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Unlimited Strike and without Notice: the Striking Railway Workers of Châtillon are Leading the Way
Since October 21, hundreds of railway workers at the "technicentre" in Châtillon (Paris surburb) have been on strike. As the maintenance centre (TATL) was used to maintain the TGVs, the movement quickly led to a near paralysis of the TGV network's Atlantic traffic.
Contrary to what some media have claimed, which blamed it on the SUD-Rail union, the strike was triggered spontaneously, outside the unions. In addition, the strikers joined the movement without complying with the legal requirement to give strike notice - a measure that serves to weaken the strength of the strike by giving management time to prepare for it; and they set up an independent strike fund. So far they have resisted the propaganda campaign of the media and the government, which reiterate the old accusation of attacking users: many users are also proletarians who can feel solidarity with a workers struggle
The railway workers initially mobilized against the management's plan to cancel around ten days' off (1) for a premium of 7000 euros; the project was withdrawn, but the fight continues against low wages and poor working conditions: 7 days a week, in three shifts, under constant pressure to meet the deadlines in order to limit train immobilization time to a minimum.
In their communiqué of November 7th, the strikers stated :
"We, employees strikers at the Maintenance Centre in Châtillon [TATL], on the Atlantic TGV network, have massively stopped working since Monday evening, October 21, without consulting or being supervised by the unions. Management considers our strike illegitimate because we would not be within the 48-hour deadline for minimum service, but it was the only way to make our voice heard. (…).
Our anger is real and deep, we are determined to fight to the end for our demands, for respect and dignity. We can no longer accept to work with salaries close to the minimum wage and frozen for 5 years, understaffed and with fellow workers who are resigning more and more. We are ashamed to see how the SNCF plays with the safety or comfort of the passengers, for reasons of flexibility and profitability. We will respect the strike notice periods when the management itself will already respect the employees but also the passengers (...).
Tired of reorganizations, low wages, job cuts and under-staffing! We call on all railway workers to rise up with us, because the situation in Châtillon today is in fact the reflection of a national policy (...).
We have allowed this to happen for too long without saying anything, but today at the TATL we are saying stop to this company's policy. We will not sell off our dignity, our safety, or our health!" (1).
The strikers' call to other railway workers and the example of their determination had a first echo: stoppages took place on Thursday, October 31 at the maintenance centers in the Paris suburbs in Le Landy, which handles the high-speed trains on the northern axis, and at Villeneuve Saint Georges for the southeast network.
The SUD-Rail union, considered the most combative, which had admitted to having been surprised by the Châtillon strike, positioned itself radically for the following of the movement – but to better sabotage the extension of the struggle! It threatened with an unlimited strike call on these centers “from Thursday evening or Monday". But after having shown its muscles by giving the management a sort of ultimatum ( "We gave the management until 6 p.m. to respond to our demands" ), SUD called for the return to work: "We are playing the game ( of social dialogue ). In the meantime, work resumes, the trains will come out" (2)
The management seized the opportunity by scheduling a meeting with the unions, and SUD stopped talking about the possibility of a strike...
When the strikers of Châtillon call on the other railway workers to join them, when they need their reinforcement to make the management bend under, SUD leaves them isolated by "playing the game of social dialogue". Class collaboration prevails over class solidarity : "No one will be able to say that we are not giving the management a way out of conflict', said Fabien Monteil, SUD Rail delegate at Landy" (3).
This attitude should not come as a surprise; despite its protest speech, SUD was part of the Intersyndicale [inter-union committee] which last year organized the defeat of the railway workers by a "dotted line" struggle with dispersed days of strike announced in advance (4). The newspaper Le Parisien writes on this mater: this movement "was useless, grumbles a unionized railway worker. We have respected the rules, made Strike Notice. With this system, management is organized, the movement has no impact and we get nothing" (5).
It is the bitter but salutary experience of the 2018 defeat that explains the action of the strikers of Châtillon taking their struggle directly into their hands and violating the anti-strike legal measures: it is not possible to fight with some chances of victory by leaving the leadership of the movement to the class-collaborationist organizations and their tactics which aim is to make the strikes as harmless as possible!
This conclusion also explains the surge of railway workers' work stoppages after the accident of a TER train [local regional train] in the Ardennes on 16 October (75 slightly injured): the driver, who was also injured, was the only railway worker in the train and had to walk 3 km round trip to manually activate a signal to stop another train arriving opposite!
In this case, the drivers used a legal provision ("right of withdrawal") to spontaneously strike, first in Champagne-Ardennes, then in Ile-de-France (Paris region) and over a large part of the country. They protested against being alone on board trains, according to a practice that has already existed in the Paris region for some time, but that management wants to generalize for reasons of profitability (staff reduction); more generally, it is the deterioration of working conditions and low wages that are the cause of railway workers' discontent.
The striking railway workers of Châtillon understood this: to defend themselves and be able to win, the workers can only rely on their own forces. They must take their struggle into their own hands independently of collaborationist organizations that only seek to provide management with a way out; they must organize themselves and conduct the struggle with class means and methods: unlimited strikes, without notice with occupation of premises or picket lines, extension to other establishments, strike committees, etc.
Whatever the continuation of the current movement, this is a crucial lesson to be learned for the inevitable conflicts to come, not only at the SNCF but also elsewhere where proletarians everywhere are confronted with the same conditions and suffer from the sabotage of class-collaborationist organizations.
Long live the struggle of the striking railway workers of Châtillon!
For the extension and generalization of the movement!
For the resumption of the independent class struggle!
International Communist Party,
(2) AFP 31/10/19.
(3) Libération, 31/10/2019. The Trotskyist parties are careful not to criticize this attitude: they are present at the leadership of SUD!
(4) According to the very bourgeois daily L'Opinion (29/9/2019), which is concerned about the current prospect of wildcat strikes and the loss of trade union influence, on the contrary in 2018:" with a good organization and a functioning information system, the SNCF has been able to keep trains running. The notices, which must be given 48 hours in advance, made it possible to draw up relatively satisfactory transport plans. A degraded service, certainly uncomfortable, but the country has not been blocked".
(5) Le Parisien, 28/10/19.
International Communist Party
November, 1st 2019
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