French railway workers: “An international struggle is necessary”
18 November 2008
The World Socialist Web Site interviewed CGT marchers on Thursday’s European-wide demonstration of railway workers in Paris against privatisation.
David, 35, from Gap in southeast France, has been a railwayman since the age of 17. He said he was motivated by his opposition to the increasingly precarious situation facing rail workers. “We want to support our colleagues in the private sector against inequality,” he said. “We must be aware of the European dimension. With the growth of private enterprise in our sector, we risk losing our statutory rights. The SNCF is buying into the private sector where workers do not have the same conditions as we do.”
David asserted, “At a European level, all rail workers must act together.” Asked whether he thought the struggle should be extended to all workers, he said, “This is a bit what the CGT wants. But it’s very hard.”
Asked about the role of the CGT in the fight for the special pension schemes, David replied defensively, “[CGT leader Bernard] Thibault did his best with the forces at his disposal. Perhaps he didn’t have enough support.”
Claude Couturier, 27, also a railway worker since age 17, said that his job as a locomotive maintenance mechanic is getting harder. He feared that the opening up to the market made it essential to fight for working conditions “to have the best rail service and the best jobs possible.”
He said, “I think that, since the latest European decrees on the railways, an international struggle is necessary ... a national struggle is inadequate. The aim should be the struggle of the whole working class against capitalism … but there’s certainly work to be done. The most important demand must be the socialisation of the means of production.
“Unfortunately, there’s no party in France or in Europe that has this aim, but I hope considering the present situation, that this party will emerge. It needs building. The main task of the working class is to get rid of the pro-capitalist governments in Europe—the problem is to have an organisation to build an alternative.”
Claude added, “We had a lot of discussion in the CGT over the role of the union in 2007 in the pension struggle. The rest of the working class did not follow our lead, despite the fact that our struggle was for better pensions for all the working class.”
He said that he had not been aware that the CGT had participated in the Common Position and the law deregulating working hours and dismantling the 35-hour week.
David, 31, has worked for the SNCF for eight years and is currently a team leader in charge of machinery and locomotives in Aquitaine in southwest France. He said that the 2007 strike was the first he had been on since leaving high school.
“It didn’t go well for us,” he said. “We must continue the struggle, say no to privatisation and link up throughout Europe. Europe needs a unified rail network as a public service accessible to all and reaching all communities. It should not be a ‘cake’ to be sliced up by private enterprise.”