Striking garbage collectors leave Paris streets in a stink

Striking Garbage

Striking Garbage

Garbage continues to pile high on the streets of Paris three days into the start of strike action by waste collectors as CGT union representatives vowed to continue striking until the government withdraws its contentious labour bill.

“Come tomorrow, you’ll see, it will be infested with rats!” said Lawrence, a manager of a clothing store in the fifth arrondissement, an area popular with tourists.

By Friday bags overflowing with garbage were an unsightly fixture on the pavements of Paris.

“Our only demand is the withdrawal of the labour legislation”, explains Régis Vieceli, secretary general of the CGT representing the city of Paris’ cleaning service.

Striking waste collector Vincent told AFP on Thursday that he and other union members were struggling to live off their salaries.

“Our salary has not changed in seven years, we can’t go on like this. We can’t afford to go shopping for four at Lidl – we’re not talking about going to Fauchon!” he said.

After being on strike all last week, Vincent said he returned to work because “there was a need to eat”. The union representing him planned to create a common fund for members.

“The protests will continue because negotiations with trade unions like the CGT, FO, FSU, Solidaires, UNEF, UNL and LDIFs have not taken off and the labour law remains firmly in place,” said Vieceli.

Strikers expected to increase

At the country’s largest waste treatment plant in Ivry-sur-Seine in the capital’s 13th arrondissement, a blockade had been under way since May 30. This as hundreds of thousands of tourists and football fans arrived in the capital for the start of the European football championships. The Mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo, on surmising how long the strike would go on, announced that it could take several days for things to return to normal.

Vieceli believes the strikers represent somewhere between 12 and 15 percent of the waste collection workforce – 5000 garbage collectors and 600 supervisors. Although the union said it expected those numbers to increase to up to 55 percent during a series of planned national days of protest against the employment law, beginning Tuesday June 14.

Risk to public services

Among the most disputed parts of the El-Khomri labour law is Article 2, which gives primacy to enterprise agreements, and puts the onus on unions to negotiate working hours and salaries at the enterprise level.

It’s a change from the current system where branch agreements are ultimately binding.

“The Labour Code will no longer be the basis of labour negotiations in France, instead it will be the company agreement,” said Christophe Qouderc, national secretary of the CGT public services. “And there are companies where the agreement will not be a genuine agreement between workers and their bosses.”

“For instance, in companies where there are fewer employees and no unions, bosses are likely to unilaterally decide important decisions such as the number of working hours,” the union leader said.

And while the proposed reforms specifically target the private sector – those in the public services are to retain their existing rights – Vieceli believes its laws will inevitably affect public sector workers. He fears that competition with businesses in the private sector will eventually trigger workforce reductions in the public sector.

‘Nuit debout’ or ‘Up all Night’ links

Back on the picket line at Ivry-sur Seine’s waste treatment plant on Friday night, a TV screen kept strikers abreast of the football match between France and Romania in the European Championships. Joining them were railway workers and Air France staff along with activists from the “Up all Night” movement, who were the first to support striking waste collectors.

Meanwhile, to rid its sidewalks of growing mounds of rubbish, the city of Paris has appealed to private companies to help clean up the capital.

The City of Paris said it had dispatched 74 garbage trucks on Friday – roughly half the number of vehicles used during normal services. But a source for the City said they were unable to enlist enough drivers to put all the trucks to use.