Le défilé de la Marche pour l’Egalité et contre le Racisme, 25 février 1983.
In the summer of 1981, riots happened in the district of Les Minguettes in Vénissieux, a suburb city of Lyon, with many burned cars as a protest. Widely reported in the media, it was the first trouble of this scale in a French suburb, and the first time cars were burned as a protest in France. In 1983, France was experiencing a wave of racist crime against people from Maghreb and African immigration (for example, the murder of Habib Grimzi, stabbed in a train and then defenestrated, a crime committed by three army soldiers with racist motivations). On March 21, 1983, a police raid caused harsh confrontations between young people of Les Minguettes and the police. In order to demand the end of police intimidation, young people of Les Minguettes began a hunger strike. On June 21, 1983, during a police raid, a police officer shot Toumi Djaïdja, the young president of the association SOS Avenir Minguettes (SOS Minguettes’ Future), and he was seriously injured. As a response, instead of amplifying the tension between the police and the young people of Les Minguettes, the idea of a nonviolent march emerged. The priest Christian Delorme (called Minguettes’ priest, in French: Curé des Minguettes) and the pastor Jean Costil, decided with the young people of Les Minguettes to do a long non-violent march, inspired by the march of the Reverend Martin Luther King to call for the end of segregation in the United States and Mahatma Gandhi for Indian independence from the United Kingdom. Their first demand was equal rights, the end of injustice and social inequality (the fact they didn’t belong to the immigrant population was criticised by other actors of the march).
In 1983, during the Dreux’s local election, the National Front (French: Front National (FN)) won the first round of the elections, with 16.72% of votes. So far, the National Front was electorally marginal (only 0.35% of votes during the legislative election of 1981). For the second round, the list of the political party of Jacques Chirac, the Rally for the Republic (French: Rassemblement Pour la République (RPR)) decided to merge with the FN list. This merger was approved by Jacques Chirac, who declared: “I would not have been embarrassed at all to vote for the RPR-FN list for the second round. It does not matter to have four municipal councillors from the FN in Dreux, compared to the four communist Ministers in the Council of Ministers”. In the right-wing parties, only two leaders disagreed with this alliance: Simone Veil and Bernard Stasi, both from the centre-right Union for French Democracy (French: Union pour la Démocratie française, UDF), a traditional ally of RPR. These elections made the news at this time, as it was the first time a far-right political party won a significant election in France since the beginning of the French Fifth Republic, and also the first time that a major right-wing party made an alliance with a far-right party.
While there is a racist climate in the right-wing parties, a similar stigmatizing climate was experienced in the left-wing parties, especially in the Socialist Party (French: Parti Socialiste (PS)) who governed the country. In 1983, the Socialist Prime Minister of France Pierre Mauroy, the Minister of the Interior Gaston Defferre, and the Minister of Labour Jean Auroux said about the strikers of the CGT’s syndicate from the factory of Renault-Billancourt, that they are mainly “immigrants workers”, and accused them of being manipulated by “integrists”. Prime Minister Pierre Mauroy also declared that the strikers from Renault “are agitated by religious and political group which behave according to criteria that have nothing to do with the French social reality”. The Franco-Algerian sociologist Abdelmalek Sayad wrote that “we underestimate how much immigrants workers suffered from the tense atmosphere in work and which painfully affected them”.
The first march began in the district of La Cayolle in Marseille, October 15, 1983. Only seventeen persons started the march (nine from Les Minguettes) in a virtual indifference. During the march, more and more marchers joined them. Arriving in the city of Salon-de-Provence, one single person welcomed the marchers, but when arriving in Lyon and Vénissieux during the 15th day (October 29), a thousand of people welcomed the group. At Grenoble, October 31, 1983, 32 persons constituted the permanent marchers’ group. The 36th day in Strasbourg, they are joined for one day by the Secretary of State delegated to family, to population and immigrants workers issues. The movement was growing more and more. When finally arriving in Paris, the march lasted exactly 50 days, and permanent marchers marched 1500 km. On December 3, 1983, the march ended with a demonstration in Paris, attended by more than 100,000 people. A delegation was received by the President of the French Republic François Mitterrand. Mitterrand promised a residence and working permit valid for 10 years, a law against racist crimes and a project concerning voting right for foreigners for local elections. This last point, which was already a proposition of Mitterrand’s during the presidential election, never came true.