“The requisition? It’s a threat, but no one’s going to force me to do anything if I am told to take my truck out of the depot,” warned Nordine Boukhetla, a dump truck driver at the Ivry-sur-Seine-Victor Hugo garage (in the south-eastern suburbs of Paris), which handles garbage collection for the 14th district of Paris.
While the strike against the pension reform by Paris city hall’s garbage collectors – who handle garbage collection in half the city’s arrondissement – has been extended until at least March 20, and blocking actions taken against incinerators and dump truck garages have continued in a coordinated manner, French Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin has chosen to go on the offensive against the 7,600 tons of garbage accumulating in the streets of the capital. On Tuesday, March 14 – on the ninth day of the strike – the interior minister instructed Paris police prefect Laurent Nuñez to ask the city hall to “requisition” resources to clear the streets.
On Wednesday evening, Nuñez informed the Socialist mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo, of his decision to requisition municipal workers to remove the garbage piled up on the capital’s sidewalks. Hidalgo had earlier in the day announced that she would not act on this request.
The first deputy mayor of the City of Paris, Emmanuel Grégoire, had argued that requisition is “a power of the State, not the city. The State should take on its responsibilities.” In a letter, the police prefect replied that, according to the general code for local authorities, “the city hall is responsible for hygiene on the public thoroughfare.” He went on to say it is “within [the city hall’s] power to commission a private company or to requisition workers,” adding that he can “subsequently” serve the city formal notice to do so. If this procedure “remains unsuccessful, the police prefect may act in place” of the city hall, “in case of an emergency when the observed or foreseeable damage to good order, public health, and safety require it.”
The government and the City of Paris were therefore engaged in a sort of legal ping-pong, peppered by the exasperated comments of the CDFT union leader Laurent Berger on Wednesday morning on RMC radio: “How do you requisition people? Will you go out and get them one by one?”
At the Ivry dump truck garage – where the drivers are still supported by many elected officials, teachers and students – there is no question of going back to work if the pension law passes, and even less of being requisitioned. The striking workers list exhausting working hours, recurrent pain after 50 years of age, and the deaths of five colleagues since August 2022, four of them just a few months or years away from retirement.
‘Dust, noise, backache’
The same picture was painted by the striking workers of Urbaser Energie, who work at the incinerator in Issy-les-Moulineaux (a southwestern suburb of Paris). “With the shift schedule, we sometimes work seven days in a row. With the dust, the noise, the backaches, that’s 56 hours a week,” Franck, a 49-year-old technician, described. “We’re not in a quiet office like the people who manage us. We’re not budging.”
Many employees in the sector were also indignant about the fact that the private company Pizzorno – which manages waste collection in the 15th arrondissement of Paris – called in temporary workers to replace its numerous workers on strike. “There are obviously private service providers who operate at night. They employ temporary workers, or even undocumented migrants,” said Christophe Farinet of the CGT union. “But as for the rest, it’s holding up well. We don’t wish to trash the capital, we’re fighting for everyone, not just for us.”
The political situation – as gridlocked as the incinerators on the outskirts of Paris – has veered into a tug of war. By playing the requisition card, Darmanin cut off Rachida Dati, the leader of Paris’s right-wing Les Républicains (LR), who had been calling for several days for the establishment of a minimum waste disposal service to counter the health risk from uncollected refuses. Dati, the mayor of Paris’ 7th arrondissement, had even sent a letter to the interior minister to urge him to act. With the uncertain vote on the pension reform bill looming, Darmanin’s initiative was no accident.
‘An attack on striking workers’
For its part, Paris City Hall said it would not force striking workers to return to work, while already providing a kind of minimum service since private operators are deployed throughout Paris. According to Grégoire, this is done in “cases of absolute emergency” from risks to health or safety, and the use of these private workers does not constitute “any kind of substitute labor. Anne Hidalgo and the elected officials of this majority would never commit to strike-breaking.”
The Derichebourg waste disposal company – which was operating at City Hall’s request – declared on Wednesday that it was stopping “emergency garbage collection services” after threats of blocking actions by striking employees of the City of Paris and of Syctom at its Charenton (a southeastern suburb of Paris) website.
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At the end of the day on Wednesday, Hidalgo wrote that she “would not act” on the requisition request the Paris police prefect had sent by mail at midday. At the various picket lines, the striking workers prepared for forthcoming action by the authorities, while promising to be more numerous on Thursday morning. “We consider any infringement of the right to strike as an attack on striking workers, which would trigger a response in many forms,” the CGT announced on Wednesday. “We call on the 7,000 workers of the City of Paris’ hygiene, water and municipal transport departments to be ready.”