French rail workers rolling strikes


FRENCH rail workers walked out on another day of strikes on Thursday June 7th. Rail unions have carried out a series of two-day rolling strikes since the beginning of April.

The unions are opposed to plans to strip new SNCF recruits of jobs-for-life and early retirement, part of President Macron’s bid to reduce the SNCF’s nearly 50 billion euros of debt in preparation for privatising the state railway as demanded by the EU.

The French Senate on Tuesday approved the controversial proposals to reform the national railway firm SNCF, following the first debate on the subject. The Senate adopted the reforms by 240 votes in favour to 85 against.

The proposal text will now be discussed on Monday (June 11) by a cross-party joint committee, which has been given the task of finding a final agreement between MPs and Senators.

Senator Claude Malhuret (Independents) said the vote was ‘good news’ for the French people, and referred to the strikes that have seen SNCF trains operating on a limited service for over three months. He said: ‘This is a bitter defeat for those who organised the worst form of strike; a strike that was designed to damage to a maximum level the life of our fellow citizens.’

CRCE communist party Senator Éliane Assassi disagreed. She said: ‘This text runs the risk of creating new railway deserts, which prioritise financial profit over the right to movement (by passengers).’ She added: ‘This vote will transform SNCF into a myriad of different anonymous companies; will destroy the (traditional) cheminot status of workers; and moves us closer to opening SNCF up to competition.’

Some rail unions are vowing to continue their rolling strikes into the summer in protest against the government’s proposed reform of the rail sector. According to some unions, the two-day rolling rail strikes, which started at the beginning of April and are set to continue up until June 28th, could be extended into July and August.

The more militant CGT and Sud Rail unions have said the possibility of prolonging the action into July and August was becoming increasingly likely. Another more reformist union, the CFDT, offered some hope to passengers by suggesting it was ‘looking for a way out’ of the crisis.

‘We will know this week (if the strikes will continue in July). We think certain rail unions will continue with the strikes,’ one Paris-based French rail worker told reporters on Tuesday. Air and rail strikes have been causing travel headaches in France for several months now.

In a meeting with Air France chiefs on Monday, union heads threatened the company with a ‘turbulent summer’ after already having mounted a series of strikes throughout the spring that has cost the company hundreds of millions of euros. The threat comes just as the company brought in an interim president Anne-Marie Couderc, who will fill the role until September when the role will be filled permanently.

And unions haven’t wasted any time in saying they are united in their determination to continue the strike action in order to secure the 5.1 per cent wage increase they’re after. ‘There is unanimity among the unions to continue the strike,’ Karim Taïbi from the Force Ouvriere (FO) union told the French press on Monday.

Unions have criticised the new leadership at Air France for not responding to the fact that the pay deal was rejected by employees at the airline. ‘The current management is losing the little credit it has left by refusing to draw conclusions from the vote,’ said Christophe Malloggi, another FO union representative.

He said: ‘The board of directors is shirking its responsibilities. They will have to accept the turbulent summer ahead.’ Air France boss Couderc was due to meet the unions on Friday, according to some reports, but the interim chief may not have a mandate to negotiate on the salary dispute. And if things don’t go to plan, new strike dates could be announced.

The airline’s previous boss Jean-Marc Janaillac announced his resignation at the beginning of May after staff at the carrier’s French operations rejected a pay deal aimed at ending weeks of strikes.

In a consultation with Air France employees, 55 per cent of staff rejected the wage deal proposed by the company’s management.

Meanwhile, the CGT union has called a rally on Friday, June 15, 2018 from noon to 3pm in front of the Tribunal de Grande Instance, 2945 Porte de Clichy, Paris 17th, Porte de Clichy metro. It said that on May 22, in Paris, the day of united mobilisation of the Public Service, protesters were the subject of arrests by the police, as well as high school students for the occupation of high school Arago.

June 15 marks the trial of a number of them, including a comrade, protester and activist, whose only wrong was to wear a ‘black hoodie’. A public official, he was demonstrating in the context of the united civil service appeal against the ‘break-up of the public service’. ‘What an absurdity to be in the dock while demonstrating for a quality public service!’ says the union.

The young people arrested at Arago High School were gathered to discuss the ongoing reforms. No damage was found. The conditions of their arrest and their detention have aroused the indignation of their families and teachers, and the treatment inflicted on them, including minors, is totally disproportionate.

The offences on which these proceedings are based stem from a 2010 law that punishes ‘participation in a group to commit violence or degradation’ and ‘intrusion into a school’. Gerard Collomb lambasted at the time this attack on the fundamental freedom to demonstrate when Christian Estrosi had tabled this bill. Today, as Minister of the Interior, he uses among other things these provisions to suppress the social movement.

To this use of repressive laws are added his recent polemical declarations preaching self-defence to ensure public safety. This only confirms the government’s strategy of intimidating protesters and discrediting legitimate struggles for social progress.