France: strike agianst ARCADE succesfull after 1 year!

12.Mar.03 - Arcade is a medium sized corporation of the cleaning industry (with subsiduaries in other ones). ACCOR, one of the very largest multinationals in tourism, externalizes part of the cleaning of rooms in some of its hotels to it. The working conditions are terrible and can be considered as legal only by tricks. For the tricks to work, they use foreign workers many of them illiterate and a few of them undocumented. Quite unexpectedly on March 8th 2002 a group of African women went on strike and stuck to it.

It seemed to be a desperate strike, but it lasted for almost one year to February 24th 2003 when an agreement was reached which is a clear victory for the strikers. One sign that it is a clear victory is that Arcade made it a provision of the agreement that its content would be confidential, obciously because they fear that it may fire other movements. However, it has been pretty easy to reconstruct it. On the core point of the strike, namely the time considered as necessary to clean a room, the success was already embodied in a protocol signed with the unions of Arcade on January 15th, so this actually benefitted to all the charwomen employed by the corporation. Other important results are that the eight women who had been fired during the strike are reemployed and that the strikers will receive 35% of their wages during the strike.

The victory owes very much to the pressures which have been put on the ACCOR group, an old acquaintance of the french noborder activists for its collaboration in the deportations. On December 3rd, ACCOR signed a protocol with its own unions which is tantamount to admitting that ACCOR is responsible for the working conditions in the enterpises to which it externalizes the cleaning. Apart from the fact that this opened the road for the final success of the strike, this brings much to many workers beyond Arcades itself. The result of the action of a very small group of workers in a situation of utmost precarity is really impressing (they were about thirty at the start and few quit before the end of the strike).

The primary cause of the victory is of course the courage, the energy and the tenacity of the strikers. Another reason was the activity of a small, but very well motivated supporting collective. This is also an important feature as this strike is typical of the new situation of a large and growing part of the working class in which the most harshly exploited workers find themselves isolated in front of a boss which is a huge corporation. Also the largest unions are seldom interested in struggles of this kind. (It would be very long to explain the attitude of the various unions toward this strike.)

During the cousre of the strike, ACCOR hotels were leafleted in Heidelberg (Germany) and in two or three Italian cities, but it does not seem to have come through the noborder network. There are ACCOR hotels in most cities over the world, leaflets were ready in several languages and leafleting is legal in most European countries and requires but little work. All told, the contribution of the no border network has been the attacks on the ACCOR hotels in Strasbourg which seems to have worked on the decision of ACCOR to change tis policy and to pressure Arcades to negociate.

previous items about the arcade strike can be found here, here and here.