanistic denial of life for the women and men whose lives are dictated by a “zero hour contract (ZHC).”

Every day, workers stare at their cell phones, waiting for a text message tol tell them if they’ll work or not, if they’ll make money or not.

In Great Britain, companies receive about 1900 Euros ($2200) for a new employment contract. Thus, in order to receive this precious subsidy, some companies don’t call their ZHC workers and make room for new workers with the same dreadful contract. “We, the contracted workers, we are like the cookies that we pack at the factory; we move on a conveyer belt and then we fall in a box to leave room for the next one.” declared one of these workers. For instance Mac Donald UK has enrolled 90% of its work force under ZHC.

Of course, the wage/hour is lower than full time wages, and, without benefits, workers’ precariousness is higher as is as their state of stress. In the northern suburbs of Liverpool where there is a high ZHC employment rate, 45% of children live in poverty. These destabilizing conditions keep people in fear and contribute to heightened an anti immigrant sentiment.

In France, chambermaids, mostly women of color, of five stars hotels in Paris have been fighting to stop this kind of contracted work and to demand full employment contracts. They have been demonstrating in the streets of Paris and are still demonstrating, although their colleagues from the Luxury Hyatt of Place Vendome and Madeleine have obtained a serious raise ($ 350/month) with full time work guarantees.

Other luxury hotels, such as the Park Hyatt, continue to contract chambermaid work. Under these conditions, the pace of work is intense, the wages are meager, and overtime work is never paid. They have minimum health coverage compared to average French workers.

These hotel workers have received the support of the Mairie (City Hall) de Paris. Recently, at the forum “Feminist Struggles and Reflections to Advance Society”, the deputy mayor of Paris, Helene Bidard declared that it is urgent to fight along with these workers because they symbolize the situation of the women constantly facing precarious work. They dared bring to light these shady practices that take advantage of the most vulnerable populations, women and in particular immigrant women. She further announced that the City of Paris is negotiating strong measures with the Ministry of Tourism to remove stars from hotels that contract chambermaid work.

The current neoliberal frenzy that bestows to labor cost numbers a justificatory power that mistreats populations increasing inequalities needs to come to an end. We need to raise the spatula like the Burkinabe women.

 

(Photo credit: Rue 89/ Frédéric Leclerc-Imhoff)