REPORT – Operation “coup de poing” at the Grand’Place Carrefour in Échirolles, on Saturday, 23rd April. Activists from Nuit debout Grenoble shared a picnic in the middle of the supermarket, at the expense of the store. An action – worthy of a scene from a film – against large-scale retail, the symbol of a capitalist system that is harmful to society, according to the demonstrators.
“Stop taking pictures of me, I’m not a star !” protested the manager of Grand’Place Carrefour in Échirolles, turning his head, and seeking in vain to stop the ruckus that had reigned in his store, for a good ten minutes. But, he hadn’t counted on the determination of the movement Nuit debout Grenoble, organizer of the small surprise party ; activists, who have been settled in the MC2 since 9th April, and who skillfully orchestrated everything.
At precisely 6pm on Saturday 23rd April, 2016, at the Grand’Place Carrefour in Échirolles, forty protestors from Nuit debout Grenoble gathered in the fruit and vegetable section, in a snap.
Within minutes, two garden tables were set up. Protestors from Nuit debout unloaded their trollies onto the tables, displaying a range of products from well-known brands : yoghurt, crisps, drinks, sandwiches, biscuits, etc. Products – manufactured by “Nestlé and Monsanto”, said one protestor – collected from different parts of the hypermarket.
The wild picnic began. Protestors invited customers to come and share, whilst reassuring them : “We are within our rights ! The law allows the consumer to taste before buying !” This somewhat astonished, the Carrefour customers who witnessed this grand unpackaging ; some continued their shopping, while others stopped for a snack.
Denounce the supremacy of multinationals
Besides the principle of legally feeding under the nose of Carrefour, the intent of Nuit debout Grenoble’s action was political and highly symbolic.
It’s for protestors to denounce the supremacy of multinationals, particularly of large retailers who “take consumers hostage and fatten shareholders, at the expense of employees and small producers”, argues Nuit debout Grenoble.
“Carrefour has destroyed small trade in La Villeneuve, says one of the participants of Nuit debout Grenoble. Our intervention in this large store today, is also a way of bringing us closer to the population of the districts, which have no choice, but to come shopping here.”
“They steal from us, let’s steal from them!”
The manager of the hypermarket and his colleagues quickly joined the tasting at the improvised stand. A few precedent vigils, merely made the crowd aware, without hostility. The operation took place peacefully and smoothly, from beginning to end. The activists were well prepared.
David told the manager of the store : “We will keep our action under control and there will be no theft.” Someone called Camille later confirmed, as she left Carrefour, that the group was duly prepared ahead of the event : “We were given instructions, we knew how to behave. For example, if a client raised their voice, were not to react.”
As for the customers, there was virtually no protest. There were one or two who scolded the participants : “It’s theft […] It’s sad ! Luckily my children were not so badly brought up…” But, overall, the operation took place in good humour.
One Carrefour customer appeared to devour everything on the table. “This gentleman told me that he was hungry”, said Françoise, in her 60s, a Nuit debout militant, who is now part of the hard core of the movement. While clients and protesters snacked on different packets of biscuits, activists distributed their leaflets and chanted their slogan on two or three occasions : “On nous carotte, carottons-les !” (figuratively : “They steal from us, let’s steal from them !”), brandishing… carrots, obviously.
Dialogue of the deaf, but dialogue anyway…
Slightly set back from the banquet offered by Carrefour, at its expense, the hypermarket manager tried to obtain an explanation from Nuit debout protestors as to the reason for their presence. Then began the dialogue of the deaf, which nevertheless remained cordial. “This is not against you personally”, assured the activists, “but a system that grinds small producers into the ground, takes customers hostage, fattens shareholders and disparages its employees”.
To which the manager replied : “So, you have chosen the wrong chain ! We work with humans, here. The cashiers are paid properly and I defy you to find a small producer who is not happy to work with us.” Duly noted.
A little later, another protestor tried to engage in a dialogue with one of the managers, who was observing the picnic with a worried eye… “Did you know that Carrefour is one of the most damaging groups to the ecosystem, due to its way of working, according to a recent report by WWF ?”, asked Camille, without aggressiveness.
The manager didn’t react, but argued that she chose to work at Carrefour because “it’s the most humane chain”.
A word that, at the end of the day, decidedly comes out of the mouths of Carrefour’s employees. “Humane, is not exactly what it is… LVMH’s, Bernard Arnault, who is, among others, a shareholder of Carrefour, has utter contempt for these people”, replied the activist, with a soft, yet determined voice.
An employee of Carrefour, visibly annoyed by the explanations of the protestors, recalls the passage : “We are the second largest employers in France.” – “Yes, but what types of jobs are we talking about, and at what cost ?”, continues the other side. So, dialogue of the deaf, but dialogue anyway…
Last hurrah : an intervention over the microphone
Not to abuse a good thing, the protestors planned just a half-hour action. As the food began to dry up, and before leaving, they wanted to make an announcement over the microphone. All willy-nilly, the manager and staff of Carrefour bent to the wishes of the demonstrators. “But, I don’t want you to say anything against the chain over the microphone.” This was the only condition.
This will remain in the memory of hypermarket customers, who will remember this extremely rare event, in the history of large-scale retail. Hundreds of Carrefour clients bore witness.
For about one minute, the voice of Rosalie, a Nuit debout Grenoble militant, resonated around this temple of high consumption. To say what ? “We must fight against the Work Act (aka the El Khomri law), and the widespread poverty that it leads to, and increases” and to call for a general strike on 28th April. Rosalie commented later, smiling : “I could not read the text we had planned, so I improvised!”
“This was a successful operation”
At the end of her speech over the microphone, the applause came. Victory was complete. All that remained was to leave. Protesters cleaned up the tables, borrowed from Carrefour, and left the store in single file.
They raised their arms, as they passed through the store’s anti-theft detectors. A store vigil filmed the merry troop, who mocked, before leaving, with a “Thank you Carrefour ! We will return !” all the Carrefour staff and security team arrived as reinforcements.
In the street, on the road that leads to the MC2, one of the militants pointed out : “It was a successful operation. We made a noise, we pulled it off, we spoke with the people, and we got our message across over the microphone.”
As a bonus, Françoise even slipped a few flyers inside the books sold by Carrefour… “They will serve as bookmarks”, she commented, with a smile.
Séverine Cattiaux et Joël Kermabon
Traduction from Speak English Center
Phone : +33 4 76 50 39 79
1 avenue du Vercors, 38600 Fontaine FRANCE