Statement

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Active Support to the Strikers of the "SNCF" (Railway Company) in France ! They Show the Way Forward for the Generalization of the Proletarian Struggle

To support and participate to their struggle, we reproduce here the communiqué sent by the railway workers on illegal strike, without official strike notice, and decided without the unions of the Châtillon TGV [High Speed Trains] maintenance centre, which blocks a large part of the trains leaving from Montparnasse station in Paris. The ICP-Proletarian leaflet that follows it, can also be useful to understand the situation in France for readers from other countries and languages. Then, we follow these two documents with our own position on the orientations and slogans that, in our opinion, should be put forward today in the situation in France.

[For lack of time, we could not make this statement, as well as the two documents we reproduce and have translated from the workers assembly of Châtillon and the ICP leaflet, verified and corrected by an English native comrade. Thus, if any doubt, confusion or political mistake, we refer the reader to the French version].

Communiqué of the Strikers of the Technicentre of Châtillon (Paris).

We, employees strikers at the Maintenance Centre in Châtillon [TATL], on the Atlantic TGV network, have stopped working massively 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. But does our management itself respect the daily service provided to travellers?

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 notice strike periods when the management itself will already respect the employees but also the passengers who are paying more and more for trains, with less and less service, outdated seats, oars sometimes with condemned toilets, blocked doors, or even out of order air conditioning during heat waves.

We demand that we exercise our profession with respect and dignity, this cannot be done with fine words and speeches, but with the improvement of our working conditions. 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 reflect of a national policy. The management has no qualms about making us take the blame for its policy, just like the right to withdraw against EAS [1] and for the safety of users.

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!

The railway workers on strike of the TATL, Paris October 27th 2019.

Unlimited Strike and without Notice: the Striking Railway Workers of Châtillon are Leading the Way! (Leaflet of the ICP- Le Prolétaire)

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 [2] 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 immobilisation 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 stopped working massively 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 notice strike 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 reflect 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!"’.

Social Fire Brigades "Play the Game of Social Dialogue" against the Strike

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 centres 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 centres "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"  [3].

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, South Rail delegate at Landy" [4].

This attitude should not come as a surprise; despite its protest speech, SUD was part of the Intersyndicale [inter-union committee] which last year organised the defeat of the railway workers by a "dotted line" struggle with dispersed days of strike announced in advance [5]. The newspaper Le Parisien writes on this subject: this movement "was useless, grumbles a unionized railworker. We have respected the rules, made Strike Notice. With this system, management is organized, the movement has no impact and we get nothing" [6].

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 collaborationist organizations [7] and their tactics which aim 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 17 October [8] (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 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 collaborationist organisations.

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, November 1st 2019 (www.pcint.org).

Statement on the Immediate Situation in France - IGCL

As the ICP leaflet - Le Prolétaire [9] makes very clear, at the time we are writing the attempts to extend the strike to other SNCF centres or sectors has not yet been carried out because of the sabotage by the unions, and particularly by the leftist trade union SUD.

We believe this strike is significant of the evolution of the class struggle, of the "social tensions" that exists in France (as propagandists and bourgeois media say), since the yellow vest movement started just one year ago. In this sense, it is not a simple isolated struggle like others. Whatever understanding we may have of its class characteristics, the movement of the yellow vests could only have emerged and developed following the cruel failure of the railway workers’ struggle in the spring of 2018. These, hard-hit as a bastion of the proletariat in France openly and constantly combative and on which the eyes of all the proletarians of this country were and still are fixed, had been soundly beaten after six months of struggle, led and controlled by the trade unions through days of action and so-called "pearled strikes" [or "go-slow strikes"] - that is spread over time. The rout was bitter for the railway workers and the whole proletariat in France and marked, if not the definitive end, at least the considerable weakening of the myth of the general trade unionist strike which had dictated the defeats of so many massive mobilizations from 2003 to 2016, the one against the labour law. Without this proletarian discomfiture, it is unlikely that petty-bourgeois anti-unionist prejudices - which have nothing to do with proletarian anti-union sentiments - could have led so many proletarians to wear the yellow vest. The wild strike in the centre of Châtillon arose just a few days after the almost total paralysis of train traffic in France following the massive and sudden stop of work on 18 October, for several days in the name of the "Right of Withdrawal" after a train accident.

It is in this situation - where other strikes and struggles have taken place, such as the strike at 85% of Parisian buses and metros on 13 September - that the government is considering passing a new pension "reform" and the unions have planned an action day on 5 December. The most radical of them have even talked of an unlimited renewable strike. The experience of the past mobilizations, particularly those of 2013, 2016 and the railway workers’ one in 2018, clearly indicates that trade unions are putting in place a whole backfire system to control the fire if it were to break out, both in terms of control of the terrain - negotiations with the government and demands - and the timing of the struggle - days of action, street demonstrations and the use of strike notice. There is little doubt that already - we have no particular information - where workers are wondering, or even would like, to engage without delay in the fight following the SNCF centre in Châtillon, particularly in the company itself, or even in RATP, the unions are already opposing the argument that unity and extension must be prepared from 5 December onwards in order to better reverse the entry into the fight and cut the momentum in progress.

In this sense and in this situation, and even if limited at the time we are writing, the strike of the railway workers of Châtillon shows the way to follow for the whole working class and all the proletarians: take the initiative of the fight and its conduct without letting it, or even worse, hand it over to the trade unions - concretely today without waiting until 5 December when it is possible; and seek as soon as possible to extend it to other workplaces and sectors in order to break the isolation as quickly as possible, and to provoke active support and solidarity through strikes, demonstrations, meetings or "enlarged" assemblies, so that proletarians, workers, whatever contract or work statute they have, what ever isolated and atomized working conditions and struggle they are in, can join this class struggle.

In addition to wages demands, the whole proletariat in France, like most of the "population", could easily identify itself in a struggle against this umpteenth attack on the pension system. Demands such as the returns of retirement at age 60 and to 40 years of contributions for all as well as the cancellation of the discounts on the calculation of the pension [10], or any other demands of the same type, could unite and unify the fight.

In addition to those put forward by the ICP, in particular the extension and generalisation of the movement, the slogans should be the following today:

- where it is possible : call for general assemblies to decide the strike as soon as possible!

- in other places, in particular places of production and work, call for active solidarity by organising delegations and demonstrations open to all towards the strikes already under way;

- finally, among the most combative proletarians and to work for general mobilization and regrouping for the generalized mass strike, formation of struggle committees!

The IGCL, November 2nd 2019.

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Notes:

[1. EAS : Équipement Agent Seul [Equipment Agent Alone]. That is to say, the absence of a controller on trains with the machinist, the driver, the only SNCF agent on board. October 16th, a truck was stopped in a level crossing and provoked a head on collision with various injured passengers and the train driver, alone on board. Even though seriously handicapped, he had to abandon the passengers to go on the one way rail to stop the whole traffic to prevent any train on the other direction to provoke a catastrophe. If a controller have been on board, one could have cared and secure the passengers and the other stop the traffic...

[2. The "compensation" days off are because theses workers also work on Sunday, that is they work 7 days a week.

[3. AFP 31/10/19.

[4. Libération, 31/10/2019. The Trotskyist parties are careful not to criticize this attitude: they are present at the leadership of SUD!

[5. 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 organisation 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."

[6. Le Parisien, 28/10/19.

[7. [The Unions and the left and leftist bourgeois parties, note of the IGCL].

[8. [Actually October 16th and not 17th, note of the IGCL]

[9. Le prolétaire is the name of its journal in French. In North America, it is Proletarian.

[10. Currently the discount rate on the calculation of the pension when the worker has not worked 42 years is 5% per year missing.