“Solidarity and Fraternity Should Prevail”

New Orleans    France, what a country!  Here’s an inspirational and “good news” story to bring some brightness into the bleak performance of so many countries in Europe and of course the United States in handling the ongoing political crisis involving migrants.

The French farmer who had attracted worldwide attention when arrested and fined for helping organize rescues through the mountains in southeastern France for migrants who had illegally crossed the border and driving them to his farm for food, shelter, and sanctuary won a critical court decision that should have huge ramifications not only in France, but around the world.  The French Constitutional Court ruled that Cedric Herrou’s actions were legal and protected under the constitutional principle of “fraternite” that means “all humanitarian assistance should be legal once people have entered France – provided it doesn’t entail helping them enter the country and isn’t delivered for financial benefit,” as reported in the Wall Street Journal.

The French Revolution was different than the American Revolution.  “Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité” was the motto.  Political philosophers have often pointed out the power of the distinction between a demand for freedom in the United States versus the demand for liberty in France.  Equality is mainly ignored in both countries as we all know too well, but fraternity, the notion that all people must bond together in solidarity, is also unique.

Interviewing Harvard Professor Jacqueline Bhabha about her new book from Polity Press, Can We Solve the Migration Crisis? on Wade’s World it was impossible for her not to emphasize how much migration is not driven by choice, but by humanitarian crises of war, violence, and climate whether from Syria, Central America, or currently the forced starvation and conflict pushing people out of Yemen.  In our conversation we didn’t discount the “pursuit of Happiness” that drives economic migrants to uproot their families from their homes and traditions to seek better lives.  Bhabha’s book noted that the lifetime earning gain was over $225,000 for such families.  Reports from Central America indicate that the average cost for migrants to journey to the United States is between $9 and $10,000, and Bhabha notes that Syrian migrants were also paying about $9000 as well.  To believe that migration is simply “the poor and huddled masses” misses much of the modern experience even as we watch the repeated forced migration in the sub-Saharan area, with the Rohingya, and with others.

The French court was clear that the border needs to be protected and that traffickers must be prosecuted, but their decision about the responsibilities that we all have to protect and assist the men, women, and children that need our aid and succor should be a clarion call to all countries and all people, not simply the reading of a piece of the French constitution and law.  This is part of what drives the outcry about family separation and child incarceration at the US border.

The New York Times interviewed Vincent Gasquet, a pizza chef who aids migrants at the border near where he lives in France, and his statement should be close to all of our hearts, as he says,

“The law states that we shouldn’t help migrants, but it also says that we shouldn’t leave them in a dangerous situation, so what can we do?…The line is so thin, but solidarity and fraternity should prevail.”



Hard Changes Coming to France?

Paris   The day began with an ominously when I woke up at 2:05 AM for my 2:45 AM ride to the 3:17 AM train to Budapest. After taking a shower, I realized that in the dark, I had misread the time, and it was now 12:20 AM, not 2:20 AM. It was going to be a long day!

The 3:17 AM to Budapest was a workers’ milk run to the city. Tired men and women would slump into their seats and then immediately doze off in a practiced part of their routine. The train hit Budapest 4 minutes late, and I knew I only had 8 minutes then to find the ticket machine, get a ticket, find bus 200E and make to the airport for my 6:25 AM flight, where I could doze off in my practiced routine.

And, then on to Paris. With the election of the Macron government and his new party, Marche, which has disrupted French politics, hard changes were projected with hard fights in the future to see whether he would succeed or would the resistance.

The first change I noticed though was the McDonalds in the guts of Terminal 1 at Charles DeGaulle Airport. Of course it was huge. That was predicable, but it was also all automatic. Orders had to be placed on a eye-level robotron machine where you picked through your selection, to go or in-house, card or cash, and then went to a counter to pay and pickup, or not. Where you would think automation would mean less workers, I had never seen so many. There were people to help you learn the machine. If you were eating there, a worker brought you order to your table. Yes, to your table! Everywhere we looked there were staff people by the dozens. Our affiliates in France had been working on the McDonald’s organizing campaign and the fight for higher wages and workers’ voice there, as well as the opposing the use of GMOs, which are largely vilified in France. I noted all of this with interest, mentally tabulating the contradictions.

Meeting later in the afternoon with several union and community organizers, there seemed to be a feeling that the constant assault on long established labor rights that had endured in France for generations against almost constant attack were in real danger from the new government. Though Macron had run on a merging of left and right policy positions, and had formerly been a minister in the ruling Socialist Party before resigning to pave his own path, there seemed nothing moderate in his proposals for amending labor rights. The rigid and exacting labor rules that make it difficult to displace workers in an arbitrary fashion have long been targeted by business interests. Labor unions are girding for the fight of course, particularly the CGT, which has militantly drawn the line in the past even though a competing workers’ federation has been trying to play a more accommodating role with the new government. All other business, including new organizing, seems to have been pushed aside for the coming struggle.

Nonetheless, even if labor’s efforts were heroic, my friends seem to feel success would be defined in how much was saved compared to how much would be lost in measuring the level of the defeat, rather than optimistically predicting a victory.