To celebrate Macron’s first year as France's president, the French public channel “France 3” treated him to a prime time TV report in his honour. It showed him shaking hands with Trump, welcoming Putin to Versailles, mourning pop star Johnny Hallyday and talking with small children... but there were no pictures of him being challenged by angry workers or indignant retirees!
The report carefully avoided embarrassing issues. Yet it did show Macron expressing his usual contempt for “those who see a tragedy in every reform” and who believe that “refusing a 50 euro cut in housing aid is the fight of the century”, people he sees as lacking his idealistic and oh-so-noble values.
The only mention of the railroad workers’ struggle and of the sympathy it arouses among workers, was a sentence blaming it on a country “allergic to change” and filled with “egalitarian aristocrats” who only protest because they are natural protesters.
While Macron takes himself for Jupiter and tries to present the workers who refuse his attacks as spoilt brats, the railroad workers’ struggle continues.
Indeed they are determined not to accept the decline of their living and working conditions. And their long-lasting mobilization is an encouragement for all the workers who want to fight back.
Fighting back is precisely what Air France employees are doing. After years of sacrifices, frozen wages, shorter holidays, job cuts by the thousands all in the name of “making the company competitive again”, those workers, be they mechanics, pilots or stewards, are demanding a 6% pay rise. “The company can't afford it!”, cried CEO Janaillac... a man who awarded himself more than one million euros annually and who increased the remuneration of the members of the board of directors by 28%!
Janaillac wanted employees to accept an agreement offering no more than a 2% salary increase and with two conditions: future increases would depend on the company's results and strikes would be banned. He was so sure of winning that he submitted this agreement to a referendum, putting his resignation in the balance if the “yes” was defeated. Well, out he went! The employees, in spite of pressure from management and the media, voted “no” massively.
Recent attempts to blackmail workers have failed both at Air France and SNCF. The Minister for Transport keeps repeating to the railroad workers that their strike is threatening the future of the railroad system. Bruno Le Maire, the Minister for the Economy, has told Air France employees that their demands are unjustified, that the strike is expensive and that the survival of the company is now at stake. So what? If they really want to put an end to the movement, why don't they just meet the demands of the workers!
The ministers may rage and fume against the strikers, the fact is that the strikes are becoming a political problem for the government. They have even forced Macron to send his Prime Minister, Édouard Philippe, to talk with the leaders of the railroad workers' unions.
As expected, nothing came out of it. Philippe said he would meet the union leaders with an open hand – but his hand was empty. Working conditions, the future of the railroad workers' special status, the opening of the railroad system to private companies, the general reorganization of SNCF? On none of those questions did he negotiate or make concessions.
His only promise was... another meeting at the end of the month. He did announce that the State might take back part of SNCF's debt. But why should railroad workers feel concerned? Yes, SNCF owes millions to the banks but that is simply because over the years it has paid generous sums of money to the many companies in charge of building the high-speed lines.
In its duel with the railroad workers, the Macron government wants to demonstrate that there is no other choice for workers than to comply with the anti-working-class policy it is pursuing, no choice other than to foot the bill for its gifts to the bourgeoisie. As if his unrelenting attacks were not enough, Macron justifies them with open arrogance and contempt.
Well there is one thing he has succeeded in so far and that is in making workers reject his policy unanimously! Yes, that is the case at SNCF and Air France. But it is true way beyond that for all those workers who feel represented by the ongoing movements. The railroad workers’ struggle has contributed to a change in the social climate, as shown by the success of the latest demonstrations. More days of action are scheduled in May. Let’s use every opportunity, every mobilization, to show our strength and proclaim that the workers have every right to fight for their rights!