Succeed or die
Behren-lès-Forbach is France's poorest town. A block of council houses in the middle of the Lorraine countryside built at the end of the second world war to house 15,000 coal miners brought over from Italy and Algeria for France’s national reconstruction effort.
At the time the town had all the trappings of the ideal city, situated at the bottom of a verdant valley a few kilometres from the German border. The working conditions in the pits were tough; it was incredibly hot, the walls occasionally caved in and there were explosions. But France needed coal and the mine owners went out of their way to look after the « grubby mugs » and all their concerns: there was free housing, social security, holiday camps for the children and solidarity all around. If your sink was blocked in the morning the town services would have repaired it by the time you were home from the mine in the evening.
In the 1980's French coal had become too expensive. The Italian and Algerian miners began to demand their rights and complain about their health, so new miners from the mountains of Morrocco were brought in to push the wheelbarrows. In the following years the mines closed one by one and no new industry replaced them. The 10,000 who stayed on in Behren found themselves trapped in a quagmire where both work and solidarity disappeared at the same time.
We spent 10 days in this town where :
- 100% of miners are unemployed
- 30% of them voted for the National Front in the first round of elections in 2002
- 65% of the population is under the age of 25.
- 70% of the young leave school without a diploma
- 50% of them are unemployed
- 800 cars have been burned since 2005
Nicolas, 58 ans. Après trente-cinq ans au fond de la mine il souffre de la silicose avec 90% d'incapacité pulmonaire. La silicose est une maladie provoquée par l'inhalation de particules de poussière de silice qui engendre une réduction progressive et irréversible de la capacité respiratoire. Pour rester en vie Nicolas a besoin de deux litres d'oxygène par jour fournis par un respirateur, 24 heures sur 24.