Marseille Dockers Refuse To Load Arms On Ship For Saudi Arabia

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CGT union leads a massive demonstration in Marseille

IN THE French port of Marseille, dockers have been refusing to load French weapons which are thought to be heading to Saudi Arabia.

Following revelations on cargo headed for Saudi Arabia, the port’s CGT trade union branch confirmed that its members would not handle ‘any weapons or arms whatsoever, for whatever war they may be destined’.

They want to remain loyal to their history.

A few hours before the dockers’ announcement, Disclose revealed that the Saudi container ship Bahri Tabuk was meant to take a delivery of ammunition for Caesar (howitzer) guns.

According to the media outlet, the boat was heading for the port of Jeddah, despite accusations of the Islamic monarchy using French-made weapons on civilian areas in Yemen.

Since 2015 the country has been trapped in a civil war fought between the government and Houthi rebels, causing the deaths of tens of thousands of civilians according to humanitarian NGOs.

The shipowner has dismissed the claims as ‘fake news’. But according to France 3, the CGT’s secretary general for the dockers at the port of Marseille Fos, Laurent Fos, stated: ‘We will never load weapons which are used to kill civilians.’

The dockers rep then stated: ‘We have asked the supplier and for official documents proving that we are handling civilian goods, and not under any circumstance military goods.’

The position of the dockers over the incident is not an isolated instance: On the 20th of May, Italian dockers took strike action in Genoa in order to prevent the loading of any items destined for military purposes.

Outside of these instances, concerns over similar cargo heading towards the port of Le Havre on the tenth of May led to a blockade organised by political, civil society and humanitarian groups.

The dockers’ mentions of their history and values of peace stem from organising against imperialism since well before the civil war in Yemen.

In the middle of the Indochina war in 1949 the port of Marseille, a key point for loading of troops and military equipment, had already been a part of this ‘reality of conflict’, dubbed so by the ONACVG (National Office of Veterans and Victims of War).

In November of the same year, dockers refused to load the Montbéliard and the Cap Tourane, two boats headed for the former French colony. On the 8th of December, a dockers’ conference agreed to prevent all cargo headed to Indochina from leaving multiple Mediterranean ports: Sete, Nice, Port-de-Bouc, Port-Saint-Louis, Port Vendre, Toulon, and Marseille.

‘Even to this day, the pain of the conflict endures in the memory of those that lived through it, whatever their opinions of the time are, and marks the deep divisions created by the Indochina war and its effect on the public conscience.’

  • Meanwhile, education trade unions representing state-subsidised private education in France have made history by uniting to put forward their demands and call for ‘decent and peaceful working conditions for all employees’, as ‘a matter of survival and dignity’.

In January 2019, an interunion association, was formed from seven out of the ten unions representing private sector teachers.

These unions pointed out once again some of their longstanding demands, which include:

  • Immediate salary increases;
  • Refusal to accept a second hour of compulsory overtime;
  • Better working conditions (smaller class sizes, creation of much-needed positions, recognition of teachers’ workloads);
  • Equal treatment for primary and secondary teachers;

• An end to job insecurity (new tenure plan for insecure jobs); and

  • The cessation of any reforms underway that entail job losses and fail to take account of teachers’ views.

Private sector teaching unions do not want additional overtime forced on them, nor do they want more students or classes, as they believe that ‘pupils in primary and in lower and upper secondary education are at the heart of their concerns and deserve to have more time dedicated to them’.

They are demanding ‘decent and peaceful working conditions for all employees’, and ‘teaching and learning conditions that respect every pupil’s needs’.

For these unions: ‘Education must be a government priority: It will be the base on which the world of tomorrow and its emancipation is built.’

Two meetings with the teachers’ line ministries took place in February. But, according to Bruno Lamour, the General Secretary of the Fédération Formation et Enseignement Privés – Confédération Francaise Démocratique du Travail (FEP-CFDT), the talks that took place with the Ministry of Education were ‘very disappointing’, leading the interunion association to organise a day of strikes and action on 16th May.

While the initial demands were indeed presented on that day, Lamour added that ‘it was also about making the voices of private sector teachers heard, given they have been largely ignored since France changed its government in 2017.’

The 16th May was a success in terms of its preparation and the initiatives undertaken by the interunion association in the academies.

As is the case at the national level, the unions in the field are not especially used to working together, which is why this union is historic. The CFDT for example had not joined forces with the Confédération Générale du Travail (CGT) at the national level since 2015.

There were gatherings throughout the country, including in the overseas island territories such as Polynesia.

On the day, many teachers came out on strike and, on the instruction of the private sector interunion association, assembled in every academy.

In addition, the representatives of the seven trade unions were given an audience with the Ministry and were once again able to communicate teachers’ expectations, with the unions noting better reception during this meeting than during that which took place last February.’

In a statement published after their meeting at the ministry, they described 16th May as ‘a mobilisation unprecedented in the private education sector that the Minister of Education cannot ignore’.

They nevertheless regret that ‘the responses they received on salary issues, job insecurity, working conditions and the effects of the reforms cannot be deemed satisfactory, especially given there is clearly a lack of familiarity, on the part of the Ministry, with how private schools with state-funded financial support work’.

Regarding the social dialogue between the Ministry and the representatives, they recognise that ‘commitments have been made in order to better connect them with the work undertaken at the Department of Education and of course with that directly affecting private sector workers’.

The member unions of the inter-union association warn that ‘this will of course be assessed on the basis of what actions are taken. If promises are not kept, the inter-union association, which will again be convened to assess the historic day of action, can without delay affirm that this would be a casus belli’.

Future actions have yet to be validated by the interunion association which is set to hold another meeting shortly.

  • French President Emmanuel Macron’s government has unveiled plans to make it more difficult for the unemployed to claim benefits, as part of an overhaul of France’s labour market supposedly ‘to boost the nation’s economy’.

Labour Minister Muriel Penicaud said on Tuesday that the changes were ‘tough, yet important’.

Unions have denounced the plans as unfair and damaging to the country’s social security system. The planned changes extend the period that people have to work to be entitled to unemployment benefits and reduces the amount that wealthier workers can receive after six months out of work.

France’s unemployed now get, on average, over 1,000 euros ($1,118) per month —an amount that can reach a maximum of 6,200 euros ($6,936) for two consecutive years.

Another measure plans to penalise companies that use a lot of short-term contracts.

Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said the first goal of the labour changes is ‘to encourage businesses to hire with long-term contracts’ and the second goal is ‘to change the rules regarding benefits, so that working always pays more than not working.’

The French government expects the changes to save 3.4 billion euros ($3.8 billion) over three years and hopes they will reduce unemployment. Unemployment in France fell to 8.7% in the first quarter of the year, its lowest in a decade — yet it still remains among the highest rates in Europe.

The head of the CFDT centre-left union, Laurent Berger, denounced the plan as ‘deeply unfair’ and said it ‘will affect 100% of jobless people’.

A leader of the CGT union, Catherine Perret, called for protests against the labour changes. A demonstration is scheduled next week in front of the unemployment benefits agency in Paris.

Macron’s government plans to pass the controversial labour law changes by decree this summer, a procedure that avoids a lengthy debate in parliament.

Key changes to France’s labour market — a previous reform in 2017 made it easier to hire and fire French workers — are among the pro-business policies championed by Macron but rejected by anti-government protesters in the yellow vest movement that started last November.

Macron has vowed to keep making such changes to the economy to boost its competitiveness. Another major reform of France’s pension system is scheduled to be presented in July.