'Scapegoat' Polish plumbers hit back at French

27th May 2005, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, May 27 (AFP) - They are the bogeys of the referendum campaign, symbols of the social "dumping" that the EU constitution will set in motion, predators on honest French jobs and perfect recruiting-sergeants for the "no".

PARIS, May 27 (AFP) - They are the bogeys of the referendum campaign, symbols of the social "dumping" that the EU constitution will set in motion, predators on honest French jobs and perfect recruiting-sergeants for the "no".  

They are Polish plumbers - and they have had enough.  

"The French are just looking for excuses for why their country is going to the dogs. Apparently it is because people like us are coming to take their work. It is not just the right - the left is saying exactly the same.  Personally I find it hurtful and shocking," says Jozef Babiarz.  

A youthful 44, Babiarz came to Paris 16 years ago and now runs his own plumbing business. He often works with another Pole, Antoni Gaszczyk, 45, who keeps a small office-cum-storeroom - replete with boxes of taps and pipes -  in a sidestreet in the 17th arrondissement of the capital.  

Both men say they know why the French have suddenly got it in for them. It is not because they are cheaper, but because they are better.  

"They are jealous. We are good workers and they are not. We don't stop for a smoke. We don't stop for coffee five times a day. If we get a call - we're there, even on a Sunday or a holiday. If you ask me, the French have forgotten what it is like to work," says Gaszczyk.  

The "Polish plumber" is believed to have first entered the constitution campaign debate after a news report that men from Poland had been subcontracted to work at a French naval base because their cost - in salary and social charges - was a fraction of the going rate for locals.  

He rapidly became an emblem of the dangers to the French social model from the low-cost economies of the new EU member states. "No" campaigners in Sunday's referendum typecast him as the emerging threat to French jobs - and in speeches and Internet chats "Le Plombier Polonais" is now a fixture.  

Gaszczyk admits that since Poland's accession to the EU a year ago it has become financially attractive for him to take on staff from his homeland for short-term contracts. A plumber in Poland earns 1,200 zlotys – EUR 300 (USD 375) - a month, compared to EUR 1,000 in Paris.  

"But what the French never say is that we come out here because they need us. Try and find a French plumber - there aren't any left. Just like the way all the garage-owners here are Africans nowadays.  

"And in any case - look at all the French businesses that are taking over in Poland. My sister works for peanuts at the cheese-counter of a 'Champion' supermarket near Lublin. It's French - but no-one ever talks about that side of the equation here," he says.  

Gaszczyk came to France in the 1980s when Communists still ruled in Warsaw, and met his Polish wife Margot in Paris. They have triplet girls and a house in the poor northern suburb of Saint-Denis, and she works as his office manager in the plumbing business.  

"I think the fear of being swamped by Polish workers is wildly exaggerated," says Margot, 39. "In my day everyone wanted to leave Poland because we needed to breathe the air of freedom. But ask any young person now, and they'll tell you their ambition is to stay at home."  

All three have a complex relationship with their country of adoption - admiration and gratitude is mixed with frustration and contempt.  

"I think the French are regretting it now that Europe expanded to the east. The French are happy looking south, but they have never been comfortable with eastern Europe," says Margot.  

"France thinks it is indispensable. They have the idea that nothing in Europe can happen without them. I suspect that are about to be proved wrong," says Babiarz.  

"I wouldn't say they are racist - but there is definitely a certain arrogance," says Gaszczyk with a laugh. "Everyone is analysed to see if they have 'integrated' or not. In Poland we would never do that. We see people just as people. When I retire I am definitely going back home."

 

© AFP

Subject: French News

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