The city of Paris has taken care of street cleaning and collection of garbage since the second half of the 19th century. As a municipal public service, the cleaning service tries to satisfy the general interest, whether as a matter of hygiene or, most recently, as a response to considerations of comfort and aesthetics. While on the job, the garbage collectors also offer inhabitants paid “small favors” which improves more than it leeches on the quality of the service. In the post-1960s period, the service had to deal with an increase in the amount of garbage—a problem exacerbated by lack of money to update equipment and recruit more employees to respond to the higher demand. Working conditions for a job already inherently difficult got even worse. Moreover, a great majority of garbage collectors were immigrants and consequently were not protected by the local government workers' statute. These were the main reasons for several long and difficult strikes led by the CGT at the end of our period. For the most part, the public was not satisfied with the service, and consistently demanded higher levels of cleanliness while at the same time not hesitating to dirty up a place as soon as it has been cleaned. Despite the fact that their work was almost immediately ruined as soon as they had done it, garbage collectors were professionally conscientious. They knew their work was necessary to the life of the city.
By Barbara Prost