French rail strikes continue against EU-directed privatisation

Striking French railworkers on the march – they are on striking for two days in every five until the end of next month
Striking French railworkers on the march – they are on striking for two days in every five until the end of next month

TRAIN services were hit in France once again on Monday morning due to the latest two-day rail strike.

The rolling two-day strikes, which began on April 3rd, are still being held by rail workers. Last week’s two-day strike began on Wednesday May 23rd and there was another on Monday May 28th and Tuesday May 29th. In other words, they continue to be held for two days every five days.

The next two-day strike is set for this Saturday and Sunday, June 2nd and 3rd. Unless there is a resolution to the conflict they will carry on until June 28th, which means there should be another 14 days of disruption in total until the industrial action ends Unions have vowed to continue the action to keep up the pressure on the government and people are asking could the strikes run on into the summer holidays?

Rail passengers faced more cancellations and disruptions on Monday with TGV, regional TER and Intercité train services all hit by the latest two-day strike. While the disruption on Monday was less severe than in the early days of the strike, there were still problems for passengers.

Some two out three high-speed TGV services were running, but only half of regional TER services and two out of 5 Intercité mainline trains were operating. Most services on the Eurostar were running as scheduled. In the Paris region, three out of five trains were operating and RER services were also running at reduced service.

The RER B, which takes passengers to the city’s two airports was only running half of normal trains.

Anyone heading to Charles de Gaulle airport has to change trains at Gare du Nord. While bosses at French rail operator SNCF claimed the strikes were having less impact on services, unions have vowed to continue the industrial action against the government’s plan to ‘reform’ the rail sector.

President Emmanuel Macron’s ‘reforms’ attack hard-won trade union conditions and job security in preparation for rail liberalisation, i.e. privatisation, as directed by the EU. The strikes are scheduled to be held until the end of June but with Senators set to discuss the ‘reforms’ on Tuesday, Roger Dillenseger from the UNSA union said the strikes would not be halted.

He said: ‘There is no question for the moment of stopping the movement.

‘It is a question of maintaining the pressure on the Senate, and especially not to leave it free to validate the reform as it stands.’ If no agreement can be found to pacify the rail unions there will be fears the strikes will run on into the summer holidays.

French rail chief Guillaume Pepy claimed: ‘The French couldn’t stand the strike during the summer holidays, and I think that the rail workers themselves, who are responsible people, do not want to spoil their holidays.’ Last Friday, the French government agreed to absorb 35 billion euros in debt from the state railway SNCF, union officials said on Friday.

Luc Berille, the head of the UNSA union, said the state had offered to take on 35 billion euros ($41 billion) of the SNCF’s debt load of 46 billion euros, starting with 25 billion as soon as 2020. ‘The prime minister was specific,’ Berille said after talks with premier Edouard Philippe, adding that the government would increase infrastructure investment by 200 million euros a year to reach an annual total of 3.8 billion euros. Berille added that ‘the issue is moving forward’ and ‘there is now dialogue.’

Roger Dillenseger, of the UNSA’s rail branch, the second-largest union at the company after the CGT, said it would consult members about whether to continue the stoppages. He said that ‘we still have major concerns,’ but ‘the negotiations are paying off.’

The CGT, which has spearheaded resistance nationally and organised numerous protests against Macron, said it planned to keep up the stoppages which are scheduled to last until the end of June.

Earlier last week, a vote among SNCF employees organised by unions showed that 95% of 90,000 respondents rejected the government’s proposed rail ‘reforms’, the CGT announced last Wednesday. Thousands took to the streets across France on Saturday to protest against President Macron’s public-sector reforms.

Protesters decried Macron’s plans for massive lay-offs of workers and tax breaks for the rich.

Protesters were carrying posters bearing slogans such as ‘Macron, you can’t buy France!’ ‘Stop Macron!’ Other banners said ironically: ‘Make our planet great again: Austerity, bombing of Syria, eviction of farmers, destroying the public service, pesticides for everyone.’

Many accused the president of serving the wealthy elites, while ignoring the plight of ordinary people.

The protests were spearheaded by leftist parties and the country’s leading trade unions, including the influential General Confederation of Labour. The rallies took place in 160 locations across France, from the nation’s capital of Paris to the southern port city of Marseille. There, ex-presidential candidate Jean-Luc Melenchon addressed the crowd, denouncing Macron’s reforms.

Melenchon said: ‘We do not believe you because you are lying. ‘The country is rich. The country must share.’ The rallies followed weeks of strikes staged by rail workers and other public-sector employees, who are outraged at Macron’s promise to cut the 120,000 public jobs in the course of five years.

The protests have so far remained peaceful, although a number of arrests took place before the event on Saturday, when 30 people were detained in Paris, according to the police. Among them were two garbage collectors who allegedly stole a truck and planned to dump trash in front of the ruling party’s HQ.

A CGT statement last Friday said: ‘This day, May 25, 2018, CGT inter-professional action was conducted in the context of the struggles for the defence of Public Services and against the reforms of the LREM government. ‘This symbolic and peaceful action of 300 comrades CGT Énergie, Cheminots, FTDNEEA in front of the national headquarters of LREM aimed to demonstrate that society can not do without Public Services, and that our CGT trade union organisations and its activists are determined to defend the Public Service no matter the cost.

‘Two of our CGT FTDNEEA Comrades are currently in custody after being shot and handcuffed. ‘They are accused of a dump truck theft, a totally absurd accusation that we deny with energy. ‘We bring our support, our solidarity, demand their immediate release and no prosecution. ‘The Macron government scorns high school students, students, employees it treats as outlaws. ‘The CGT and its organisations will never be intimidated and will continue the mobilisation in whatever form they decide collectively.’