French government’s war on the poor abroad

15 May 2023
James McVicar

While French President Emmanuel Macron continues his months-long battle to raise workers’ retirement age from 62 to 64, his government is waging war on another front, some 8,000 kilometres away on the island of Mayotte.

Sitting between Mozambique and Madagascar in the Indian Ocean, Mayotte is part of the Comoro archipelago. But officially it is part of France. The colonial legacy of capitalism sometimes means that you can be in two places at once.

Falling under French colonial rule in the 1800s, during the European powers’ “Scramble for Africa”, Mayotte has been bound to the country ever since. A disputed referendum in 1974 granted independence to the Comoro Islands, but Mayotte remained a French territory. In 2011, it was incorporated as the country’s 101st department.

Today, unemployment among the island’s 310,000 people is 70 percent. More than three-quarters of the population live below the poverty line of €1,100 a month, according to the French national statistical bureau.

Nevertheless, thousands of migrants come to Mayotte every year from the neighbouring Comoros, where the situation is even worse. Comorans now make up almost half of Mayotte’s population; many are undocumented.

This state of permanent social crisis and dislocation has been fertile ground for the far right—Marine Le Pen’s fascist National Rally scored a solid victory in Mayotte in the second round of the 2022 presidential elections.

Le Pen’s vile anti-immigration stand has earned her a sizeable following in the majority-Muslim department. But it is Macron’s interior minister, Gérald Darmanin, who is about to unleash the violence. Last month he announced the dispatching of 1,800 police and gendarmes to Mayotte—including members of the infamous Republican Security Corps riot squad—as part of Operation Wuambushu (“recapture” in the local Shimaore language).

Their mission—dressed up as a law-and-order campaign against “criminal gangs”—is to expel thousands of migrants from the island and to flatten the shanty towns in which they live.

Local politicians are doing their part to whip up the anti-migrant frenzy. Salime Mdéré, the vice-president of the island’s governing council, caused a minor scandal when he launched a tirade against young migrants on local television, suggesting it might be necessary to “kill some” for Operation Wuambushu to be a success.

Mdéré might have been the only one to say it out loud, but the French government’s contempt for human life is clear as day.

The fight against anti-migrant racism cannot be separated from issues of social class. Every successful attack on the rights of oppressed groups strengthens the hand of the ruling class against the working class.

The connection couldn’t be clearer when the same police thugs deployed against striking French workers are now terrorising the slums of Mayotte.

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