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
0

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.”


Turkey cuts investment criteria for foreigners seeking citizenship

Updated 19 September 2018
0

Turkey cuts investment criteria for foreigners seeking citizenship

  • Turkey made it easier for foreigners to become Turkish citizens by cutting the financial and investment criteria required for citizenship
  • Foreigners now need only to have $500,000 deposits in Turkish banks

ANKARA: Turkey on Wednesday made it easier for foreigners to become Turkish citizens by cutting the financial and investment criteria required for citizenship, according to a decree from President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Foreigners now need only to have $500,000 deposits in Turkish banks, down from $3 million before while fixed capital investment was reduced from $2 million to $500,000 dollars, the decree published in the Official Gazette said.
Meanwhile individuals can obtain citizenship if they employ 50 people, down from the previous 100, while those who own property worth $250,000 can become Turkish citizens, compared to the previous value necessary of $1 million.
The decree is the latest in a series by Erdogan in what appears to be a bid to prop up the embattled Turkish lira and the economy which slowed down in the second quarter.
Last week, the president ordered that contracts for the sale, rent and leasing of property in or indexed to foreign currencies would not be allowed.
The Turkish currency fell against the US dollar drastically in August after one of the most bitter spats between Ankara and Washington over the detention of an American pastor.
The lira lost nearly a quarter in value against the greenback in August.
But there had been investor concerns over domestic economic policy and Erdogan’s continued opposition to high interest rates, although the central bank aggressively hiked its main policy rate 6.25 percent to 24 percent last week.
Erdogan will later meet with representatives of American companies working in Turkey at 1500 GMT at his presidential palace in Ankara, according to the presidential website.
He will meet with 30 senior executives, according to HaberTurk daily, including representatives from Microsoft and Google.