Marseille, 2nd August 2023
When we heard that McDonald’s might close, we said no, that’s not possible. It’s a very special place. We’re in the northern districts of Marseille, which are often stigmatised, and this McDonald’s was the place where people used to come, where they used to meet up, where you could buy a meal and stay all day. All that couldn’t just disappear!
I was hired in 1999. I worked there for 20 years and I became a manager. It’s also a place where we fought for the rights of employees in all the McDonald’s outlets across France: the thirteenth month bonus, health insurance, etc. Kamel, who was a manager and union representative, wanted colleagues’ rights to be respected and the same for everyone, everywhere in the country, which after a while began to bother the company. Subsequently, McDo France and the people who bought the franchise, wanted to sell off the restaurant.
Once we knew they wanted to get rid of it, we decided to fight back. So we started occupying the restaurant. Along with 76 other employees, we brought mattresses and set up camp here. We slept there. We simply squatted.
We stayed there for a month and a half. We got organised, we demonstrated, we organised blockades. We also talked a lot – we still do – and we looked after the place, we cleaned it up, we made sure that all the equipment stayed in good condition, because we knew we wanted to keep this restaurant, we wanted to keep working here.
It was intense, I’m not going to lie. Some people couldn’t stick it out. It’s not easy to fight this kind of battle and have a family life on the side. I, for example, was between a strike and a divorce. And then there were threats, money was offered… But we held on and personally, I never doubted that we were doing the right thing.
On the 12th December 2019, the liquidation was announced and we were all made redundant. But Kamel kept the keys. Then the lockdown came, so we went back in and got our act together. We requisitioned the McDonald’s as a food distribution point. There were people from all over who joined us: associations, firefighters, volunteers… Frankly, it was a nice time. Even if not one of us had a penny, it was good.
Things didn’t stop with the end of lockdown. Today, there is still food distribution and the McDonald’s has become Après M, a fast-food restaurant where fifteen or so former McDonald’s employees and people on reintegration schemes work, people who have been broken by life. Here, we’ve decided to focus on people rather than exploitation and profits.
I call this place the Gallic village, because we’re resilient. We resist everything, the state, dishonest people and those who want to put us down. We’re all moving forward together, as a collective and through mutual support.
Every step of the way we’ve been told that we’re crazy. When we occupied the restaurant, they said it was pointless because McDonald’s had already won. When we requisitioned it, they said we wouldn’t succeed. When we launched Après M and wanted to buy the restaurant, they said it wouldn’t work. Everyone kept telling us it was utopia. It’s true, it’s a utopia, but we’re putting it into practice. We’ve managed to transform McDonald’s into something human.
Nour was manager of the McDonald’s restaurant in Saint-Barthélémy, in the northern suburbs of Marseille, and is now manager of Après M, the fast-food restaurant created by former employees of the American firm after a long struggle. He has chosen to recount one of the first particularly intense stages of this struggle, which he believes proves that you have to be prepared to go all the way, because “it may take 1 year, 2 years, 10 years, 20 years, but it will pay off”.