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France's Gilets Noirs: Undocumented Migrants Rise Up


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At Open Democracy, Luke Butterly profiles France’s gilets noirs, a growing movement of undocumented migrants inspired by the gilets jaunes protests, which have raged across France for several months now. While the gilets jaunes have denounced austerity and the governing status quo, the gilets noirs have targeted companies that exploit and abuse vulnerable undocumented workers. As Butterly writes, the gilets noirs movement has garnered visibility and power for a population that is especially maligned and marginalized today, in France and across Europe. Here’s an excerpt:

The gilets noirs are a collective of undocumented migrants living in Paris, who have been engaged in high profile actions in the French capital to expose the conditions under which they are forced to live – including precarious employment, homelessness and poor housing conditions, and police repression.

In a handed out to press and onlookers, they claimed that “When you confront the boss [over your pay, work conditions], they say ‘we can’t keep you, you’re undocumented’. But when you work in silence, they don’t care at all whether you have papers or not!” …

For the activists, it is far from a coincidence that they chose the name gilets noirs for their movement. They were inspired by how the yellow vests – many of whom are living in poor conditions themselves – were fighting every week for their rights.

“They represent a powerful force in France right now, because they are protesting every week, and they are not giving up. And this is what we related to when we chose our name – the fact we want to be as powerful as they are, and that we didn’t want to be afraid any more – to act in whatever way possible to fight for our legitimate rights,” said Kanouté, member of the gilets noirs.


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