A victory for the railroad workers would be a victory for all working people

Lutte Ouvrière workplace newsletter
April 9, 2018

Following the March 15 protests by pensioners and retirement home employees, President Macron declared: “As far as I can tell, there are no angry feelings in the country”. Well, now he can no longer feign ignorance.

He certainly got a sense of the existing anger during his visit to a Rouen hospital, when two assistant nurses confronted him on the lack of hospital funding and the closing down of hospital beds and medical services. He can also see the anger in universities where more and more students and professors are speaking out against a new form of selection threatening to exclude young people from working-class families from getting a post-secondary education. And he must be aware by now that many primary, middle and high schools are at breaking point for lack of staff.

Some protests are not aimed directly at the government, but there’s no way Macron can ignore that there's a strike at Air France and that another one has affected Carrefour (the world's second biggest supermarket chain—after Walmart), causing the shutdown of many stores on Easter weekend. And then there’s the growing railroad workers’ strike which is becoming a real political issue for him.

This is why Macron will address the public in a televised interview on Thursday. Of course, there is nothing new to expect from him. He will lecture us on France's deficit and public debt, but will carefully avoid mentioning that the wealthy are wealthier than ever, that shareholders have seen all their wishes come true and that markets are flooded with billions upon billions of dollars.

At a time when the rich can spend tens of thousands of euros on a handbag, a pair of shoes or a trip, Macron will nevertheless explain to us that every cent that goes into healthcare, education or the justice system has to be accounted for. And, advised by consultants who never take the subway or intercity trains, he’ll tell us how catastrophic the situation of SNCF is.

The main point of all this is to convince us of the need to "reform", to "modernize" and to get the country “back on its feet”.

However, as was the case with his reform of labor legislation, he only proposes backward steps to working people. They all constitute attacks on the workers' social rights and only aim to make workers more flexible and to make it easier for the bosses to lay them off. The same goes for Macron's alleged "reform" of the railroad.

Sideline commentators go on repeating that railroad workers have no reason to strike. But whether they like it or not, SNCF workers know exactly what they do and don't want. They want their rights to be respected and don't want their working conditions and wages to regress. Like many workers across the country, they don't want job cuts which condemn wage-earners to unemployment and make working conditions worse for those who remain on the payroll.

They are also fighting to guarantee that young people hired by SNCF in the future won’t be worse off or more poorly paid than their older coworkers. They are fighting because they don’t want to be moved around according to the bosses' whims and fancies.

The government says it wants trains to leave and arrive on time and is determined to do away with SNCF workers' specific status. But it fails to explain the connection between both objectives for the simple reason that there isn’t one!

The attack against the railroad workers’ status is typically a political maneuver. Macron wants to prove that he's the qualified reformer the bosses dreamt of and that nothing will stop his attacks against working people. Should he win the battle against railroad workers, he won’t stop there. He’ll use his victory as a show of strength allowing him to discipline working people in general. The government is already planning to cut 120,000 jobs in the public sector as a first step towards reforming unemployment insurance, pension benefits and the civil service.

Coping with a railroad strike is neither easy nor pleasant. It may cause difficulties for the railroad workers who are on strike and to passengers and commuters alike. But the problems caused by the strike are nothing compared to the major setbacks that await us all if Macron and the bourgeoisie feel they can do whatever they want. Let’s hope that the railroad workers will advance as far as they possibly can.

In order to win, they have no choice but to fight with determination and we must give them our support. In this capitalist society, exploited workers are only ever respected when they show their strength. Confidence in the power of the working class is precisely what has been lacking among workers for decades.

Today, the railroad workers are regaining their self-confidence. This is an encouragement for each and every worker. Make the government back down, show working-class solidarity, support the railroad workers’ strike!