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France

Activists call for large-scale boycott to support immigrants

Text by Perrine MOUTERDE

Latest update : 2010-02-28

In an attempt to demonstrate the importance of immigrants to the French economy, rights groups are advocating a “no work, no consumption day” on March 1. The message is being spread on the Web, but will it work?

 

In a subversive attempt to demonstrate the importance of immigrants to the French economy, rights groups are advocating a “no work, no consumption day” on March 1. The message is being spread on the Web, but will it work?
 
The idea to have a ‘Day Without Immigrants’ was born in the autumn of 2009, after a controversial gaffe by then French immigration minister Brice Hortefeux.
 
In an aside that proved embarrassing for the ruling UMP party, Hortefeux was caught on camera telling a party member of Arabic origin that, “one of you is ok but when there are many, there’s a problem.” Hortefeux maintained that the remark was taken out of context and was meant in jest, but it was still broadly condemned across the political spectrum. 
 
The incident sparked the idea of having a day – March 1 – dedicated to making immigrants “invisible,” as a subversive way of underlining their importance.
 
“Our only aim is to restore respect and dignity to immigrants,” says Nadia Lamarkbi, president of a collective of immigrant rights groups. “The idea is somewhat funny, but in reality, it’s serious. We’re simply asking people to think differently about immigration, in positive terms, to consider how much they contribute to society. We’re not going to change society, we won’t debunk the clichés surrounding immigrants, but we hope to begin a new dynamic, to change the way people regard immigrants.”
 
Mobilisation on the Internet
 
Immigrants and non-immigrants, the organizers are calling on all citizens to stop working or consuming for 24 hours. “Abandoning economic activity in businesses, organisations, public sector enterprises, schools, universities, hospitals, the service sector, the media, politics…” states the manifesto released by the collective. Rallies have been set for midday on March 1 in different cities across France.
 
A similar day was commemorated in the US, when hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets on May 1, 2006 in the largest immigrant rights protest in US history. The marches have since been called the May Day immigrant rights marches. Called by the Hispanic community in the US, the day saw immigrants and non-immigrants boycotting work, partially paralysing the state of California.
 
Will this happen in France? On the Web, the message is being spread fast. At last count, a Facebook group had more than 69,000 subscribers and calls are regularly bein relayed on Twitter as well as numerous blog sites. 
  
‘France does not have an identity problem’
 
On the ground, about 30 local committees are relaying the call for a Day Without Immigrants. Spain, Italy and Greece have joined the movement and a German delegation plans to come to France on March 1. The collective organising the event has also received support from numerous human rights groups, immigrant rights groups as well as French trade union CFDT. Supporters who can’t stay away from work on this day, can display their solidarity by wearing a yellow ribbon.
 
“A number of people have told us that they plan to take the day off,” says Sonja Von Rodziewitz, head of the Toulouse chapter. “Several are also ready to not spend a cent on this day, it’s less complicated than not working.”
  
The CSP 75, a Paris-based collective that works with undocumented immigrants, has also joined the movement. “Today, the government is linking immigration to national identity,” says CSP 75 spokesman Anzoumane Sissoko, referring to a recent controversial three-month period of government-supported debates on French national identity. “But France does not have an identity problem, we are not in the 1930s. March 1 is very important in this context. Something is about to happen…”

 

Date created : 2010-02-27

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