Luxury hotels in Paris are increasingly becoming a site of intense class conflict


November 7, 2018

The following interview was conducted by a member of Plateforme d’Enquêtes Militantes (Militant Inquiries Platform), and published on the site on October 11 and translated by Amrita Franco, Hector Uniacke, Joe Hayns and Rona Lorimer. The original introduction is as follows:

Since September 25, the workers at Park Hyatt Hotel Vendôme in Paris have been on strike. In this Palace, where a ‘basic’ room costs €1200 per night, femmes de chambre (room cleaners), gouvernantes (floor managers), and équipiers (maintenance workers) employed by STN-TEFID - a large cleaning company subcontracted to manage the hotel’s accommodation services - are demanding to be brought in-house. Alongside them are in-house workers – chefs and waiters – asking for a wage increase. The strikers are supported by the Confédération générale du travail (CGT) union’s combative Hôtels de Prestige et Economiques (HPE) branch, who have been leading strikes in the Paris region over the last decade. The question of union representation has been at the heart of the strike. The strike is set to be long and difficult, but for which the determination is there.

In the interview itself there are repeated reference to broad two aspects of Macron’s government’s “ordonnances”, meaning the changes made on September 22 last year to the Code du Travail, the body of law governing labour relations in France. First is that the “staff representative institutions” (institutions représentatives du personnel) - previously composed of health and safety committees (comités d’hygiène, de sécurité et des conditions de travail), co-management fora (comités d’entreprise), and both “staff” and “union” delegates (délégués du personnel and délégués syndicaux) - are to be combined into comités social et économique (CSEs) no later than December 31 2019. Second, company-level agreements are to take greater precedence over sector-level agreements and statutory law.

Staff delegates (délégués du personnel) are employee-elected, may not be trade unionists, and tend to more mediate between employer and employee; union delegates (délégués syndicaux) are union-selected, tend to be committed trade unionists and, currently, are uniquely able to negotiate over pay and hours. Both staff- and union delegates currently enjoy statutory facilities time and, crucially, protections against dismissal. The broad concern is that CSEs will diminish the antagonism of (especially) the union delegate layer, and that this will combine with the reversing of the “hierarchy of norms” - specifically, the greater emphasis on firm-level agreements - to make workers and trade unionists both less able and needing more to organise against the employer. Further effects of these seemingly profound changes to the very structure of trade unionism in France - the “unstitching of the social fabric”, as the CGT has put it - are elaborated on below.

It was 60 year ago that the Donovan Commission recommended that company boards should “conclude agreements [with unions] regulating the position of shop stewards” - but if Macron’s ordonnances threaten to make trade unionism in France more “British”, is trade unionism in the UK becoming more “French”? There are certainly clear resemblances between the CGT-HPE’s Park Hyatt strike and several recent trade union campaigns in London. Over the last 18 months there have been successful in-housing campaigns across campuses - UVW at LSE, and Unison at Soas, Goldsmiths, and King’s College, as strongly supported by various “Justice 4 Workers” campaigns, and to a lesser extent by UCU - IWGB’s in-housing campaign at the University of London’s Senate House building continues, as does UVW’s “Triple Strike” cleaners’ campaign. And, these campus-based, anti-outsourcing mobilisations are only a part of a more general increase of “precarious” workers’ organising and militancy, with both the Glasgow equal-pay strikes and the Fast Food Shutdown 4/10 co-ordination each constituting substantial advances in terms of size and cross-union co-operation.

Park Hyatt, McDonald’s, and Deliveroo are clearly vulnerable to transnational organising in ways that universities and city councils are not and, as clearly, several UK unions and their campaigns are in better health now than even a year ago - it remains to be seen though whether these resemblances can be transformed into solidarity, and that solidarity transformed into collective action.

PEMA member of Plateforme d’Enquêtes Militantes (Militant Inquiries Platform)

MMaria, femme de chambre (room cleaner)

IIgnassia, femme de chambre (room cleaner)

LLeila, gouvernante (floor manager)

NNora, gouvernante (floor manager); CGT-HPE union delegate

AAboubakar, équipier (maintenance); CGT-HPE union delegate

FFarès, valet de chambre (valet)

SSophiane, mini bar room-service; CGT-HPE union delegate

TTiziri, a CGT-HPE organiser.


PEMYou went out on strike on September 25 , a strike which has been going for two weeks already. You have been picketing in front of the hotel every day, to maintain visibility and to make noise.

M We are here in solidarity with each other, and we won’t give up. I told my colleagues we mustn’t give up, because if we do, that means we’ve had enough and we go home! No way! Frankly, I’d rather unemployment than going back with my tail between my legs. I’d rather look for another job. We’ll be here every day, even on our days off work, whether that be for two or three weeks, or a month. My break is Friday/Saturday but I’m here anyway.. We’ll be here until the end, until we’ve won. They think they’re going to win, but they’re beginning to cave in, but we aren’t giving in. We’re used to working six-day weeks, they’re not. We’re used to working every Sunday, they’re not. Now they have to.

A We have a picket in front of the hotel every day from 8 a.m. onward, though some [of us] are here from 6 a.m. We do everything we can to block the entrances.

NWe have to block the entrances because they replace us, they bring in other staff. It’s not easy to prevent the workers hired by STN from filling in for us, because there are four entrances to the hotel, and they use force. They’ll try to get through when there are fewer people around, and sometimes they manage, but not always. At 3 a.m., they pay for an Uber for a cleaner and put them in a room for the night, so that they are already inside the hotel. So when we arrive at 5.30 am everyone is already inside.

A Outsourcing is very complicated. STN employs workers in precarious situations, and what they need is to earn their day’s wage. Their working conditions are difficult, they are called to work for 2 hours here, and 3 over there. We are here to stop them, whether they understand it or not - we can’t let them go in.

TThere is a mobility clause for STN employees: STN can move them from one site to another. On top of this, they have taken over a fair amount of luxury hotels, so they can always get other people to work, even if the quality isn’t as high. STN have the Pullman Montparnasse and Le Collectioneur, both 5-star hotels, so they have a fair amount of staff able to do this kind of work - basically, they have the means to break strikes.

Where we’ve got them in a corner is they they don’t respect the required notice periods, and they also haven’t made the necessary amendments to employees’ contracts. They’re doing things on the fly. We can’t go for them yet on these questions, but if they take this to court, that’s how we’ll respond.

A Also, the police don’t want us having a picket and making noise. Even yesterday, they threatened to remove us. They didn’t do it, but they were here all day. On one side, the hotel is commiting an offence (délit d’entrave) by not giving the union reps access to the hotel. We made loads of noise in the hall, which really pissed them off, and since then we can’t go to the toilet or anywhere inside the hotel, though we have a legal right to. We have filed a complaint, and the judge will settle it on October 10. On the other side, the préfecture (police) doesn’t want us making noise in front of the hotel - but you can’t ask employees not to make noise here, it’s a public space. The law would say that the Hyatt is in breach of the law. But the police wouldn’t dare to attack them, because [the Hyatt] are millionaires. It’s not as if we can go on strike and then go to the beach, we still have to make some noise.

NOn the inside, everyone is doing room cleaning now. Hyatt are no longer respecting hours or days-off. My manager (chef de services) has been working every day since the strike started. There are no more obligatory days off. They are working non-stop, its lawless here.

SWe know about everything that’s been going on inside since the strike started. My colleagues aren’t outside [on the picket], but I’m pleased that they are giving us information. I can promise you that it’s a catastrophe for the hotel. It’s a special period, because of fashion week, and so everywhere has been really full; even the guests who want to go somewhere else can’t. The hotel has to give them 50% off, and let the regulars stay for free. The noise, and everything that’s happening, it’s a nuisance. The guests aren’t paying as much as usual, they are giving away the rooms. In an off-peak period, they could bargain over the price, but not at the moment.

In all, there are 154 rooms. The basic room, which costs €1200, is a small room, 22 m2. Most of the guests use it as a dressing room, and don’t even sleep there. The price goes up to €1800 for a suite. You can also book an entire floor, or half a floor, and the price goes up a lot. The daily turnover is massive. Certain guests pay a fortune, between €20,000 and €30,000, just for a stopover. It’s another world. The interns who come from prestigious Swiss universities, which are very expensive, are used to to living in this kind of environment. And the management, they are already used to this world. The people in our position, I let them know at the beginning that it’s another world, that they shouldn’t let it get to them, because when you leave the hotel, you have to go back to the real world. Many get caught up in this spiral, and quickly lose their footing (perdre pied). It can breed a lot of desire. The clientele of this world can be nice, we have some good relationships, we use “tu” with each other, but that doesn’t mean we belong to this world. They come to spend their money, at the end of the month, you get €1500, which is basically the same price as a room for a night. It’s €150 for breakfast. You have to be realistic. It’s another world.

PEMYes. It’s another world. Could you say more about the work that you do in the hotel?

MI am a femme de chambre (room cleaner). When we arrive, we get dressed and put on our uniform, then get our equipment. There’s sometimes stuff missing, like a hoover for one of the floors. There are normally two hoovers on each floor. If the hotel is full, there are four cleaners per floor. The rooms are often very big. The femme de chambre goes up to a floor, takes out the trolley, and puts everything required in the rooms, the hoover, and so on. We go in, open the windows, remove the dirty sheets and bring clean ones in. We do the skirting boards, walls, floors, and the bathroom. We replace everything that is missing: towels, dressing gowns, slippers, then we hoover the room and leave. They usually say 45 minutes to a room, but sometimes you’ll find a room taking over an hour. Some guests who stay for a night are clean, others stay for a night and you’d think they had spent a week in there. In that case, it takes an hour or an hour and a half to clean a room. I’m a femme de chambre, but I do a bit of everything. Sometimes I do the rooms, and sometimes, if an équipier is absent, I do that. The équipiers (maintenance) are normally men: if a guest wants a baby’s cot, or an extra bed, or some coat hangers, or something like that, then we bring it to them. If the femmes de chambre have to make up a big bed instead of a small one, or the other way round, then we we bring a big or a small duvet, and everything that goes with it. For sanitary issues, if the toilets need to be descaled, then the équipiers do it, because femmes de chambre don’t descale the toilets, if they are really really dirty. There are special products for that, for stains, or for really dirty toilets. This is what I mean when I say I do a bit of everything. I clean all the desks of the Hyatt staff too, whether it’s human resources or management. I fill in for that too. If someone is absent, I’m always available. Basically, I do whatever they ask me to do, as long as it’s not illegal. But most of the time, I’m a femme de chambre. We have to do the work really carefully so you don’t get sent back to go over it, because the gouvernante (floor manager) inspects the work. It’s not her [the gouvernante’s] fault, she just doesn’t want her boss to tell her she hasn’t done her job properly.

LAs gouvernantes, we manage a team of two to four people. We inspect the work of the femmes de chambre. We make the preparations when a guest has a specific request, and have to deal with information coming from the reception. Guests go to the reception and come back to us.

NI’m a gouvernante, responsible for the 3rd floor. I manage 4 femmes de chambre, 2 équipiers, and the inspection of all their work. We are the ones who approve the rooms to the reception, so it’s our fault if there is a problem or a complaint about a room. I’ve been working here since 2010. Before that, I worked at the Pullman Hotel.

SThis is the first palace3 I have worked in. I’m the head waiter for the mini-bar room service. I’ve been at the Hyatt for 5 years. I started in housekeeping. I worked in restaurant sector before.

PEMWhat are your demands?

NWe are asking for what we already demanded in 2013: that femmes de chambre, gouvernantes and équipiers be brought in-house. This is the only palace where accomodation services are outsourced, the only one on the Parisian market. They don’t want to deal with or pay their staff. We are demanding to be brought in-house, to be integrated. For them, the Hyatt staff are our clients, but actually they are our colleagues. Instead of putting our office with the Hyatt staff, they put us on floor -2, because we’re for the most part unionised and have delegates (délégués). They want to keep us apart. So that we don’t mix with the in-house hotel staff, they ask the femmes de chambre to come to the canteen at 2pm. They’re scared that we will bring them over to us. The Hyatt has always tried to make this difference between us and them. But without those employees - the femmes de chambre who have lasted 10, 15 years here - the Hyatt would never have got to the status of palace. Thanks to those employees, it went from a a four-star to a five-star, and it’s been a palace now for four or five years. My point is that, without us, this place wouldn’t be a palace.

LWe do the cleaning, and if we didn’t do it properly, this place would never have become a palace. It was a 3-star when we arrived, then 4, then 5, and now it’s a palace. They should pay us for that. A big luxury palace - we’re done with outsourcing. I’ve been here for nearly 7 years, and they’re always changing the company, even though we work for the same Park Hyatt, even though we do the same dirty work.

MI’ve already been working at Park Hyatt Vendôme for 11 years. We’re not going anywhere. We want to be directly employed by Park Hyatt Vendôme, because every year, or every three years, they change the subcontractor. I’ve already had three companies before STN: La Française de Service, and Luxe et Tradition. When I arrived, they were in the middle of a changeover.

FWith outsourcing, a company always arrives with their own conditions, then it leaves, and a new company comes and leaves again. It’s like marriage, divorce; marriage, divorce. We’ve had enough. We want to change this system, to be like the other hotels. On top of that, given how long we’ve been working here, I want them to recognise that we work hard and that we’re badly paid.

MMost of the people who work at the Hyatt look down on you when you say “good morning” to them. But when they need you, especially the receptionists who have to accommodate the guests, then they say “hello”, “thank you”, “that was kind of you”. Then the morning after, when the guests are in their rooms, you say ‘hi’ to them in the café and they don’t even acknowledge you. I don’t think that’s ok. If we are brought in-house at the Park Hyatt they’ll have a little respect.

LWe’re not going anywhere. I’m ready to speak the truth to the boss, even if he’s a millionaire. They have to show us some respect, like they do to others. No dignity. When you say ‘hi’ to the people working directly for Park Hyatt, they look at you like you are a dog, a speck of dust. They’ve got no education: when you see your colleagues in the morning, normally, you say “bonjour”. But they look you up and down like you’re a catin (prostitute)4. I no longer say “hello” to anyone who doesn’t greet me. I also look at them like dogs. They’re rich but they’re petty. I come here to earn my living, to take care of my kids, I’m not asking anyone to give me anything, I earn my living and I don’t look at them. Whether you’re rich or poor, you come from the earth, and you go back to the earth. What’s the point of humiliation? They’ve got a big palace? That’s thanks to us. We demand to be brought in-house (l’intégration). Those who work in the hotel, at the minibar, or on room-service, they’re badly paid too.

SWe are also out here because of the management’s contempt for the organisation of work and wages. They put money into paying outsourced workers, because of their previous strikes. We’re asking for a wage increase to match outsourced workers’, as there are people who have been working here for fifteen years and who don’t earn any more now than when they arrived. Augmentations based on experience don’t exist here. That’s why we’re asking today for a €3 per hour increase (for directly-employed workers), to bring our wages up to the level that outsourced workers get, and relative to other palaces - we have the lowest wages on the whole Parisian market. Even workers at some 4 or 5 star hotels earn more than we do.

NYes, we are asking for wage-increases for the hotel staff. Because they’ve never taken to the streets, Hyatt has kept them at the SMIC.5 Our femmes de chambre are earning around €14. We fought on the street for that. Some of the in-house staff have come down to see us. A €3 per hour raise for them is honestly not a huge amount for the hotel. We got two separate raises, amounting to nearly €5 more per hour. For us – femme de chambre, gouvernantes, équipiers – the problem is no longer our salary. I’m asking for a raise for the receptionists, porters, pastry chefs, even if they’re scared to come out with us, as a representative of the union, I’m in solidarity with them. They’re threatening them, saying: we’ll ruin you, so that you’ll never find another job anywhere in Paris. We’re already ruined, everyone knows us, so we can fight for them. But this strike is the hardest. The other strikes were over in three or four days. It’s true that we’re asking for a big chunk this time, but it’s no longer just about the money.

A Our third demand is to have our own proximate delegates (délégués de proximité)6, during professional elections. We have the right to vote but, with Macron’s laws, we’re no longer able to put forward candidates, and we are lost if this remains the case. In negotiating with Hyatt, we are able to have more hours of délégation (facility times). We need more of this time so that even if the law isn’t favourable, we have the hours needed to negotiate with Hyatt. This would be a means against the effects of the law. When we saw what this law did, that it favours company-level agreements, we saw that if we make an agreement with the boss, the law won’t intervene. The law opens the door to militant, company-level agreements.

TAt the moment we have lots of delegates for outsourced work. These are délégués de proximité. When they are workers too, living with and having daily contact with the other workers, they are more directly affected by the demands, so there’s more “follow up”. It’s a real involvement, not some kind of abstraction, and its dangerous for the bosses.

PEMThis strike isn’t your first strike, then. It’s been years now that the outsourced staff at the Hyatt Vendôme have shown their combativity. The situation at the hotel is fairly exceptional - the outsourced staff are now better paid than the directly-employed staff and, in a way, are fighting for them.

A Before 2013, we were miserable here, and we started to make demands, to mobilise. We went over the SMIC by €3 per hour hour, without counting bonuses. This is really important. I started working here in 2008, and from 2008 to 2013, it was miserable. With a single word, you’d be fired; with a single word, you’d get a warning.

FBefore, in the time of Française de service, if you only opened your mouth, first warning, second warning - the third, and you’re fired. They made you work like you were casual staff (intérimaires). They’d call you one day: ‘we’ve got people, stay at home’. We’re ashamed of that now. We’ll struggle until the end.

A Me, in 2013, I was given a final warning; another one, and I’d be fired. It was at that moment that I warned the union. There was a strike being organised, which meant I couldn’t be fired, since I had been put on the elections list, and so I had a protected status for 6 months, which is what saved me. Currently, I’m a union rep.

NAt that time, before our strikes, the conditions at work were catastrophic. They got better thanks to our union branch, our delegates, and our strikes. This is my fourth strike. In 2013 and 2017 we got big wage increases. In 2015 - what a time that was - we signed a fair agreement. Our agreements are fair. In 2013 we got the 13th month7, and in 2014 we got €2 more per hour. It was also really difficult to come and vote in the professional elections, we had to hide. All the managers were there, so the poor workers of the Hyatt were scared to turn up. One of them who voted, he worked in the day, and we voted for him at night. The staff of the Hyatt, the people who are directly-employed, they’re not in a good position either, so they’re scared, even if they actually support us. They call, give us information, but many are afraid to confront the boss. I understand them, they’re not protected. We’re delegates, we’re protected8. In 2011, one of them ate with a rep, this was put in a file, and a few months later, he was shown the door. That had a chilling effect - it said “don’t approach the reps”. It’s incredible that this happened to Hyatt staff. I’m myself scared that all the places in France are like that. They say we’ve got rights, that we’ve got choice, that we’ve got freedom, but in reality it’s not true. That’s what we’ve seen in the other places, that’s what makes us scared. That’d mean that, in some way, we’re not free. The Park Hyatt is a tiny world, but it expresses something more general about the society outside.

TAlso, the femmes de chambre filed a complaint at the Prudhomme9 , and came out of it with a chunk of money. We often do this kind of thing, to put pressure on when we start a strike. Filing a series of complaints collectively at court at the beginning of a strike enables us to put pressure on the hotel because they have to spend more money getting lawyers and sorting everything out. At the end of the strike we either come to a compromise on these complaints; most employers don’t want to deal with this kind of shit once the strike is over, they just want to sort things out once and for all. That’s what happened at the Holiday Inn: they compromise and don’t mention it again. Or, alternatively, the employers who want to go right to the bitter end go there, and get done at the Prudhomme. So the workers say to themselves, “I know what I pay my membership dues for. I’ve got a union behind me who can sort things out if I have a problem, and I won’t need to spend a fortune on a lawyer.” This is really important for the union. Sometimes there are follow-ups on each individual cases, which we deal with day-by-day.

PEMThe outsourced staff at the Park Hyatt form one of the most combative section of the CGT-HPE. And there’s a strong link, historically, between these struggles against outsourcing and the building of the union.

IThe subcontractors are the thieves, they are the thugs. They don’t agree with bringing workers in house. We had to start our strike - and voilà, we started. The CGT works for us. With the Française de service, we were doing 9 or 10 rooms, and no one ever got more than €1000 a month. Another company arrived, Luxe tradition, we had the CGT-HPE, we went on strike. After, it was STN - they had same front as the Française de service, but we clocked them. They change the company, but they’re all the same.

TYes, the Hyatt Vendôme is one of our biggest sections. We have around 80% of the outsourced staff in the hotel unionised. The Hyatt hotels are part of the group that bought luxury hotels from the Taittinger family-empire, which no longer exists. The CGT-HPE used to be the union of the Taittinger group, which turned into the Hyatt Group, the hôtel du Crillon, and the Louvre Hotel Group, which was bought in 2013 by a Chinese hotel group.

Within the Hyatt group, we’re well implanted. At the Park Hyatt Regency, our biggest section, we have 200 of 650 employees unionised; you could say that we’re the biggest union working around outsourcing. The US (Union Syndicale)’s commerce section was present at the Hyatt, before, but wasn’t bothered about outsourcing.

During the first strike, in 2013, the women were paid by the room, and got around €800 or €900 per month. Since then, we’ve had regular monitoring, and it’s one of our strongest sections. In September we only threatened a strike, and they immediately got a raise of €225 per month, on average. There’s a long-time and almost familial relationship with the CGT-HPE. With us, there’s a guaranteed strike fund, which is to say that we pay €42 every day after the second day of striking, and so the workers say “I know where my subs are going”. They pay around 1% of their salaries in subs. You get paid €1200, you pay €12 subs, and in the case of a strike, you get a grand a month. This creates confidence. The workers know that they’re with a union who won’t mess around, but will support them.

Against that, we’ve got the CGT-nettoyage (cleaning) - one unequalled in terms of corruption and rottenness. There’s a closeness between certain General Secretaries and the bosses. There’s François Ngiangika, Secretary General of the cleaning branch, stomping into conflicts, trying to stop strikes; he’s the one that demoted the most effective delegates. During a conflict in 2013, when a comrade, Issa Coulibaly, who works for Isor, was a union rep, Ngiangika, turned up at the picket, and said “get back to work”. Issa said “who are you? We’re continuing”. They carried on the battle until victory, until they won their demands. Six months later, Issa lost his position in the union, along with it his protected employee status, and then Isor fired him. That’s the reality.

A gouvernante was fired because, apparently, she could not justify a bout of sick leave to the hour. It was Léontine Dalle, of the CGT-propreté who had been testifying in a court case brought against another employee by the company. During the Française de service time, they came here and signed forms saying the hotel maids were doing training programmes. Anyway, they were punished for having swindled 2 million euros out of a training organisation. So these are the things the employees have experienced. At Hyatt, the strikers didn’t want to go back to shitty unions again, because they know them. When we say the union is not our comrade, we’re thinking of the time of Salimata and Léontine Dalle - it’s a fresh memory, and it echoes in their heads. For all of that, people organise themselves. Here they know the outsourced employees very well, it’s important to understand why there is so much mobilisation.

PEMThe demands for délégués de proximité for outsourced workers is related directly to the content of Macron’s labour law ordonnances. Would you return to this?

TIn this hotel, there’s a specific situation: there are representatives of direct employees of the hotel, and representatives of the outsourced workers; there is a comité d’entreprise (CE) and also staff delegates (délégués du personnel), for both workforces. The CE discusses technical issues, which touch on the economics of the company, on it’s management. It’s an institution, in fact, of class collaboration: you and the employer discuss what’ll happen, what won’t happen.

There’s also the Committee of Hygiene, Security and Working Conditions (comité d’hygiène, de sécurité et des conditions de travail; CHSCT) - a very important body, since it’s here where you’re able to pose questions of health, and of security. Through this, you’re able to trigger inquiries, following the restructuring of a service, to see the impact on employees. Each of these bodies has it’s role, because it feeds information back, in one way or another.

The danger is that from December 31st 2019 every company in France has to finish with all that, and put in place a Comité social et économique (CSE): that’s Macron’s ordonnances (legislation). Every company with more than 11 employees has to hold elections, and at that moment the mandates of the current reps of the Hyatt’s and the outsourced staff expire. These ordonnances say that outsourced workers are eligible to vote - that they can vote - but if outsourced workers decide to exercise their right to vote in their place of work, they lose their right to stand in elections or vote with, in this instance, STN’s CSE.

But, they won’t have representation at STN, because STN, which took the contract in December 2017 (i.e., after the September 22 law), showed it’s colours on arriving here. They said “we have CSE, our own body, which our own rotten unions have validated”. Currently, the Confédération française démocratique du travail (CFDT) are the majority union there, then the CGT-HPE, then Force Ouvrière (FO). So there’s a single body, a single CSE, for a company with 4500 employees, with sites all over France.

This time, here, we found ourselves in the Ile-de-France’s Direction régionale des Entreprises, de la concurrence, de la consommation, du travail et de l’emploi (DIRECCTE)10, and the employees said “no problem, we’ll strike”, and then the STN said, “OK, we’ll see in 2019”. Concretely, at the end of 2019, employees risk finding themselves with zero delegates, neither at the STN, since they have a central CSE, and no right to run at elections at the Hyatt - here, there’ll be a witch hunt.

And more, with the ordonnances, agreements have a duration of 5 years, maximum, and they can be opposed at any moment by the boss. Every company now 11 has the right to oppose an agreement, at any moment, if they decide to - it’s entirely a question of the balance of forces. Nearby, at the Grand Hôtel, they’re in negotiations, since the bosses want to backtrack on a number of social gains; employees benefit from a unusual situation, getting a 14th month. This new law is what suits the bosses best - and indeed, they want to backtrack on the agreement, so we need to stay vigilant.

At the Pullman Montparnasse, which closed for refurbishments, there had been a Plan de sauvegarde de l’emploi12 - some want to return, and there’ll certainly be new people hired, but that previous agreement has been annulled, and so even for former employees, they’ll be on statutory minimums, the lowest hourly rates, no bonuses except the a lunch bonus13 - that and nothing else. The bosses use the refurbishment periods to annul the agreements. But, in every way, the bosses can oppose such agreements whenever they like.

With Macron’s ordonnances, the employers also have the chance to get around the union delegates (délégués syndicaux). The DSs are chosen by the union, are mandated by the union, it’s them that can negotiate and sign agreements; the staff delegates though are directly elected. The danger is that if they withdraw the mandate, the union delegates will be fired, whereas the staff delegates always has to finish their mandate.

A company has to have more than 50 employers to have a DS. The ordonnances divide responsibility over three levels - national law, branch-level agreements, and company-level agreements, with the branch and company-level agreements taking precedence. Again, only if agreements have been reached before January 2019. Similarly, the role of delegates will be negotiated branch-by-branch only if there have been these agreements. It will be a massacre, literally. We’ve written to the CGT bodies, but without any response.

The CGT are wankers behind their desk - they don’t know anything anymore in this fucking company - and they gorge themselves on the co-determination funds. The paritarisme money, meant for training workers, is what union members’ dues pay for - it’s sometimes on your payslip. This money goes into a communal fund, shared between unions, and bosses’ federations - €3 million went to the fédération du commerce.

This totally changes the relationship of trade unions to workers. Previously, the union structure was paid for with membership dues; their money came from those, but today those dues today account for 10 or 15% of the operating budget. If today the hierarchy of the CGT is ready to disaffiliate from its more combative branches, it’s because their money comes from elsewhere. The CGT-HPE and its 1000 members only brings them €70,000 a year, which is nothing compared with the €5,000,0000 from the fédération commerce. Dues are no longer the main source of money; truly, they don’t care. Amongst the bureaucracy, you see these things, it’s insane (hallucinant) - they look at you, call you “comrades”, vote for resolutions like “reconstituting a working community”, and after all that, they say “un salarié c’est un code APE”14.

When, at the CGT-HPE, we gather up membership dues, of the €12, €4 goes to the regional level, €4 to the Fédération Commerce, and the rest for the branch, for daily costs, for strikes. But the opposite never happens - money never comes back, ever. It drives me mad. When you have 40 employees on strike, you might be 4 months in the street, the fédération will give you a cheque for €500. I’m going to tell Montreuil15: you rent a stand at la fête de l’Huma16 for €60,000 to sell t-shirts, to party, and all that, but you give a strike demanding in-housing a cheque for €1000. Yes, there are things which are developing, advancing a little, especially in the service sector, but with the means that the CGT has, we could be doing even more.

PEMAs you’ve said, this strike is a difficult one, it’ll be longer than all the previous strikes. How are you going to hold out?

TWe’ve said to the employees, “the union will be with you until the end”. And, all the strike days will be paid, one way or another. We don’t start if we don’t have 50-70% unionised since, in fact, you need to build the union: we don’t strike simply in order to strike, without knowing how we’ll win. We do everything to properly prepare strikes, and then we vote on whether to continue. When people go on strike, they should know it could be for 2 days, it could be for 4 months, and must be in agreement with the principle, before it starts. You have to hold a strike, you have do things right, in a structured way: this allows you monitor gains. A goal is never entirely achieved. Better to take 2 months organising a strike before it starts, than to set off, unsure of anything. That’s what happened at the Renaissance Trocadéro, we had a two-day strike, in early June this year. Thanks to various previous strikes, we’d been contacted by a worker, but we had zero delegates and zero unionised at the hotel. She came to us to say “the situation is awful, we’re at rock bottom, we want to go on strike”. From the beginning, this woman did the work, she unionised the gouvernantes. They did a two-day strike. They got the lunch bonus, a raise of hourly rates, and payments for the two days - it was a worth it. That’s what we do systematically, when we’re approached by comrades. Sometimes you have to do 2 months of preparation, and sometimes there’s already a kind of ruthlessness (un ras-le-bol qui est déjà très fort) and everyone unionises at the same time, you can recruit everyone on the same day. The next day, there’s a meeting, it goes very fast - les gens sont chauds, everyone’s up for it. When you’ve got 70% with you, the bosses aren’t laughing, they fold easily. This strike at the Hyatt Hôtel, it’s now or never, now or the bosses get rid of this section, which is so important to us.

M I’ve already told my colleagues that I’ll get the Christmas tree. If we have to go on until December, no problem.

II’m tired, because I’ve come even on my day-off, but I won’t give up. I live in Sarcelles, it takes an hour to get here, to Châtelet17. Sometimes there are problems with the RER18, and I have to take the tram to get back to mine. I’ve got kids, I have to pick them up, I work at home and I work here. It’s not easy, but I pull through. They call us whores (putes) - we only want to be respected at work.

M The everyday of striking and of working, it’s the same thing; we’re used to it. Me, I wake up everyday at 5am, I get here at 6.30am, I take a coffee everyday. I live in Grigny, RER D, it takes an hour to get here - so, nothing’s changed. At 3.30pm, I say “bye” to my colleagues; the others that arrived later stay until 6pm. I clean, I make the food, I look after the kids, I talk a little about what happened at school, if there’s something to sign, I sign it, and that’s it. I have three children; we’re still together. I’ve explained it to them. Since they’re used to seeing me on Fridays, I take them to school [during the strike]. I explained that I have to work, but we see each other in the afternoon. I explained the strike. They’re 11, 8, and 2 ½ years old; they say “we’re going to pray for you”. Managing the house, I’m used to it, I do it everyday. I go to work, I come back, I cook, I look at the kids’ textbooks. I take a glance, at least. It’s not like being a [full-time] housewife, but I take a glance, all the same. When there are meetings at school, I arrive late, but I say to my colleagues that “I’m going, for parents’ evening, or the hospital”, or whatever. But, we manage. We’re already used to doing it.

~Sophiane2 These women here are the champions, the fighters, feminists have a lot to learn from them. I also want to say that it’s the solidarity that brings people together. I’ve never participated in a strike in my life. It’s the first time, the first strike in my life. Honestly, it brings people together. We’re not just work colleagues anymore. We’re all fighting for the same thing, which will mean, in the future, that we’re practically family, even more bound together (soudés). It’s a human relation, a strike. Everyone thinks the same thing, we’re in a fight. We speak to each other, even with people we don’t know, with people we don’t have a relationship with. It’s human - joyful, even.


  1. The quotation is from this CGT publication. 

  2. The Donovan Report 

  3. Since 2009 the French tourism agency has designated certain hotels as “palaces” for, as the l’agence de développement touristique de la France put is “locality, aesthetics, history of the place, and the personality of the establishment” 

  4. As Tiziri reported to PEM: “At the Pullman Hotel Eiffel Tower, the STN inspector at the site, who manages the housekeepers - a tyrant - doesn’t call the women by their names: he calls them ‘the whores’. He says ‘Me, I’ll go find my whores at Barbès and Chateau Rouge, I’ll pick them up in baskets.’” (Chateau Rouge, a Paris neighbourhood known for West African sex workers, with “baskets” referring to the market there - a blatantly racist remark).  

  5. The Salaire minimum de croissance; a national, cost-adjusted minimum wage. On the relationship between statutory, sector-wide, and firm-level determinants of wages and conditions, see Tarasewicz and Romatet’s ‘France’ entry in the Employment Law Review (2018, 9th Edition) 

  6. The editors believe that the phrase “délégués de proximité” refers not to a particular position, but rather to délégués who are “near” workers, i.e., working alongside them. As is clarified before, the incoming laws threaten to rob outsourced workers of effective representation.  

  7. An “extra” month’s pay, typically paid in December.  

  8. Both staff- and union-delegated receive “protected” status, meaning they can only be fired with explicit agreement from a “work inspector” - an official, specialised civil servant charged with surveying employment conditions.  

  9. Tribunals adjudicating on questions of labour law.  

  10. “Regional Boards of Enterprises, of Competition, of Consumption, of Work and Employment” - this is a regional-level government body that mediates between “socio-economic” actors: employers, employees, investors, unemployed workers, consumers, and so on.  

  11. This aspect of the ordonnances has already come into effect.  

  12. A company-level, court-enforceable agreement governing how redundancies are managed.  

  13. An allowance for lunch written into workers’ salary via a ‘’convention collective” - a document that delineates employers food allowances, canteen access, and so on.  

  14. “Un salarié c’est un code APE” - the acronym here refers to the Agence des participations de l’État, the state agency managing public companies. The translators believe the original statement means something to the effect of “workers are only a tax code”.  

  15. The CGT’s regional office. 

  16. The newspaper L’Humanité’s annual festival; “L’Hum” was founded by French Communist Party.  

  17. A central Paris station 

  18. Réseau Express Régional - a regional commuter line going through ile-de-france, the Commune of which Paris is a part. The RER lines are distinguished by letter. 


authors

Amrita Franco

Amrita Franco is a teacher for l’Education Nationale, based in Paris.

Rona Lorimer

Rona Lorimer is a writer who lives in Paris.

Joe Hayns (@JoeHayns)

Joe Hayns is a student (UCU), and works in the arts industry (IWGB). He writes about the Maghreb, and trade unions.

Hector Uniacke

Hector Uniacke is a writer and Master’s student living in Paris.