Dirty old town - the illuminating story of Marseille's dustmen

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Rubbish collection in Marseille has always been inseparable from local democracy, clientelism and political self-interest, argue the authors of a fascinating book on the history of dustmen in France's biggest Mediterranean city. The writers, one of whom was himself a Marseille dustman for 23 years, reveal how from the 19th century onwards the city has had its own unique way of organising refuse collection, one intimately linked to the power of trade unions and the desire of local politicians to have the backing of the municipal workforce. They also show how Marseille's reputation as not being the cleanest of French cities can trace its roots back to Roman times. Louise Fessard outlines the authors' key themes, followed by extracts from the book itself.

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On September 29th, 2014, the French Mediterranean city of Marseille officially put an end to the notorious work practice of its dustmen known as 'fini-parti'. Literally meaning 'finish and go', this arrangement allowed dustmen to leave work as soon as their collection round was finished, however many or few hours it had taken. According to the regional finance watchdog the Chambre Régionale des Comptes, this meant that refuse collectors worked an average of three-and-a-half hours a day. From now on the minimum day will be five hours and fifty minutes.