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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: Les cheminots européens battent le pavé parisien

by Pierre-Henri Lab

European Railway Workers March in Paris

Social - economy

Translated Tuesday 25 November 2008, by Kieran O’Meara

Mobilisation- 25000 people from a dozen countries of the European Union have demonstrated in Paris against the opening up of the railways to competition.

Car-horns, loud bangers, red smoke-bombs, overloaded PA systems spluttering alternative rock hits, a colourful procession… It was amidst a highly-charged atmosphere that 25000 railway workers marched yesterday in Paris from the Place Bastille to Montparnasse. Called by the railway section of the European Transport Workers Federation (ETF), the demonstrators had come to say “No more deregulation!”

A chance to act

The foreign delegations, which came for the most part from the countries of Western Europe, marched to the front of the procession. They were warmly applauded by an impromptu guard of honour formed by several dozen CGT activists. CGT members, of whom there was a great number, made up the greater part of the demonstration. Railway sections from other French unions such as the CFDT, SUD or the CFE-CGC had visibly done little to mobilize their members.

At the head of the demonstration, alongside other union leaders was Bernard Thibault, the general secretary of the CGT. “A few weeks ago, the President of the Republic told us it was the end of ‘leaving the market to its own devices’. Well now he has a chance to act on his words. "In the railway industry, competition is bad for the quality of service to the passengers, bad for working conditions, and bad for the employment of railway workers,” Thibault said.

The aforementioned message from the President is apparently no longer relevant. Having met the secretary of State for Transport, Dominique Bussereau, yesterday morning to ask him to call a halt to the introduction of competition and to proceed to an ‘independent evaluation of its consequences, a delegation from the ETF has received no response. “Unfortunately, things happened as we had feared. We were listened to with respect but that’s all. Each of us put forward a picture of the situation in the railway industry in our respective countries. What remains for us is to mobilize our members,” summed up the general secretary of the CGT railway section, Didier Le Reste.

This is a viewpoint shared by Oliver New, a member of leadership of the British union, RMT.
Accompanied by about a hundred activists from his organisation, New was eager to make an appeal: “We’ve come to tell our French friends in the CGT, the CFDT, the FO and all of the European unions to reject the separation of the management of rail infrastructure from the running of the rail network. We in Great Britain know where that leads. Our country is an example of exactly what we should not do as far as the railways are concerned.” Oliver New said that in his country, “the railway station is completely dismembered” “We have 25 operators for whom the only thing that matters is making profits. The result —employment for railway workers has seriously decreased, insecurity is the norm. The massive use of subcontracting has resulted in the deterioration of the quality of service and is responsible for a series of spectacular accidents in Great Britain,” the union leader added.

Even if the situation in other European Union countries is not yet as serious, the judgement of union members on deregulation was also definitive. “In Portugal, where only freight has been deregulated for the time being, we are experiencing massive job losses and the undermining of labour regulations,” said Manuel Cruz of the CGTP. On being asked, railway workers from Belgium, Germany, Austria, Italy and Luxembourg had the same story to tell: “Deregulation does not develop the railways. On the contrary, it destroys them.”

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