France, culture workers, tired of lockdown, occupied dozens of theaters


Already some are calling it a historic mobilization: in France, cultural workers oppressed by the continuous lockdown of the sector, which has been going on since October, have begun occupying theaters. As of March 4, some 50 institutions across the country are occupied.

France ’s cultural workers are fed up with theabsurd culture lockdown, which has been going on undaunted in the transalpine country since October 29, and have therefore decided to start occupying theaters. A strong gesture, a clear signal to President Emmanuel Macron and Jean Castex’s government: five months with the doors of culture barred is unbearable. The protest began on March 4 at the Théâtre de lOdéon in Paris: about 50 people broke into the building, and since then the protesters have been occupying it relentlessly, living day and night inside the theater. They are artists and workers, who explain their reasons this way on thespecially created Occupation Odéon twitter account: “since last March 4, the theater and its square have become places of meeting, sharing, exchange, a daily tribune where struggles and anger are expressed. We reinvent ourselves together as an essential public service. This struggle goes beyond the claims of culture. We demand jobs and social protection for all and everyone. We make our experience available. We occupy our workplaces to organize. Let’s occupy all our cultural places to come together. We occupy all the places where our lives are decided. Let’s occupy all the places to take back our future.”

The demands that the occupiers are sending to the government are very specific: the withdrawal of the layoff reform (which will tighten the rules for having access to supplementary measures), the extension of compensation for precarious workers until August 31, and the reopening of cultural places. In the meantime, the occupiers, as reported by Agence France 24 in a lengthy report, have equipped themselves for an occupation that they imagine will be long: they have created small groups to deal with communication, logistics, food supplies, and are establishing strict rules for communal living during the pandemic in the occupied theaters. And the example of the Odéon was soon followed throughout the country.

The occupation of the Odéon
The occupation of the Odéon


The occupation of the Grand Théâtre in Bordeaux
The occupation of the Grand Théâtre in Bordeaux


The occupation of the Comedie de Reims
The occupation of the Comedie in Reims


The occupation of the Scène Nationale in Orléans.
The occupation of the Scène Nationale in Orléans.

Protest broke out all over France: dozens of theaters occupied

As of March 13, as many as twenty-three theaters were occupied throughout the country, from north to south (but the protest is expanding and there are currently more than 50 occupied venues, according to the unions): the Odéon set the example, and was followed closely by twenty-two other establishments (the Théâtre National de la Colline in Paris, the Théâtre des Quartiers in Ivry-sur-Seine, the Cirque Jules Verne in Amiens, the Théâtre du Nord in Lille, the CDN in Rouen, the TNS in Strasbourg, the Quartz in Brest, the Opéra in Rennes, the Théâtre Graslin in Nantes, the Quai in Angers, the Opéra of Tours, the Scène Nationale of Orléans, the CDN of Besançon, the ?quinoxe of Châteauroux, the Scène Nationale of Niort, the Théâtre de l’Union of Limoges, the TNP of Villeurbanne, the SMAC in Saint-?tienne, the Centre Choréographique National in Montpellier, the Théâtre du Merlan in Marseille, the Théâtre de Sarragosse in Pau, and the Théâtre de la Cité in Toulouse). In recent days other theaters have been occupied in Lyon, Bordeaux, Reims, Dijon, Nîmes, Saint-Denis, and Lorient. And many other institutions, although not occupied, have nevertheless expressed closeness to the movement. The protest, in short, has now spread across the country, and there is a lot of talk about it in France.

“Our movement,” Joachim Salinger, representative of the CGT Spectacle union, explained to France 24, “is directly linked to the health crisis, but even more than the reopening of the halls our main demand is the withdrawal of the layoff reform that will cut aid to the most fragile, that is, those who have not worked for a year.” In fact, the reform requires that one must work at least six months out of the last 24 to be eligible for the layoff fund: this threshold is being challenged because in pandemic times there are cultural workers who have been at the pole for a year, and in the previous twelve months their intermittent status had not allowed them to reach the six months stipulated by the reform that is currently being discussed.

What the cultural workers are basically asking for is simply to be able to work. “We want to live off our trade”: so read the placards of the occupants of the Théâtre Graslin in Nantes, where the agitation began on March 10. “The sector must come out of the crisis with its head held high,” musician Mathieu Crochemore, a member of SNAM, the musicians’ union, told Le Parisien newspaper instead. “We want to work to prepare for reopenings, and we need help. This mobilization is something historic for the world of culture.” And as is often the case in France, when a professional category decides to protest, it does so in a convinced, noisy, united way, and involving other sectors as well. The aim of the protest, music producer Kristell Arquetoux, a member of the collective of precarious workers who occupied the Grand Théâtre de Lorient in Brittany, explains to broadcaster France 3, “is to defend the precarious workers in the performing arts, who are threatened by the layoff reform, but it is also to defend all precarious workers in general: we are not just here to defend our cause.”

This is not just a grassroots protest, as some directors also share the workers’ demands. The new director of the Théâtre du Nord in Lille, one of France’s oldest and most important theaters, David Bobée, issued a statement expressing his “full support for this new mobilization”: about 30 workers are occupying his theater. Solidarity also from Thierry Pilat, director of the Saint-?tienne Fil, which has been occupied since last Wednesday (“the precarious workers are part of our daily and therefore we support their claims,” he said in an interview with France Bleu), and in the port city of Saint-Nazaire, where the Théâtre Simone-Veil has been occupied, it is even the culture councillor, Michel Ray, on behalf of the city who supports the claims, as he explained in a statement, taken up by several newspapers.

The protest at the Théâtre National in Nice
The protest at the Théâtre National in Nice.


The occupation of the theater in Mende, Occitania
The occupation of the theater in Mende, Occitania


The occupation of the Scène Nationale in Niort
The occupation of the Scène Nationale in Niort

The reaction of culture minister Bachelot

At the local level, mayors and culture aldermen, if they did not directly take the side of the protesters, at least declared that they understood the reasons for the protest, and were everywhere ready to engage in discussions with the occupiers. The minister of culture, Roselyne Bachelot, however, has a very negative opinion of the movement. Indeed, the minister called the occupation of the theaters “unnecessary” and “dangerous.” “Occupation,” she declared, “is not the right way, it is useless. These maneuvers are dangerous, because they put fragile places at risk.”

Bachelot made it known that the government is still supporting culture. “In no country in the world,” he said, “is culture being supported as it is in France. We are working to maintain the rights of precarious workers, and on this point we will not back down: we will protect precarious workers.” She also wanted to clarify that the government is working “to improve provisions, especially with regard to those who are first-time workers, because we need to protect young people working in culture.” The minister’s words came last Wednesday-she has not spoken on the subject since. The protest, however, shows no sign of stopping; on the contrary: it is spreading. Too bad that in Italy almost no one is talking about it.

France, culture workers, tired of lockdown, occupied dozens of theaters
France, culture workers, tired of lockdown, occupied dozens of theaters


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