The fight to save, not shut, a McDonald’s in France

McDonald’s is the second-biggest formal employer in the neighborhood with its 77 staff, after a local supermarket chain. (File/AFP)
Updated 02 September 2018
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The fight to save, not shut, a McDonald’s in France

  • Campaigners including local lawmakers have mobilized to save, not shut, a restaurant in one of the poorest suburbs of the southern city of Marseille
  • McDonald’s is the second-biggest formal employer in the neighborhood with its 77 staff, after a local supermarket chain

MARSEILLE: For decades, McDonald’s was the brand French people loved to hate.
From the 1970s it was accused of being the exporter of “mal bouffe” (“bad food“) to the land of fine dining, blamed for introducing millions of French people to high-calorie American fast-food.
It was also resisted as a symbol of US economic and cultural imperialism, particularly by leftwingers, in a country that remains suspicious of globalization — and more eager than most to defend its own language and culture.
French farmer and one-time presidential candidate Jose Bove built a political career through his opposition to McDonald’s which saw him trash a restaurant in the south of France in 1999.
And resistance to the golden arches continues: a mayor on the island of Oleron in western France has famously battled to keep the company out, and the brand is still a favorite target of anti-capitalist protesters during street demonstrations.
But in a turn of events that would have French food purists choking, campaigners including local lawmakers have mobilized to save, not shut, a restaurant in one of the poorest suburbs of the southern city of Marseille.
“From the outside it might seem to be just another restaurant,” local MP and hard-left leader Jean-Luc Melenchon said in a visit last month to the outlet where he was cheered and applauded.
“But it’s the only place where there’s something going on in this area, where you can get something to drink or have a bite to eat with friends.”
The campaign to prevent the “McDo,” as it is known in France, from shutting — local Socialist and even Communist Party figures have joined Melenchon — is an unusual development for politicians better known for their opposition to multinational companies.
But it has also served to highlight how the American fast-food chain has become a pillar of the local community, underscoring the lack of other facilities, and economic opportunities, in France’s deeply deprived suburbs.
“There’s only this,” one local, Farida Mameri, told AFP as she arrived with her children. “This area without McDonald’s? There’d be nothing. When you meet someone it’s here, there’s nothing else.”
The restaurant is located next to the partly completed L2 trunk road in the tough northern suburb of Saint-Barthelemy, a multiethnic area home to a large Muslim population and some of the city’s poorest housing estates.
McDonald’s is the second-biggest formal employer in the neighborhood with its 77 staff, after a local supermarket chain, trade unionists say.
Residents lament how shops and businesses have gradually moved out at the same time as drug-dealing has flourished — providing more lucrative, and dangerous, opportunities for unemployed local men.
Marseille remains an important gateway for drugs arriving in Europe from North Africa, causing deadly turf wars between Kalashnikov-wielding gangs that are a blight on the lives of local families.
In May, amateur video went viral showing several masked men armed with machine guns running through a housing estate in nearby Busserine, where police — and journalists — are often wary to enter.
Since opening in 1992, the McDonald’s has helped to stop some of the criminality, employees and campaigners say.
“McDonald’s kind of got me out of the shit, if you’ll excuse the term,” Nordine Aklil, a 27-year-old employee, told AFP. “I had come out of prison and McDonald’s offered me rehabilitation basically.
“It also allowed me to have more stability in my life.”
Salim Grabsi, a member of a working class collective in the area called SQPM, agreed that the business had played a “social role” under its previous managers.
“Young girls and young boys who haven’t got internships, they end up here,” he explained.
“When kids no longer have any interest in school, or they no longer want to go to school, to avoid them landing in drugs and all that, their first job is often at McDonald’s.”
At stake is the threatened closure of the restaurant by its current operator, a franchisor called Jean-Pierre Brochiero who owns the restaurant in a 50-50 joint venture with McDonald’s France.
He claims the site is loss-making — which the branch’s employees contest — and wants to sell it to a Tunisia-based company which would open an “Asian halal” food outlet targeting the local Muslim population.
The employees, who have been protesting for months, believe the takeover plan is a ruse to avoid paying them redundancy compensation and they have gone to court to prevent the transaction.
“As badly paid as they are, as bad as working conditions are at McDonald’s, their whole life is built around this job,” a lawyer representing staff said after a court hearing on Monday.
“The whole life of the neighborhood is built around this restaurant. McDonald’s needs to be aware of that and they need to come out of this honorably too.”


Samsung announces folding phone with 5G — at nearly $2,000

Updated 21 February 2019
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Samsung announces folding phone with 5G — at nearly $2,000

  • The device looks similar to a conventional smartphone, but then opens like a book to reveal a display the size of a small tablet
  • Samsung is also making improvements to its flagship Galaxy S devices and plans to offer a 4G version of its folding phone
SAN FRANCISCO/LONDON: Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd. on Wednesday unveiled a nearly $2,000 folding smartphone in a bid to top the technology of Apple Inc. and Chinese rivals and reignite consumer interest amid slumping sales.
The Galaxy Fold will go on sale on April 26 and take advantage of new and faster 5G mobile networks. The device looks similar to a conventional smartphone, but then opens like a book to reveal a display the size of a small tablet at 7.3 inches (18.5 cm).
The device “answers skeptics who said that everything that could be done has been done,” DJ Koh, chief executive of Samsung Electronics, said at an event in San Francisco. “We are here to prove them wrong.”
Samsung remains the world’s largest smartphone maker with nearly a fifth of global unit sales but underperformed a slumping market last year. Chinese rival Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd. — whose Mate series of phones also command premium prices — gained market share. Other Chinese makers like Xiaomi Corp. have also been increasing prices, leaving Samsung to defend its turf against upstart rivals in addition to its longtime foe Apple.
With the foldable phone, Samsung is going on the offense on two fronts in the smartphone race: It is offering an eye-catching new feature with the big, bending screen and the first 5G connection in a premium phone, a feature analysts do not expect Apple to match until 2020.
Samsung is also making improvements to its flagship Galaxy S devices and plans to offer a 4G version of its folding phone.
It also challenges the notion of what a phone can cost, debuting at nearly twice the price of current top-of-the-line models from Apple and Samsung itself.
Patrick Moorhead, founder of Moor Insights & Strategy, said the new folding device could help Samsung stay at the top and lure consumers to upgrade devices that have looked largely the same over the past five years.
“Samsung and Apple go back and forth” to lead the premium smartphone market, Moorhead said. “I think this is Samsung’s chance to take back the innovation crown.”
And even though the $1,980 starting price is steep, some dedicated Samsung fans said they would pay it. Navneet Kumar Singh, a Samsung enthusiast from India who traveled to San Francisco to watch the launch, is ready to place his order.
“The prices of the flagship models have been a little aggressive in India,” he said, “But in the end, if you invest the money you’re getting a different experience.”
Samsung also introduced several accessories to compete against Apple, including a pair of wireless headphones called Galaxy Buds. The headphones include wireless charging, a feature that Apple has promised to put into is competing AirPods but has not yet released.
Samsung also said that its new Galaxy phones will be able to wirelessly charge its headphones and new smartwatches by setting the accessories on the back of the phone.

10 times faster
Along with the folding phone, Samsung also added new cameras and a 5G version to its Galaxy series of phones.
Verizon Communications Inc. will be the first carrier to offer service for Samsung’s 5G phones. The networks are expected to be 10 times faster than current ones, improving viewing of live news and sports events.
With the 5G versions of its flagships, the Korean electronics maker looks to have beaten Chinese rivals in the 5G race, although the device will operate only on the small number of networks launching later this year. Apple is not expected to release a 5G smartphone until late 2020.
The new networks are not available in many places yet but will roll out this year and next. Consumers who want to hold on to their phones for several years before upgrading may be tempted to buy a 5G phone now so that it will be able to take advantage of those networks later, said Bob O’Donnell of TECHnalysis Research. That could sway some Apple buyers over to Samsung and other Android makers with 5G devices.
“People are going to be thinking about, am going to be able to use this a year from now? Two years from now? Three years?” he said.
Rival smartphone makers are expected to announce 5G models at next week’s Mobile World Congress, the industry’s top annual event, in Spain. Samsung said its 5G handset would be available in the early summer.
The Galaxy 10 series needs to appeal to consumers who are reluctant to upgrade for only incremental technological improvements in performance.
All of the Galaxy series of rigid phones except the 5G will be available from March 8, with the S10+ priced from $1,000, the S10 priced from $900 and the smaller S10e from $750.
The mainline S10 compares with $999 for Apple’s iPhone XS and $858 for Huawei’s premium Mate 20 Pro.