The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

Deadly fires in immigrant housing and the tears of those responsible

Sep 12, 2005

The following two articles about the deaths of African immigrants in three recent fires in Paris are translated from the September 2, 2005 issue of Lutte Ouvrière (Workers Struggle), published in France.

After the fire on August 25th in Paris caused 17 dead, including 14 children, leading politicians Chirac, Villepin, Barloo and Delanoë rushed to the survivors or made declarations of sympathy. Yet these men – Chirac, the former mayor of Paris and Delanoë, the Socialist mayor now in office for four years – are responsible for the negligence which led to this tragedy. Only three days later, another fire in Paris left seven dead.

The majority of the families who lived in the building that burned on August 25th have been housed there since 1991, after camping out for four months on the construction site of the new Library of France. This housing was supposed to be provisional. Over these 14 years many things have changed. The Left and the Right changed places in the national government. The mayor of Paris was replaced by a politician of the opposite party. But nothing was done to offer a permanent solution to those families who were living in an increasingly dilapidated building. As if moving people from a six-floor building were an insurmountable problem in a city like Paris, or as if renovating all the dilapidated buildings in Paris were impossible.

In Paris, many thousands of workers' apartments are needed, especially for those with the lowest incomes, who don't have access to privately owned apartments. But the public powers aren't interested in construction to aid the impoverished or in rehabilitating old buildings to serve the men and women who live in them. The Paris city government has money to finance the Paris 2012 plan, which the billionaires are associated with. They're ready to carry out a plan which serves only tour operators, hotel chains and expensive restaurants, but they do nothing about the dilapidated buildings where people live.

After 24 deaths in an earlier April fire at an immigrant housing building, there were plenty of declarations saying it was necessary to correct the situation. But that was only talk to impress the public. Nothing was done.

How many more deaths will be necessary for the public powers to take measures to assure decent housing for all these families and for all others in a similar condition?

The private owners don't carry out any serious repairs and wait until the building is declared dilapidated and dangerous, when the police evict the tenants. The owners then resell the building for the price of the land, which is worth a gold mine in Paris.

And they completely get away with this, under the indifferent gaze of the politicians whose tears are only caused by smoke.

One fire after another – it's not inevitable!

In Paris, in April a slum building burned; in August two other buildings burned. All were inhabited by African workers. More than fifty among them are dead, burnt to death or suffocated, the majority being children. Families of immigrant workers who live in these possible infernos are right to be afraid.

We can't remain inactive in the face of this horror. Several mobilizations in support of the African workers already took place in the days following these murderous fires. It's necessary that the rally of Thursday, September 1st and the demonstration of Saturday, September 3rd be the most massive possible to shout out our anger and our indignation and to demand that immigrant workers not be penned up like cattle, but be decently housed; and to impose on the public powers the immediate construction of social housing and the requisition of empty apartments.