The Guardian • Issue #1968

After McDonalds:

French employees turn abandoned franchise into a food bank

In the 14th district of Marseille, former McDonalds’ employees have led an ongoing occupation of an abandoned franchise by turning it into a food distribution centre. One of the most iconic symbols of American capitalist expansionism has now become a food bank for the community.

The dispute over the store began in 2018 when the franchisee intended to sell all six of his franchises to another franchisee, but during the negotiations, had decided to sell the one in the 14th district to a restauranteur. The reason for this odd transaction was not just because the store in the 14th was losing money, it was because the other franchisee, Mohamed Abbassi, didn’t want to deal with the store’s manager, Kamel Guémari.

So who is Guémari? He was the store’s union delegate and since led the occupation initiative. He has long been an effective labour organiser who helped secure better salaries and benefits for the store’s employees. One is led to speculate whether or not the store was losing money because it was actually paying its workers properly?

According to National Public Radio’s Eleanor Beardsley, who went to speak with Guémari in 2019, Abbassi openly stated that he didn’t want Guémari’s store because he “didn’t want trouble.” He then went on to say:

“Guémari had turned his workers into soldiers … I have respect for Kamel Guémari […] But I don’t want to work with him. He tries one way; I try another, OK?”

Who would have thought bosses are easily frightened by organised workers?

Guémari, faced with the imminent closure of the store, took action. Not one to do things by halves, he locked himself inside of the restaurant, doused himself with petrol, with an unlit match ready at hand. He live-streamed his protest on Facebook. Then followed a long series of legal battles, the courts eventually ruled to block the sale of the chain. However, with no owner, the chain was forced to close its doors in December 2019. Guémari had other plans. The employees, having lost their jobs, held onto the keys, and “illegally” occupied the chain. Now it has never been busier. Through the strength of their own initiative, workers stockpile food stuffs such as meat, potatoes, water bottles, various fruits, and many other goods to give to the community.

Perplexed customers routinely pull into the drive through only to be met with a worker, no longer in uniform, who proudly points them to the new sign “l’après M” or “After McDonalds.” The workers who volunteer there explain “I’m sorry this is no longer a McDonalds. This is a food bank now.”

In early June 2021, the city’s mayor, Benoît Payan, head of the Socialist Party, announced that the city would be buying the store to provide it with much-needed security from being bought out. This decision was joyfully and victoriously received by Guémari and his team. Thus, from a decaying symbol of capitalism, a socialist initiative was born.

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