ON A SUNNY MORNING IN EARLY June, a large group of mostly West African undocumented workers assembled at a square in central Paris to prepare for an unprecedented, month-long march for mass legalisation of undocumented workers across several European Union states.
Wearing bright blue and yellow T-shirts emblazoned with the words "liberte de circulation et d' installation pour tous" (freedom of movement for all), the hundred-plus undocumented workers (men and women) boarded two large coaches and headed for Henin-Beaumont in Northern France, the first port of-call in their marathon European march for legal status. They were members of Co-ordination des Sans-Papiers 75 (CSP75), an independent coalition of Parisian undocumented worker collectives with several thousand members. The march was organised by CSP75 in collaboration with several human rights organisations, including MRAP in France, Bleiberecht in Switzerland and Italy, all of which come under the umbrella Coalition Internationale des Sans Papiers et Migrants (CISPM).
The European march was an acceleration of the undocumented workers' labour movement that began in France in 2006. The movement has given a voice to low-skilled undocumented workers who are mobilising for their rights as they become increasingly aware of the value of their cheap labour to Europe.
As well as France and Belgium, they plan to march through Netherlands, Luxembourg, Switzerland, Germany and Italy, particularly in the cities where key EU agreements have been signed, including Maastricht in the Netherlands, and Schengen in Germany. EU policies, including the Schengen Agreement, have made life tougher for undocumented workers as member state governments increasingly crack down on illegal migrants.
The CSP75 marchers arrived at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France, on 2 July, where they lobbied European parliamentarians. Along the way to the other countries, the CSP75 marchers were joined by clandestine workers based in those EU countries. Also marching with them in solidarity were supporters, including human rights activists, left-leaning mayors, and representatives from Christian organisations.
They symbolically kicked off their march in Henin-Beaumont, the home turf of Marine Le Pen, leader of France's far-right, anti-immigrant Front National party (FN).
This was the first time that Malian construction workers, Senegalese chambermaids, Moroccan street cleaners, and Pakistani dishwashers and other low-skilled undocumented workers from across the EU had mobilised to fight for legal status. They were unified behind a clear message: no to the exploitation of undocumented workers and yes to fair and direct employment. In Henin-Beaumont, the workers attracted looks of disbelief from local residents as they marched through the main street beating drums and chanting "papers for all". Anzoumane Sissoko, the energetic coordinator and spokesperson of CSP75, explained the main objectives of the European march.
We are demanding the repeal of European immigration laws and regularisation of all undocumented workers as well as full implementation of the rights of migrants and asylum seekers. It's partly thanks to low-skilled undocumented workers who pay taxes and other compulsory contributions that the French and other EU economies have grown to become some of the most powerful in the world.
"We want fairer immigration policies that will allow poor, low-skilled workers from developing countries to work legally in Europe. It suits European governments and bosses to keep undocumented workers in a clandestine status," Sissoko said.
The 47-year-old, Paris-based Malian cleaner is the public face of the undocumented worker movement in France. He has first-hand experience of the day-to-day difficulties facing undocumented workers.
During the 13 years he worked without legal papers in Paris, he was arrested on numerous occasions. …