The strike by SNCF (France’s national rail company) ticket inspectors over the holiday weekend, which undoubtedly inconvenienced many travelers, led to an anti-strike outburst from the government and journalists. They don’t say much the rest of the year when train delays and cancellations due to economising by SNCF management mean daily misery for millions of commuters. In reality, the inconvenience to passengers over the holiday weekend and during the rest of the year is the least of the government’s worries.
Faced by workers on strike – Total refineries, garbage collection, transport, GRDF (France’s natural gas network) – the “taking people hostage” line is a reflex for leaders. But when shopping basket prices soar, when electricity and gas bills are doubled or tripled, they say no more about “hostages” than they do when bosses put pressure on wages and working conditions! They choose their vocabulary according to the class interests they serve, those of the capitalists.
Macron seized the opportunity to say that strikes should be forbidden at certain times of the year, in the name of the right to travel freely. As if the freedom of millions of workers to travel at will, live decently, keep their homes warm weren’t limited by the measures taken by this government in favour of the capitalists.
The ticket inspectors have every reason to fight. They are not only challenging the degradation of their working conditions but also the insufficient pay. The proposed bonuses don’t make up for pay that starts below minimum wage level, they are reduced if a worker is absent and they’re not included in the calculation of retirement pensions. Even if it is only one category of workers that has acted, the problems of the ticket inspectors are the same as those of all workers today: pay that is not enough to live on.
The government and SNCF managers can’t stand the idea that the workers went over the heads of union leaders. The ticket inspectors spread the strike themselves, not just on social media via a national collective but also in individual and collective discussions. That’s what led to the show of strength on the first weekend of December when 80% of inspectors were on strike followed by the mobilization over the Christmas weekend.
Transport Minister Clément Beaune spoke out against the collective that he deemed to be a way of “bypassing the unions”. Commentators spoke of the strikers’ irresponsibility and consider them to be obviously manipulated because they can’t imagine rank-and-file workers, unionised or otherwise, capable of discussing their interests and acting without the approval of the union leaders. But all strikes should be organised and controlled by the workers themselves.
The unions were quick to sign an agreement with management that promises an annual bonus of 720 euros and the creation of 200 additional jobs. In the process, they withdrew the strike notice for the coming weekend. No matter what decision the ticket inspectors make about the next step the movement takes, it is nevertheless their strike that gained this first result.
Against the strikers, Véran (spokesman for the government) declared: “We call for truces at Christmas, not strikes”. But there’s no truce for the attacks from his government or from the big bosses. And their presents for next year are definitely not what we wished for.
A case in point, the government chose 23 December to announce a new measure against the unemployed: applicable from 1 February, the duration of compensation may be reduced by 40% if the official level of unemployment remains below 6%. This is yet another way to put pressure on all workers to accept any job, under any conditions and for any wage. On top of this comes a reform of retirement pensions and the government’s desire to raise retirement age. This will condemn numerous workers, thrown out of full-time work well before the age of 65, to doing odd jobs and to miserable pensions. Not to mention the never-ending rise in prices and plummeting purchasing power.
Strikes for better pay are breaking out here and there. Bosses and the government are taking our living conditions hostage. To stop them, the whole of the working class has to fight back. The only way we can develop this is by discussions between workers, by deciding for ourselves on our actions, how we organise and by controlling those who represent us.