France: Background information on the Arcade strike
Make "work and migration" concrete, support the Arcade strike
13.Dec.02 - Arcade is a medium sized enterprise of cleaning (800 workers). It has,
among others, a contract with ACCOR hotels. This means that it pays its
workers to clean the rooms of some of the ACCOR hotels. ACCOR externalizes
the cleaning of rooms to other enterprises too and some of the cleaning is
also done by its own employees.
ACCOR is an old aquaintance of the CAE because it gives for rent some parts of its hotels to the ministry of home affairs to be used as detention centres pending deportation and also for accomodating cops as has be seen in Strasbourg; More important, one of their (many) subsidiaries is the travel agency Wagons-lits Carlson which has an exclusivity for reservations of deportation tickets.
The contract of ACCOR with Arcade is on the basis of 17 minutes to clean a room. Now it can take currently 25 mn to do that. The work is done by African women with a poor knowledge of the French language and many cannot read, a few are undocumented. They are appointed on the basis of a part time job of 20 hours a day but have actually to clean more than 70 rooms, which is impossible to do in that time, so they have to work until it is done. The system is perfectly illegal but who will bring the proof? And anyway, it cases years to get a court to judge such a case with at best the result that the enterpise has to pay an indemnity.
Some of the women contacted one of the unions (SUD) and went on strike. This strike is now in its 9th month; they were 37 at the start, 21 are holding on. Two other unions are now also supporting them, the CNT (anarchist) and an oppositional organization of the major French union (in terms of membership) CGT. A supporting comittee is quite active with activists of various horizons, a number of them with a previous experience with MacDonald.
Why is this strike important?
It may seem ridiculous to mobilize an international network for a strike of twenty to thirty people.
These people are not only migrant workers. They are migrant workers in a context typical of the truly new structures of exploitation. They are typical of a fragmented working class in front of huge centralized multinational corporations. ACCOR is the first French firm for tourism and one of the two or three first worldwide with hotels in practically every country where tourists go. Externalizing is one of the aspects of this fragmentation. Arcade workers will work in the same place as workers of ACCOR, doing in some cases the same work as them, as happens with a lot of other corporations. Another aspect is the use of migrant workers of very different origins and cultural backgrounds. An obvious aspect is their precarious situation, an aspect which they share with the workers of MacDonald I alluded to above, though with very different juridical forms. Needless to say, the fragmentation makes union organization very difficult, even when the unions take care of the most heavily exploited workers, which is seldom the case.
Another importance of this strike is showing the importance of solidarity. Clearly, this strike could not have lasted long with only the support of the trade unions of the branch. The support comittee meets regularly every week, collects money, tries to popularize the strike (some press coverage has been obtained), organizes actions against ACCOR going from leafleting in front of the hotels to going in and messing up the hall. It appreciated the actions in Strasbourg.
From this it is clear that a success of the strike would show the importance of solidarity. It would also have consequences on the whole of the cleaning industry, a growing branch typical of the new forms of capitalist exploitation. Most important: it would give a blow to the generalization of externalizations. There are rumors about controversies within the direction of ACCOR about whether they should not take back some services which they use to externalize, also whether they should make a code of good behaviour for their subcontractors.
What you can do
The strength of ACCOR is also its weakness if we take advantage of it. They get their money from an enormous variety of publics (their hotels have a wide range of prices). They have hotels in almost every town.
Leafleting in front of hotels outside of France (and of course tougher actions) would doubtlessly have a serious impact on them. Here is a list of hotels belonging to ACCOR:
Ibis, Novotel, Sofitel, Mercure; Frantour, Formule 1 and a few others. Leaflets in several languages are available (and you can of course write your own fitted to your local circumstances). You can command them from email@example.com .
If you have contacts with trade unions, you could make them aware. Solidarity strikes would be wonderful but information of the workers would also help.