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27.07.2023 / News /

Rachel Keke: A fighter’s journey

 “Strike all the way until victory, support those striking and don’t be afraid.”

Rachel Keke, former chambermaid-turned-French MP, at Casa UVW

In July we hosted an inspirational figure for us all at Casa UVW: Rachel Keke, former migrant chambermaid at a hotel in Paris who led and won France’s longest-ever hotel strike before she took her fight to parliament.

Rachel met with some 70 UVW members and others who attended the event “From picket line to parliament’ and had wise and encouraging words for all UVW members fighting for better terms and conditions, dignity and respect at work. “Strike all the way until victory, support those striking and don’t be afraid,” she said.

After a refreshingly direct talk with her – no political spiel, just plain words and pzazz- and her equally inspiring former union organiser Tiziri Kandi, these two magnificent women fighters joined in the fun, the barbecue and the dancing with us. 

Rachel has made the fight against outsourcing one of her key battles in parliament, which she defined as “mistreatment” : ‘Outsourcing is mistreatment, outsourcing is devastation, outsourcing is death – because people die and are violated by it” she said. Rachel knows first hand how this vile practice makes the bosses, the owners, the employers “rich on the back of the exploitation of workers.” Rachel is one with us and her story is our story. 

“Strike all the way until victory. Don’t be afraid” says Rachel.

She told us in great detail her journey as a migrant from the Ivory Coast at the age of 26 to former colonial power France, arriving without papers and having to do all sorts of precarious and badly-paid jobs to survive. Eventually she managed to get more stable hours as a chambermaid at the Ibis hotel in Batignolles, Paris, which suited her family life with little children.

But conditions – as an outsourced cleaner – were bad and Rachel and her colleagues joined a ‘good union’ – the CGT – and got organised to fight for their rights. After two years on the picket line, where they drummed ‘caceroladas’ in the middle of the night, threw confetti at hotel clients, had picnics outside and other such actions which ‘emptied the hotel’, the Accor group, Europe’s largest hotel chain group, gave into their demands and the cleaners obtained a decent pay rise, proper uniforms and the right to eat and drink during their shifts, among other things.  

“Outsourcing is mistreatment,” Rachel told us.

A little bit later, she was recruited by the left-wing movement La France Insoumise (France Unbowed) to run for election and she unseated a former sports minister in her constituency and made it to the National Assembly in less than one year. She says she is now ‘the voice of the voiceless’ in parliament and encouraged all UVW members to follow in her steps because ‘in Parliament we talk directly to the state, the ministers, we can confront them… we don’t want the rich elite speaking for us, we need millions like us in there…’ 

Rachel Keke’s message to UVW members is crystal clear.: “If you don’t strike, if you stay home, you won’t get anything, they won’t just give it to you”. “Don’t be scared! The employers are scared of the strike, because they are nothing without us. Without our work, they don’t have a business.” “After the strike, there’s respect!”, she passionately told us. 

She had high praise for UVW members fighting for their voices to be heard. She called on every worker out there in the UK to join UVW: “I want to encourage everyone – every worker in the UK to join UVW because it’s a good union which fights for the working class.”

The workers who attended the event, especially those currently on strike at West End Quay luxury apartments, took a lot of motivation from her victorious two-year strike. Francesco Lombardo, concierge and UVW striker, representing the 19 workers on strike, told Rachel: “You are an inspiration and an example to us all (…) and we’re determined to keep fighting until we reach our goals.”   

UVW’s Francesco Lombardo tells Rachel “You are an inspiration to all of us”


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