A lesson from across the Channel...

Posted in AWL's blog on Thu, 12/03/2015 - 20:17,

We recently reported on a 44% increase in assaults on Tube staff. In January, a CSA at Lancaster Gate was stabbed (see here for more). With this issue at the forefront of our minds, we were pleased to receive this report from comrades working on the railways in Lyon, France. Although these workers work on mainline railways, rather than a metro system like LU, the story shows how strong workplace organisation and industrial action can tackle health and safety issues, and how the key demand in response to staff assaults is to increase staffing levels.

Since the beginning of the year, there has been an increasing number of assaults on customer service staff in the Lyon area. This is due to low staff numbers, both on board trains and at stations.

On 6 February, at around 7pm, a worker on a commuter train confronted three young passengers (who were drinking, and smoking cannabis) who were harassing others passengers. They did this at the request of other passengers, and were helped by another off-duty railway worker.

In response, the young passengers attacked the workers. One had a glass bottle smashed in his face, and the other had a rib broken.

As news of the attack spread across social media, and became widely known by other customer service staff, a wildcat strike was launched. Almost 90% of on-duty customer service staff in the company stopped working.

French labour law contains provisions that allow workers to stop work when they feel their bodily safety is threatened; but the emotional response to assault was so strong that whether or not the strike complied with this law seemed irrelevant.

For nine hours, our bosses ignored the situation, despite phone calls from our local union reps. Finally, at 11am on 7 Feburary, managers met with local reps. But the bosses walked out of the meeting a few hours later, leaving both workers and commuters in the dark without information.

This illustrates the contempt of the bourgeoisie for the working-class: "your bodies, your safety, your lives don't matter - only profits."

Eventually, alarmed by the growing number of strikers, our bosses agreed to resume the meeting later that afternoon. Their stubbornness was finally broken when local unions threatened to spread the dispute nationally. On 8 February, our bosses agreed to create 16 additional jobs. The grassroots strike gave us the upper hand over management.

The lesson? Direct action gets the goods!

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