For those who go up the rue de Belleville (northeast) since the beginning of the renewable strike, on March 6, the observation is striking: on the left side, that of the nineteenth arrondissement, the situation is under control, while the garbage piles up on the ground on the right side, where the twentieth arrondissement begins.

In the first, waste collection is provided by a private provider, while City officials are responsible for the second.

A contrast that is repeated elsewhere in the capital. To the point that the mayor (Horizons) Delphine Bürkli of the ninth arrondissement, also in control and very touched by the movement, called for "solidarity between districts" to pool resources.

Normally, this is a perfect balance: municipal services provide collection in half of the boroughs, while a handful of private operators share the other half.

A compromise that dates back to the time of Jacques Chirac, the first elected mayor of the capital in 1977, the year of a "giant strike of the CGT", recalls Philippe Goujon, one of his former deputies.

"He said: +never again+, and made this reform quite clever," summarizes the current mayor LR of the fifteenth arrondissement, interviewed by AFP.

"Paradox" of this "heritage", recognizes the elected LR David Alphand, "the districts of the right are more oriented towards the management", while those of the North-East of Paris, strongholds of the left, are in the hands of private companies.

Waste is piled up on March 20, 2023 in Paris where City agents in charge of collection have been on strike for two weeks against the pension © reform LUDOVIC MARIN / AFP

"Two-speed system"

Even if employees of private companies are also "on strike" against the pension reform, says the assistant (PS) to the cleanliness Colombe Brossel, the debate is revived.

"This two-speed system has lasted too long," says the mayor LR of the seventeenth arrondissement Geoffroy Boulard who asks for "the privatization" of the service in his sector, petition in support.

"Nobody understands anything" to this "hybrid organization" now "completely unfair", castigated in the Council of Paris Delphine Bürkli, asking for a reset.

"Total governance," replied the elected communist Nicolas Bonnet-Oulaldj before the socialist mayor Anne Hidalgo put an end to the suspense.

"I will not go back on this very intelligent model invented at the time by Jacques Chirac," said the former PS presidential candidate, for whom this "flexible model" has made it possible to "pool resources to respond to situations that could have a health impact in front of schools, nurseries ..."

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Another elected Horizons, Pierre-Yves Bournazel, favorable to the delegation to the private, stresses that the Regional Chamber of Accounts has, in 2011 and 2017, "recommended" privatization which would allow a "lower cost of collection per tonne" and a "better level of performance" of the service.

Waste piled up on March 20, 2023 in Paris where City agents in charge of collection have been on strike for two weeks © LUDOVIC MARIN / AFP

"Reassign" agents?

And on the right, if the probable candidate Rachida Dati has not personally expressed herself in this sense, the mayors of her group have demanded from 2021 "the outsourcing of this collection to private companies as well as actors of the solidarity and sustainable economy" in order to "reassign nearly 700 agents on street cleaning".

By adopting a "Parisian pact of proximity", Anne Hidalgo had then promised more resources for the mayors of arrondissements, especially for cleanliness.

But Geoffroy Boulard's request to be able to use this envelope by using a private collection, from the beginning of the strike, remained a dead letter because the mayor "supports the social movement", he retains.

The threat of a switch to the private sector, Mohammed Touati, dump truck driver and CGT delegate, has "always heard that" for 20 years that he officiates.

The public-private balance, which "goes well in normal times", was chosen "so that at least half of Paris is picked up" in times of strike, summarizes the striker, who considers it unrealistic to want to "recover all the arrondissements" in control.

© 2023 AFP