A series of unofficial rail strikes in France have shown the potential for massive resistance to president Emmanuel Macron. They come as the first anniversary of the birth of the Yellow Vest movement approaches.
The strikes now look set to hit the long holiday weekend, known as “All Saints”, which begins with Friday's public holiday. And they could lead to calls for solidarity from Eurostar workers in Britain.
Hundreds of workers at the Chatillon maintenance centre went on strike last week and this week.
This blocked hundreds of TVG-Atlantique express trains in the depot. Only a third of trains were running on the routes between Paris Montparnasse and Bordeaux, Rennes, Toulouse, Nantes and Saint-Malo.
This specific issue was a dispute over rest days. Bosses proposed a bonus to give up holidays, but workers rejected it.
And a statement from the strikers showed the anger went much wider. It said, “We, the striking workers at the Technicentre in Chatillon, on the TGV-Atlantique network, have stopped working since the evening of Monday 21 October.
“We did it without consulting or being directed by the unions.
“Management considers our strike illegitimate, as we did not give the 48-hour notice as required under the minimum service regulations. But it was the only way to be heard.
“Does our management itself respect the daily service to travellers?
“Our anger is real and profound, we are determined to fight to the end for our demands of respect and dignity. We can no longer accept working with salaries close to the minimum wage and understaffing.
“We are ashamed to see how the SNCF rail company plays with the safety or the comfort of the travellers for reasons of flexibility and profitability.”
It added, “We will respect the notice periods for strikes when the management respects workers and passengers.
“They pay ever more expensive fares with less and less of a service. There are dilapidated seats, trains that sometimes have non-working toilets, blocked doors, or air conditioning that doesn’t work during a heatwave.”
They called on “the rail workers to raise their heads with us”.
Management offered no concessions—and on Thursday the strike spread to two other centres.
One was the Technicentre Le Landy, which is in charge of the maintenance of the TGV northern services, including the Paris to Lille and Eurostar routes. The other is the South-East European Technicentre, responsible for TGV maintenance in south east France.
Workers at Le Landy held a meeting for much of Wednesday night. There were calls from Sud-Rail union members for pay rises to compensate for the lack of staff and the ever-increasing workload.
Then on Thursday morning a big meeting of union and non-union workers together decided to walk out.
On 18 October rail workers across large parts of France spontaneously walked out after a train accident near Saint-Pierre-sur-Vence in the eastern Ardennes region. The train driver, who had 70 people on board, had to manage the situation on his own despite the fact that he was injured in the accident.
Several rail unions are calling for a national strike from 5 December against Macron’s pension attacks. It is also backed by truck drivers and workers across the whole of public transport in the Paris region.
Meanwhile the Yellow Vests are holding their fourth Assembly of Assemblies this weekend in Montpelier. It hopes to generate new momentum for the resistance.
Widening and uniting the strikes with the militancy of the Yellow Vests could sink Macron.