25th April 2018
In 1984 the Socialist government of François Mitterrand carried out a major reform in French immigration policy, by introducing a combined residency and work permit for foreign residents valid for some 10 years. In the context of previous policies which had kept foreigners in a position of greater insecurity, and the predominantly negative political debates over immigration that ensued subsequently, 1984 represented an apparently unusual moment, when a reform actually enhanced rather than eroded the rights of immigrants. Reversed by subsequent governments, the 10 year residency permit has more recently become the object of renewed debate. But what led to its introduction?
Some narratives, including recent cinematic representations, have claimed that the law was the triumphant result of the favourable reception given to the 1983 March Against Racism and For Equality, a now celebrated march across France from Marseille to Paris by predominantly second generation children of immigrants. By contrast, others have suggested that the law was intended as a diversion from the primary concern of the March about racist violence, because the young marchers were in fact French citizens unaffected by a law concerning foreign nationals. A third point of view would locate the origins of the 1984 law in the first generation immigrant workers’ movements of the 1970s, and their interactions with French left activists – which had a tendency to be forgotten by the emphasis on youth in media depictions of the March.
This paper will analyse this debate, assessing the historical validity or otherwise of competing memorial claims made about the relationship between the March and the 1984 law, and situating them within their political context. It will thereby contribute to broader debates about the extent to which this period was a time of transition in the politics of immigration and racism in France; and, beyond France, about the nature of the relationship between protest and policy change more generally.