Gaston Defferre

How people power during a bin strike helped end a union's dominance in Marseille

France

A 16-day strike by refuse collectors has just come to an end in the southern French city of Marseille. It was the third such stoppage there in three months and on the surface it was yet another routine dispute involving municipal staff in a city that is no stranger to industrial strife. But in reality the deal struck between the local authority and union officials, which came amid growing anger from local residents at the state of the Mediterranean city's streets, has ended an unwritten and cosy arrangement between City Hall and a favoured trade union that stretches back more than seven decades. Some observers have described the outcome as no less than a “revolution”. Olivier Bertrand explains.

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

Culture-Idées

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.