Activists take over French job centres in fight for work
Activist groups representing unemployed people took over job centres across France, ahead of a jobs summit being held in Paris on Wednesday. Trade unions and business leaders were meeting to come up with solutions to France's unemployment woes, with levels at a 12-year high and currently close to 10 percent of the workforce. By occupying job centres on Tuesday, activists were hoping to make a point about the precariousness of job seekers in France.
Late Tuesday afternoon, dozens of police officers blocked off the sidewalk around the Pole Emploi (government job centre) in Clichy, a city that borders Paris to the north. About ten formed a semi-circle around the entrance of the building.
"We are not evacuating them, they're going to come out willingly," said one, referring to the 20 people inside the building.
Gregory Pasqueille, one of the activists who came out to explain what was going on (and was not allowed back in) said groups of activists around France had gone to job centres on Tuesday in an attempt to talk to managers and employees.
The Paris group decided on Clichy because it has one of the biggest job centres in the Paris area, and it was not already guarded by police.
About 40 people showed up in the middle of the afternoon.
"We arrived, and asked to talk to management and the employees," said Pasqueille. "But nobody wanted to speak to us, neither the employees nor managers."
Employees were sent home early, at 3pm, he said, "so we sat down, completely non-violently."
The idea behind these “occupations” was to draw attention to the issue of unemployment in France, ahead of Wednesday's jobs summit. Pasqueille said it was also to engage with people working at the job centres.
"We wanted to talk to the bosses, and tell them we are not happy about what's going on," he said.
"I'm 27 years old, I'm unemployed. I have an IT degree, but each time I've found work, it has not been through the job centres. And it's only been short term, part-time work that does not earn much. I would like help from the job centre, but even if you show up every month with a CV and a cover letter, you get nothing."
According to official figures, nearly three million people are unemployed in France, though taking into account those who work part-time and are still looking for full-time jobs, the number is over four million.
Outside the Clichy job centre, more and more police officers appeared as night fell. Three police vans and a bus lined up in the middle of the street.
And then it was over. About a dozen police officers walked into the building, and 30 seconds later they came out with the group of 20 remaining activists, who started dispersing.
Activist Xavier Renou said that the group had decided not to try to spend the night in the building.
Despite the small number of people, he still called the movement a success.
"There weren't that many of us here, but this is the first nationwide action made by unemployed people and activists on this topic in years, in France."
Activists from about a dozen cities around the country, from Lille to Bordeaux, reported that groups of people had entered job centres in similar protests. Unlike in Clichy, some managed to talk to employees.
Aoun Ouefi, 32, said he participated in the Clichy occupation to send out a message.
"We are asking for nothing,” he said. “It's a right to have a job. We're not begging."
Currently unemployed, he said that he has never had a permanent job: "the only permanent job I've ever had is to be unemployed."
Xavier Renou explained that it was especially difficult to organise unemployed people.
"A worker can organize himself or herself with his or her colleagues, while the unemployed person feels isolated, sometimes ashamed. It's hard first to reach these people and then give them another kind of hope."
The French government is hoping to give unemployed people some kind of positive outlook with Wednesday's jobs summit. Renou is not optimistic.
"We are not foolish enough to believe the lies of our governments over the past decades, who have been pretending to fight against unemployment, and who have been encouraging an economic policy that needs a high level of unemployment," he said, adding that the summit is being organised to "increase the precariousness of the working force".
Some of the ideas to be discussed at the summit included increasing the length of short-term contracts, introducing more flexibility for employers to hire and fire workers, or scrapping the 35-hour week, introduced by the Socialist party in 2000.
Activist Renou said that these kinds of proposals are only adding to the problem.
"More and more people are not entirely unemployed, and not entirely employed either," he said, counting himself in that category. "They are highly flexible, ready to accept any poorly paid job with poor working conditions. So in this sense, we were representative of this
new category of people."