Tag Archives: France

Starting the Alliance Citoyennes or Citizens’ Alliance in France


Alliance organizers still planning on the Paris Metro

Alliance organizers still planning on the Paris Metro

Paris      There’s nothing short about a day where you are standing in the train station waiting for the Eurostar to Paris at 630 AM and break the door of the loaned 7th floor walkup crash pad at 11 PM, but in between organizers and researchers with Alliance Citoyennes, the Citizens’ Alliance, and I poured over questions and organizing problems almost nonstop.  Fueled by espresso and some food, moving between two languages, there was a hunger for talking about the nuts and bolts of community organizing, and we were all excitedly trying to fill it.

            The backstory, as it emerged over the day, was fascinating.  Four years ago seven, younger men and women had decided that something needed to happen in France and stumbled onto community organizing as the bridge to building a path to get there.  One of them was from Grenoble, which I only know from its connection with the Winter Olympics years ago, but is a medium-sized city of 350,000 or so with some diversity.  The city was small enough that the team felt that they could get their arms around their “experiments,” which is to say their efforts to build an organization from scratch, but in the way of these things, as much as anything one of the team was from there, wanted to go back, and the others were game.  They spent months getting their feet on the ground and trying to put some resources together, but with luck and skill managed to be ready to roll in 2011.  They read what they could about community organizing in French, which was mainly the Alinsky classics, ruing how much didn’t exist at all and only in English, and one of their team boomed out to England for some months to try and get some time on the ground with some organizing projects there, tightened down the seat belt, grabbed the wheel and started talking to organizations and individuals about coming on board.

            Their first assembly pulled together almost 200 people and decided on five campaigns, constructing committees and working groups to start moving forward.  At one level there were no surprises with housing, schools, and the like on the menu.  Looking at that hat campaign more closely though shows their spirit and ingenuity.  Schools ended up being a way in which they were activating their migrant membership from the Congo and Francophone Africa to get rights and services at the local university as students.  One critical action had 30 of them taking advantage of a big school welcome concert and hijacking the space that would have entered the banquet room and with great chutzpah and props galore, making people register to get into the hall in the same time consuming, ridiculous way that migrant students were having to do in order to access classes and services.  Needless to say they won quick negotiations, extended hours and staffing at the foreign students service office, and a new head set there.  What interested me as well was the clarity of what they had heard from their members and affiliated organizations and willingness to aggressively take the fight to what for most community organizers is unfamiliar and alien turf on a school campus.  An organization and organizing team with that kind of spark and imagination is going to get somewhere.

            Two things seemed to have happen though as they furiously organized.  One is that other areas in France heard the buzz and wanted to build something like it or with them, and they were strained to support those efforts or sustain them in a systematic way, as they still tried to hammer out their own Grenoble “model” of sorts.  The other was that they hit the wall and ran out of money, grinding almost to a halt and having to reorganize on unemployment and social benefits in 2013 to try and learn the lessons of their success and failures to move forward next.  All of which added up to one of those amazing and unstoppable multi-national exchanges of “been there, done that” and how we – and they – got through and managed to take the next steps up the mountain and how far we might get.

            Another day of such conversations looms forward for Sunday, but the organization and organizers that have survived this four year process with Alliance Citoyennes are my betting favor for being able to build something very, very special and very, very powerful in France in the coming years.



French Fudging May Point to Coming Business Loopholes in US on Employer Mandates

WO-AJ727_FRJOBS_G_20120510184252New Orleans     The headline in the Times spoke of “the 49ers of France,” conjuring up images of the 49ers of California Gold Rush fame, drawing me in completely. These 49ers though were small business owners who moved heaven and earth to not allow their businesses to reach 50 employees which would in the Times’ words, “unleash nearly three dozen French labor regulations.” As ominous as the language makes them sound these regulations are undoubtedly something that those wild and crazy French are doing in order to provide workers with protections on the job.  Oh, no! Furthermore they trumpet the tactic and advertise the legal sleight of hand with enthusiasm:

So in a tactic used by hundreds of other employers in a country with some of the European Union’s most extensive labor requirements, he has sought to conquer by dividing.  Rather than expand his company, he set up a second, and then a third, all capping the work force at fewer than 49 employees.  Like-minded business owners are the reason France holds the curious distinction of having more than twice as many companies with exactly 49 employees, as it does those with 50 or more.

Gearing up for the second enrollment period under the Affordable Care Act, small businesses with 50 or more employees will finally face the mandate where they will be required to offer coverage for all of their workers.   It makes me wonder whether or not in the United States of America, “Land of the Loophole,” we are about to see small businesses saying, “Oui, oui!” Yes, yes!  We’re with the French all of the way, anything to keep from providing our workers healthcare. And, if there were any chance that anyone was missing the point in this ideological narrative of the plight of these virtuous small business David’s against the evil of the brutish Goliath’s of labor, the Times’ Liz Alderman spells it out even more clearly:

Economists say France’s 50-plus labor rules, which require employers to enact stringent and costly job protections – including a workers’ council with labor union delegates, a health and safety committee, and annual collective bargaining – are one reason that France, the eurozone’s second-largest economy, runs an unemployment rate more than twice Germany’s.

So despite the fact that the Times’ business page seems to want to compete now with the Wall Street Journal’s op-ed, rightwing diatribes, my real point is simply that if this is another loophole swinging wide open to deny workers coverage under Obamacare, then we need to close it.


PSA from ACORN Canada