“If we want to change our destiny we must struggle in the streets”

A call-up for an alliance between French working-class neighbourhoods and Gilets Jaunes. Interview with Youcef Brakni.

Youcef Brakni is a spokeperson for the Comité Adama, calling for joining up the Gilets Jaunes movement demonstration in Paris on December 1 (and beyond). A position that cuts in its own way the internal debate of the militants of the neighbourhoods, divided about this social movement. (Original interview published on the portal on 26/11/2018)

Is the Comité Adama calling for a convergence of struggles with the Gilets Jaunes?

We are talking about an alliance rather than a convergence of struggles. Convergence, in the way in which it is used, means to reach a place and ally yourself with something that already exists. This is the meaning that we employed when we had been asking, through the years, to the neighbourhoods residents to converge in their struggles in order to join the leftists organizations or the social movements. The convergence is pointless and overtly characterised. What we are saying at the Comité Adama is: “We are equal allies, because the issue of equality will be at the core of this alliance, we take hits together and return them, especially together.

Is the Comité Adama in touch with members or responsibles of the Gilets Jaunes?

Some Gilets Jaunes support the Comité Adama. Benjamin Belaidi in Compiègne is part of that.

The issue of getting closer to the Gilet Jaunes divides the militants of the neighbourhoods. Do you think it would be an error, for their residents, to desert this kind of social mobilization? Or do you understand those thinking that it is all about two different kinds of France that cannot meet each other?

What is important is to have a clear position and to not betray ourselves. To not betray our own political ideals. With regards to social mobilization, we all share an endemic precarity and unemployment which is as high as 40% in some neighbourhoods. We share a lot of things about the social question which is, very often, worse off for the residents of the peripheries. To not be able to enter labour market and to live in completely unhealthy buildings, worth of the 19th century, make the social question a much more violent reality for us. The issues of racism and police crimes, which are specific to our background, add up to this and it is important to emphasize that. We will take the streets along with the Gilet Jaunes on Saturday, December 1, because we fight the same enemy - without denying our peculiarities.

Will you ask the Gilets Jaunes to include other watchwords?

We are not asking them anything, we do it ourselves. What does it mean to be a Gilet Jaune? It is to be against costly life, taxes and the increase of the price of gasoline. This movement belongs to no one. It belongs to all those living in misery, that cannot make ends meet, that must save in order to feed their families, that sometimes - even with a job - end up having to sleep on the street. We are Gilets Jaunes, too, we are not asking anything. We bring our specificity and that has to be heard, too.

What do you think about some racist episodes that have been already witnessed?

We must not leave the space to far-right. We have to be serious. We meet racist episodes in leftist demonstrations, too. I heard some leftist militants during a pro-Palestinian demo telling me: "why do you use some slogans in Arabic?". There is no need to look at the Gilets Jaunes to recognize this kind of racist behaviour. When I see some leftists militants getting outraged I laugh. We have to see how some Muslim factory workers were treated by the left, which was accusing them of being too closed in their community. I come from a city in the Seine-Saint-Denis region where those who always prevented my militancy were leftists. It was not the right, but the Communist Party, the Greens, etc. the struggle against the Sonacotra centres was in communist party-led cities. In some leftist cities mosques projects were halted. It is hypocrite. There are racist behaviours in some Gilet Jaunes mobilizations, but that is not their specificity: it is the mirror of society. We have to ask ourselves which are the responsibilities resulting from it. When some kind of left speaks like the far-right that becomes a problem.

This critique can also come from neighbourhoods militants and not only from leftist militants…

Yes, because sometimes this kind of situations reproduce themselves out of mimicry, and this is a pity. We have to exceed that and distance ourselves from these subjects. I did not hear criticism when the same aggressions happened during leftist demonstrations. We cannot be apart from these mobilizations. We have to be always players, to be the initiative. It is better to stop racist behaviours from the beginning, in order to prevent this movement from becoming a completely racist one, as in that case we would have to battle both the Gilet Jaunes and Macron! We have to show some strategic intelligence. If we want really change our destiny in France and improve our living conditions we must struggle socially in the streets. All of us have their rightful place in this mobilization. We must be there, Macron is going too far. The impact of his policies on the working-class neighbourhoods will multiply ten-fold."

This mobilization you are calling for december 1 will have a value of a political test for the participation of the neighbourhoods?

On October 13 the Comité Adama organized a demonstration in only seven days against the lies of the judiciary regarding the subject of police abuses. Four thousands of people were mobilized. Hence, we already demonstrated our capacity of mobilization. We are confident. Those following us know that we struggle for the common good. We will be there on December 1 for a cheminot (railway workers - TN) cortege at Saint-Lazare station at 1pm - direction: Champs-Elysées.