France: Rail workers end strikes

Strikers demonstrate against Sarkozy's 'reforms'

After nine days of strike action rail workers finally ended their strike, although they did not win their demands the strike still had many positive aspects.

Submitted by jef costello on November 27, 2007

There is a certain bitterness amongst rail workers, with other strikers abandoning solidarity actions and their own unions selling them out. However what must be noted is that the strike itself was a victory for the rank and file.

It was pressure from the ranks that lead to the unions calling the first strike in October, the largest since 1995, and it was workers that decided to continue that action independently with some staying out for as long as five days. In the west of Paris, for example, workers organised a strike coordination committee immediately and independently of union structures.

Faced with such militancy from their own members the unions were forced to call the second strike and to make it an unlimited strike. Although observation generally dropped day by day during the strike there were surges. One of the major problems was that not enough effort as made to win public support, for example at the massive demonstration last Tuesday most of the CGT vehicles were more interested in selling sandwiches and drinks than trying to communicate with other workers.

The demonstration on Tuesday took place against the context of the biggest civil servants' and teachers' strikes since 1995. The presence of students and schoolchildren as well as electricity and other workers was a good sign.

The main CGT union had already divided workers by agreeing that negotiations would take place on a company by company, allowing workers to be picked off seperately and preventing solidarity actions. This was notable in the EDF and GDF where the lower level of militancy saw these workers back down quickly. The rail workers were isolated and made to look greedy and as if they were trying to hang on to unfair privileges and sadly their unions allowed this, letting their members be painted as cosseted civil servants. Although many workers, individually and in groups tried to address these preconceptions and the strong efforts to paint them as ungrateful civil servants whose privileges are paid for by poor conditions in the private. The two most common slogans were based either on workers' solidarity: "37.5 years to qualify for a pension for all"; or mocking their demonisation as greedy by the president: "I'll have a 175% rise like Sarkozy."

In other news workers in Rouen, home of the first university to vote for strike action, saw workers stage a 24-hour stoppage yesterday. The strikes crippled the Rouen transport system (TCAR) with only two out of twenty-eight metro services running and four out of fifty buses.

Some information from Solidarité Ouvrière, a French alternative source for information on workers' struggles.