France: Rail, gas and electricity workers prepare to strike

Workers have decided to build on last month's one-day strike and have called for strike action on Wednesday.

Submitted by jef costello on November 7, 2007

Although EDF (Électricité de France) and GDF (Gaz de France) workers have only given official notice of a one-day strike, during the last strikes wildcats and general assemblies meant that the strike largely held the following day. Rail workers from the SUD union are launching an unlimited strike, the other unions will hold meetings on Wednesday, although it is unclear whether the leadership plans to make a decision or let workers decide directly at general assemblies. After the last union-sanctioned one-day strike rail, bus and metro services in Paris remained virtually at zero the following day and significant numbers of strikers held out until Monday (five days). Outside of Paris and on the International lines services were restored more quickly.

The new Sarkozy government is launching attacks on virtually every front hitting workers, claimants and students across the board. The EDF, GDF and Rail-workers are at the forefront of the so-called 'special regimes' for pensions. Workers in certain industries retire on full pension earlier than others. Government propaganda presents this as pampered public sector workers being allowed to retire ten years earlier than those in the public sector. However most of this difference is explained by contrasting extreme examples of workers who have no gone into further education with those who have, as private sector workers only need four more years of contributions to qualify for a pension. To add insult to injury the rail-workers already pay higher social security contributions, so they have actually paid for their pensions.

Sarkozy said during his recent trip to America "there will be strikes, there will be demonstrations but I will hold steady...because it's in my country's interests...France is fallen far behind and we are trying to catch up." The Leader of the opposition Socialist party has accused Sarkozy of provoking the strikes so that he can win a crushing victory over the unions. As provoking the banlieue riots of 2005 helped Sarkozy show his law and order credentials this almost certainly true. Hollande fails to mention that his party would have tried to push through similar 'reforms' and lost the election largely because they failed to convince the electorate that they had the steel to do so.

In the last few days SUD-Rail, one of the more militant unions, backed by the federation of passengers and user of public services (FUT-SP), has proposed a fare strike. This type of strike, ruled legal by the European Court of human rights last year, has the advantage that it will not turn the public against the strikers. The major disadvantage is that rather than bring Paris and much of France to a halt the strike will instead simply lead to a loss of income from fares. The pressure such a strike would bring to bear on the government would be greatly reduced.

According to government figures the last one-day strike cost €150M. These estimates seem to be based on most finding alternative transport, rather than staying home. Something which was not evident in Paris.