Angry railroad workers open up opportunities for all workers

Lutte Ouvrière workplace newsletter
October 28, 2019

Railroad workers are angry. The maintenance centres of the high-speed trains serving France’s northwestern cities have gone on strike. Another strike brought to a halt the regional trains serving the French Riviera. After the accident on October 16, there have also been clashes over the use of the right to stop working when security isn’t guaranteed. The wrath of railroad workers hasn’t subsided and we fully support their demands. 

For years they fought against management’s plans to run trains with no personnel on board but the driver. They warned against the dangers to which passengers would be exposed if there was an accident but their warnings were systematically denied by management. In the end, what they feared occurred: there was an accident in the east of France. But that didn’t deter the president of the railroad company from declaring, with the approval of the government, that whether there is more personnel on board or not makes no difference when there’s an accident.    

The leaders of the country are willing to say anything to justify their stinginess. They’re capable of endangering the lives of workers and the population, whether they're in charge of railroads, hospitals, emergency wards or retirement homes for seniors. How many tragedies are avoided because employees are dedicated beyond the call of duty? 

In both the public and private sectors, big managers and top executives are obsessed with the race for efficiency. They're restructuring like mad. In Belfort, General Electric is getting rid of 500 workers to maintain its profits. In La-Roche-sur-Yon, Michelin is set to shut down a whole plant.

Employers permanently appeal to employees’ “work ethic”, but they actually destroy working conditions and make the working atmosphere worse when they cut jobs or put pressure on working people, asking them to “outperform” competitors. 

This policy makes for happy shareholders. Michelin, Peugeot, Arnault, Pinault and companies can live a life of luxury while the rest of society struggles and pays the bill through mass unemployment, frozen wages, longer working weeks and an increased rate of work. On top of that, public services are being drastically reduced because capitalists don’t just exploit workers, they also want a good share of the state’s money.

All of us, workers and employees, have the same reasons to be angry and fight back against the irresponsible people who are causing society to head into disaster.

In present-day society, many are ready to bend over backward to please bankers, shareholders and the wealthy. The problem is that their greed has no limits. So if we want to keep decent living conditions, we have no choice but to fight back. We have the capacity to do so, provided we engage in collective struggles. 

When Paris transit workers walked out on September 13, they showed how impressive their collective strength is. Last week, when railroad workers decided to suspend work for security reasons and brought part of the country to a standstill for two days, they gave us an idea of what the working class could accomplish if all workers walked at the same pace.

Each time railroad workers or other public sector wage-earners stand for their legitimate demands, the government and the media sing the same old song. They accuse these workers of being privileged, even though they are essential to the smooth running of society--which can hardly be said of the real privileged who’ve got billions to play with and are genuinely parasitic. 

It's really important that we don't allow them to divide us. The more combative workers will show us the way. By expressing their anger they’ll give us an opportunity to express our own wrath.

We’ll have such an opportunity on December 5, as several unions are calling for a day of across-the-board strike action on pensions. Faced with the anger of railroad and Paris transit workers and given the high tension climate they’ve created, the government might be tempted to back down and open the floodgates. This is a not-to-be-missed opportunity! 

Concerning pensions, the government could also choose to drag things out. But whatever decision is made, the Macron government and the bosses will continue to attack workers’ conditions. So, if it’s possible to transform December 5 into a more general challenge, let's do it.

Railroad workers and Paris transit employees have shown their strength. Their fight must inspire all other workers to join the battle and transform it into a general movement.