Apr 16, 2018
The following editorial appeared in the workplace newsletters distributed by Lutte Ouvrière, the revolutionary workers group active in France, during the week of April 2. Since it was written, there have been two weeks when railroad workers went on strike for two days each. These strikes were widely followed. The head of SNCF, the French national railway company, had to admit that in the second week, the country’s whole rail network was shut down.
Railroad workers are expected to go massively on strike on April 3 and 4. Train drivers, rail traffic controllers, ticket controllers, station agents, mechanics, track men: all categories, including management, are mobilized and, on average, only one train out of eight or ten should run.
Some commentators spent the past few weeks trying to prove that it was no longer possible to organize a strike comparable to the movement that shook SNCF (the state-run railroad corporation) in 1995. But the railroad workers are showing that they haven’t lost their fighting spirit and determination. They just won’t bow down and they have a ton of good reasons to stand up to the government. By fighting back today, railroad workers are showing the way!
Working people have been told by the government that economic recovery is here; they have heard that companies are making record-high profits; and they have seen a handful of the super-rich accumulate unprecedented wealth. Why then should workers be dismissed, have their wages frozen or their retirement benefits diminished? Why should workers accept growing job insecurity?
The government’s plan for the railroad sector is yet another gift to big capital owners and an attack against working people. It means fewer rights for railroad workers but also the end of what was left of the “public service” mission of the SNCF.
When they stand up for their status, railroad workers stand up for their jobs, wages and retirement benefits. That is exactly what the employees of Air France are doing. And the employees of Carrefour supermarkets for that matter, who went on strike last weekend against the layoffs announced by management. And the public-sector workers who joined the strike action of SNCF workers on March 22.
We must show our support for this strike, even if it makes our lives complicated. Before the strike even began, railroad workers had to face a strike-breaking campaign, which will no doubt intensify when commuters are confronted with the problems caused by the strike. In August, 2016 the French government adopted a labor law that made it easier for the bosses to impose their side on all aspects of labor-management relations, called the El Khomri law. During the movement against this El Khomri law, the socialist government used any and every argument against striking workers in refineries and SNCF. They were accused of blackmailing the entire country, of lacking solidarity towards the victims of floods, and even of wanting to disrupt the European soccer championship!
Similar arguments will inevitably be used against striking railroad workers. Their “selfishness” or “corporatism” will make the headlines – drawing attention away from the outrageous greed of the capitalist bosses.
The CEO of car maker Peugeot, Carlos Tavares, was recently handed a one-million-euro bonus for the takeover of Opel, but the wages of Peugeot workers are still frozen. The management of Carrefour supermarkets dared to announce a yearly profit-sharing bonus of 57 euros per employee while the shareholders received 356 million euros! As for Whirlpool, this company recently offered a clothes dryer to every employee being laid off. And no member of the government was shocked by this!
So, let’s face it: this strike will cause a number of difficulties for most everyone. But the workers’ best interest is for the strike to gain momentum and be victorious.
In the public and private sectors alike, we have been under fire for decades. Since coming to power, French president Macron has multiplied the government’s attacks against working people. He has dismantled labor legislation, made it easier for bosses to sack workers, lowered housing aid, diminished the number of subsidized jobs, increased workers’ share of social security, reinforced controls on the unemployed, etc. Up until now, he hasn’t met strong opposition. But today, railroad workers are ready to put up a fight and that can make a huge difference.
If the railroad workers’ strike picks up strength and gets the support of working people, Macron’s government could be facing defeat for the first time.
This victory would benefit all working people. It would put an end to the government’s offensive. It would teach a lesson to arrogant local chiefs and dignitaries. And it would restore the workers’ self-confidence.
So let’s all say it loud and clear: the railroad workers’ strike is our strike. We must stand up for it. Alongside the railroad workers, we can make Macron and his government bite the dust.