‘RENEWABLE STRIKE WON CONSIDERABLE GAINS’ – but dispute remains says SUD-Rail union

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We publish below the SUD-Rail strike bulletin for the first day of the French rail strike, N°8 – 24 November 2005, with thanks to Bristol RMT for making an English translation available.

We were under the fire of reality.

It took the head of state 15 days to realise that the suburbs were on fire . . . but he realised on day one that railworkers were taking part in a renewable strike. He immediately enlisted the media to encourage a return to work.

Gallois (SNCF French rail Chairman) came up with nothing for a whole year, he conducted fake negotiations during the notice period for the strike, he declares that nothing is possible, announces the spreading of the iDTGV (SNCF’s separate satellite company providing Online Ticket Sales) scheme, presents an industrial plan which sectorises our grades and surrenders the idea of public service . . . and then he calls the trade unions together on the first day of the dispute! That has never been seen before. Even better: he starts real negotiations.

The media closely scrutinised our action and reported the exact opposite of what really happened: to start with, our demands did not justify striking: by the end of the negotiations SNCF had given everything away and the strike was declared over; now they say we didn’t win anything and all the effort was for nothing. . . Never have we undergone such media pressure.

The effectiveness of the renewable strike

A mere one day of all-out renewable strike, won more than all of the preceding limited, one-day strikes.

For more than a year, SUD-rail has argued that repeated 24 hour strikes would not be enough.

Respectful of essential trade-union unity, we took part in them. We are pleased with the call from four trade unions for a renewable strike.

The renewable strike allowed us to win real, though limited, gains.

Beyond the specific demands of certain grades, every railworker is satisfied with:

• the doubling of the operating bonus, at least an additional 120 euros per employee. Everyone will be able to see the exact amount by looking at their payslip for June 2005.

• additional recruitment, whereas SNCF did not want to even carry out the recruitment that it had provided for in 2005, and the re-staffing of railway stations.

• a breach in the policy of sectorisation and subsidiarisation: iDTGV (SNCF’s separate satellite company providing Online Ticket Services) is being brought back into SNCF, which SUD-rail demanded and demonstrated for in Marseilles and South-eastern Paris. . . This breach must now be widened to include EFFIA (SNCF’s separate satellite company providing Welcome Hosts/Customer Care Services), Freight. . . and all the subsidiary companies.

But every railworker understands realistically that action still remains necessary.

With the freezing of reorganisation we have gained only six months to a year. Privatisation continues, in spite of the soporific remarks of (President) Chirac and (Minister for Transport) Perben.

We won some quick gains, but action remains necessary to change the policy of SNCF, the government and Europe.

What action is needed today?

Some General Assemblies of railworkers carried on the strike, but many decided to stop.

Railworkers underwent enormous pressures not previously experienced: the deliberate manipulation of the statistics of the numbers of railworkers on strike, the media steamroller, the aggressiveness of some particularly zealous managers relaying Gallois’s message and going so far as to individually threaten certain strikers. . . and with the existence of a split between trade unions, some of them even going as far as denouncing the strike!

With realism we note and acknowledge this majority return to work decision democratically taken in General Assemblies. . . and remain mobilised.

We take note of the gains we have won. . . and we are confident for the future because a majority of railworkers now know the proof of the pudding is in the eating: the renewable strike, the maximum unity possible, preparation in all workplaces and offices. . .

Our dispute goes on because the demands remain

The retreat by management on 22 November does not meet all of our requirements.

• Restructuring and management by activity (sectorisation) are still there, a breathing space of a few months only was granted.

• The wage increase of 0.3 per cent from January 1 remains on the lower side of our demands: we require a wage increase of 250 euros per month.

• 700 trainee drivers will only stabilise staffing levels until the end of 2005.

• 200 new posts are planned for ESCALE – we will have to take care that employment is with permanent contracts of employment.

• 350 new posts within the Engineering department had already been foreseen following the Infrastructure audit, which will still not prevent a reduction in the department.

• Closure of ticket offices has not stopped and much remains to be done for the whole of the clerical/retail grade.

Despite headline announcements, there will still be a large fall in the numbers of jobs in 2006

The renewable strike, will still be needed to counter the policies of business and privatisation which, although they deny it, the Government and Gallois are pushing forward sometimes in a creeping fashion and sometimes at a gallop.

Creeping privatisation, as its name suggests, disguises itself and advances slowly:

l it conceals itself while transferring railworkers to subsidiary companies. It is seen in the example of the new subsidiary companies managing Internet ticket sales (iDTGV) and passenger reception in stations (EFFIA). . . removing thousands of clerical jobs.

l it advances slowly: SNCF swears to us that such subsidiary companies will remain in the group. . . then they are privatised, like Sernam (Parcels delivery service), the telecoms network, the SHEM (Hydro-electric generating plants recently sold by SNCF). . .

Galloping privatisation from one day to the next passes to the private sector guaranteed, core railway activities:

As is already the case with the Permanent Way maintenance. And Transport Minister, Perben who denies any privatisation of SNCF, is preparing a law to transfer maintenance of new lines to the private sector.

• As is the case with freight, when an SNCF train is transferred to the private sector.

• As risks being the case with the TER (Regional Train Services): a European draft Regulation will encourage Regional Administrations to transfer, either to any private Operator whatsoever, or to the Operator with the lowest bid following invitations to tender.

No trade union disputes this

Trade union division is not inevitable. We do not accept that certain trade unions, in particular CFTC and CFDT, during this conflict, should have gone so far in support for Gallois and the government.

The future of the public sector railway and of railworkers is too important not to reunite our ranks, by all means possible, all together, to use the effective weapon of the renewable strike, announced a long time in advance, prepared by debates in all workplaces and offices, announced to rail passengers by seeking their support to impose a true public service ethos delivered by a public sector company, the SNCF.

We won some considerable gains on the first day of the renewable strike in spite of trade union division, the enormous pressures of SNCF, the government and the media.

The railworkers have got something to say:

• to change the policy of the company, the government and Europe,

• to develop the public sector company SNCF by ensuring public service and regional planning,

• to improve jobs and to hire young people.

In all workplaces, depots and offices we are preparing together to impose a trade union unity without fail and for the use of all, with the support of rail users, the weapon of the renewable strike.