Frédéric Borras reports on the aftermath of the tragedy in Toulouse.


The explosion at the factory of AZF in Toulouse was of unprecedented violence  It was so powerful that the population and the town will always remain marked by the memory of it.  At the time of writing the figures are 29 dead and more than 50 people critically injured with thousands of others suffering minor injuries or now out of danger.   But how will it be possible to calculate the psychological damage to thousands of children, women and men?

The AZF factory looks like a lunar landscape.  It is the working class areas of Papus, Tabar, Bordelongue, Mirail, Empalot and Bagatelle, which lie close to the site, which have been the most severely affected.  There are houses and roofs blown away, doors and windows ripped off, schools, colleges, factories and businesses damaged, some of them irretrievably.  "It's like Beirut!".  The comparison with the Lebanese capital is on everybody's lips.  There is a feeling of living through hell.

Once the immediate panic was over, during the hours and days which followed there was an impressive feeling of solidarity amongst the people affected.  Neighbours helped each other, welcomed victims into their homes, shared out planks and big plastic covers.  Out came camping tables for serving coffee and cakes.  It was necessary, because by these simple means people had to compensate for the shortcomings of the emergency security services set up by the public authorities.  The dominant feeling in the working class areas is one of abandonment.  Not that this is a criticism of the remarkable efforts of firemen and health workers, but of the emergency plan which is not up to the job of dealing with a crisis on this scale.

There is, therefore, a feeling of solidarity, but also one of anger.  There is a growing demand to see the guilty identified and punished.  The court enquiry has just ended with very clear conclusions:  it has swept away the idea that the cause was supposed errors in the working practices of AZF workers, a theory which would have satisfied some.  It is now established that it was a matter of poor stocking conditions: humidity and decay  had transformed the fertiliser into a chemical bomb.  The explosion is therefore the direct result of the pursuit of maximum profitability and of savings made on production costs, control and security.  From this point of view, the explosion is a blow against the workers at the factory and against the surrounding population, which has hit the poorer layers of the population hardest because they are the ones who live in closer proximity to the sites at risk

The  management of TotalFinaElf are the first to be considered guilty.  For years there have been organisations warning about the risks which were being run.  The employees of AZF have been working in constant dread.  Amongst the neighbours many of them have feared such a dramatic accident for a long time.  Responsibility must also lie with public authorities: national and regional governments, Drire (Direction régionale de l'industrie de la recherche et  de l'environment, a public body under the responsibility of the Ministry of Industry) and local governments who have always refused to discuss openly all the risks or to take all necessary measures to eradicate them, indeed, simply to put in place controls worthy of the name.

The  inhabitants have come together and have started to register official complaints, collectively and individually.  At the initiative of Friends of the Earth, G10, the FSU, Greens and the LCR, a large united group has been put in place called "Plus jamais ca" (Never again).  It calls on the population to gather themselves into local collectives based on their locality or their workplace in order to organise self help, collect complaints and to relay any mobilisation initiatives.  In the area of Papus, for example, following a meeting of nearly 300 people, something never seen before, an association was created.  A first meeting "of mourning and anger" was organised for 25 September.  It's activities are becoming more and more publicised and are beginning to compete with the pontificating of Douste-Blazy, Desmarest, Chirac and Jospin and his associates, who force themselves to come along to weep crocodile tears.  A big demonstration was planned for the following Saturday.

The objective is to create  popular pressure so that the guilty will be identified and punished, both financially and by imprisonment, that all emergency measures are taken in terms of repairing the damage to homes and public buildings and that solutions are found so that there will never be another drama of this kind.  This includes an immediate freeze on the activities of other factories in the ‘Seveso’ zone: the national company for powders and explosives and Tolochimie.  It also includes the nationalisation, under worker's control,  of these companies and the opening of a wide public debate to establish a list of products which are considered socially useful and can be made 100% safe.

It is also necessary to prevent workers from being laid off and to demand that salaries are guaranteed.

It is on the basis of these demands that militants and sympathisers of LCR "100% left" of the region take a very active part in the mobilisation, both on the ground and centrally.  They have already actively participated in the demonstration of 25 September which united 8,000 people demanding closure of the site.

This article is translated from Rouge, weekly paper of the Ligue Communiste Révolutionnaire (LCR), French section of the Fourth International, where it appeared on September 27. “100% left”, referred to in the article, is an electoral list of LCR members and sympathisers. The article was translated by Marjorie Tonge.