Railworkers and students mobilise against French "Labour Law"

Submitted by Matthew on 13 April, 2016 - 10:24 Author: Charlotte Zalens and Marine Dageville

In France, public service workers (“fonctionnaires”, 21% of the country’s whole workforce) have since 1946 had work conditions protected by special laws, for example giving them some job security. Although the French rail industry (SNCF) is still publicly-owned, rail workers are not “fonctionnaires”. However, they too have a special legal regime.

The current government’s long-term plan is to erode those protections, to replace them by a new collective agreement, to level down SNCF workers’ conditions towards those of the few workers in privately-run corners of the rail network, and to open the rail network to private operators. On 18 February, the same day as the publication of the draft for the new “Labour Law”, rail workers heard about a new government “baseline decree” on their work hours. Below are extracts from rail worker bulletins produced by L′Etincelle. The plans include an end to double rest days and weekends. Some on-board ticket inspectors will no longer be reckoned as “train crew”, and so will lose their ability to retire early. There will no longer be rostered workers (who receive their work rosters many months in advance), nor reserve workers — if the decree goes through, all workers will become reserve workers, and without the current extra pay.

The decree calls for longer work days and increases annual work hours by 39 hours — that’s an extra week each year! The cherry on the cake is the reduction of rest days to 115 for train crew and 111 for other workers. That’s between 11 to 21 fewer rest days each year! Last year hospital workers in the Paris region faced the exact same type of attack: a change in work hours which resulted in a loss of around ten rest days, and without any shortening of the work day. Hospital workers reacted with large demonstrations, general assemblies and strikes which allowed them to push back this plan. Like them and with them, the bosses have to hear our anger.

In many areas, the current work regulations, which allow for a “flexibility” scarcely compatible without our social and private lives, are a bit ameliorated by local agreements. There must be no question of letting the management trash those agreements; instead we should fight for levelling up. These thugs, who endanger passengers and rail workers for profit, claim to be ″reforming″ the 35 hour work-week and the work regime! We cannot let them. Not one rest day less, not one job cut either!

The logic of management and the government is to make us work more in order to cut even more jobs. They have already calculated that if their reform passes it would allow them 10,000 more job cuts by 2020. We need exactly the opposite: we need more people hired in order to shorten our work hours, make our rosters better, to guarantee our days off, and to ensure safety.

Students: “Enough of this society!”

By Marine Dageville

″Assez, assez, assez d’cette société qui n’offre que le chomage et la precarité!″ ″Enough, enough, enough of this society that offers only unemployment and precarity!″

High school and university students in France are on the streets against the planned new “Labour Law” announced by the Socialist Party government in February. Half of all students in France are working to pay for their studies, so the link for them is very obvious. They see the terrible conditions they work in now, and the “Labour Law” will make them worse. Even the other half of students know that the new “Labour Law” will give employers more freedom to sack people. Very few new workers will get long-term contracts. At the same time, this law allows for lengthening the working week from 35 hours to 48 or even 60 hours.

This betrayal by a supposedly “Socialist” government has pushed people over the edge and onto the streets. The youth mobilisation started around 9 March. University students organised General Assemblies (GA). There were at least fifty Assemblies around the country. At one university, Paris 1 (the Sorbonne), more than 700 students showed up to discuss the “labour law”. Students at senior high schools (lycées) blockaded their schools, with around 200 high schools mobilised on 9 March, which was also the first day of strikes against the “Labour Law”. That day was also the beginning of a convergence between the workers and student movement.

The call for general action on 9 March came from students, and the union leaders followed suit only under that pressure. Even the more militant CGT union confederation had previously wanted to delay until 31 March. University students insist on being self-organised. They use the General Assemblies to make democratic decisions on the struggle, and to elect delegates to the National Coordination of the student section of the mobilisations. The National Coordination decides on mobilisation dates, elects spokespeople for the mobilisation, and writes demands and declarations. (Student unions in France are not automatic-enrolment organisations like student unions in British universities. The biggest, UNEF, claims 30,000 members out of 2.3 million tertiary students in France).

After 9 March the government made some cosmetic fixes to the law, but students were not fooled. They continued organising General Assemblies and blockading high schools. Two big student days of action followed on 17 and 24 March, and became much more aware of the need to bring together worker and student struggles. For example, students from Nanterre in Paris went to post offices and train stations to talk to workers and help them mobilise on 31 March. 31 March was a general strike for students and workers with more than a million people on the streets across France, the biggest mobilisation since Francois Hollande took office in 2012.

There were further days of action on 5 and 9 April, with fewer people on the streets but still large turnouts. 5 April saw a peak in repression against high school students, with 130 arrested in Paris alone. In several incidents CRS riot police have beaten or arrested students. The only way to continue this fight is by having workers and students struggle together. Students are key to bringing workers onto the streets, and together they can organise an effective open-ended general strike if the government continues to push the “Labour Law”. Students must resist being demobilised by school and university holidays (2-17 April, 9-24 April, or 16 April — 1 May, depending on region) and the exams which follow them.

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