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Laurent Brun says: “the next phase is privatisation of the SNCF”

Translated Sunday 25 February 2018, by Daniel Horlor

The contents of the Spinetta report have “confirmed all the worst fears” of the CGT. In what way do the recommendations contradict the needs of passengers?

LB - This report simply avoids the question. It is focussed on the financial elements of the system, the total covering of costs, reduction of State contribution… It’s a purely economic report. For example, the internal work structure of the SNCF is not even mentioned, yet a high degree of specialisation creates stagnation in the working practices of the company and leads to a degradation in the quality of service delivered to end users. Moreover, the report buries the smallest railway lines, and with it the guarantee of access to the railway network to all. The report shows an intended increase in fares, along with an admission that regions will need to contribute more, and multiple references to the fact that passengers in France do not pay enough for the service.

Governance, debt, opening up the market to competition, the status of railway workers in the system; these were all points already addressed by the law of August 4th 2014, against which the railway workers have already fought hard. How would you analyse the introduction of a second round of reforms less than four years later?

LB - It’s exactly what the CGT was critical of at the time - namely, a law which resolves nothing but which actually prepares the way for a total dismantling of the system. The 2014 reforms created two distinct companies under a third umbrella company, and the Spinetta report now advocates for a change to the governance of these companies, eventually opening them up to privatisation. That’s what we would call the thread that connects this dogma.

However, Guillaume Pepy declared that privatisation would happen only “in my wildest dreams”...

LB - He’s just trying to avoid the landmines in the report. His promises are worth nothing. To illustrate this, our friends in the telecoms sector have just reminded us of Paul Quiles’ (Editor’s note: Socialist Minister of Mail and Telecoms 1988-1991) letter of 1989 which promised that privatisation would not be the result of the reorganisation of the PTT (formerly the French Post Office and Telecoms service). We all know how that turned out. Spinetta will turn the SNCF into an anonymous company with the state as a shareholder - and therefore free to sell those shares. Whereas today, the state is the sole owner of the SNCF as a so-called EPIC (Editor’s note: Public body of a commercial or industrial nature). These are hardly the same thing.

The unions were received by Elisabeth Borne, Minister for Transportation. The executive team is using the term “dialogue”. What is your feeling?

LB - Let me first address the formalities of the meeting. While the passenger and management representatives were met by the Prime Minister, it seems that the union representatives were not worthy of the same treatment. A clear show of contempt for working people. In terms of the content, the minister was most concerned with limiting the damage on the announcement of the small line closures - squeaking out a few lines to guarantee financing for network infrastructure investment which was previously threatened by Spinetta. The only problem there is that the measures address only existing contracts, and not those yet to be signed. In any case, if those small lines are being threatened it is due to their age - older lines require this maintenance; otherwise they will simply have to close. And yet, the minister went on to say that the majority of state investment will go towards the networks in urban areas. What’s really happening here is that by placing the responsibility of these smallest lines in the hands of the regions, the government is effectively confirming their closure, given that the finances simply don’t exist to carry out the works needed to assure their continued operation. Plainly put, it is a balkanisation of the country which comes back to the key question of economic inequality in the regions, in turn determining whether or not the population has access to the rail network.

The CGT is calling on railway workers to join a national protest on March 22nd. A general meeting of the country’s railway workers unions is planned for tomorrow evening. How do you see the balance of power playing out?

LB - First of all, the general meeting will allow the unions to exchange points of view on the Spinetta report and the ministerial meeting. We’ll then see if it’s possible to build consensus. There are entrenched political divisions between certain unions, for example on the question of market competition. With that in mind, we must either wait to come to agreement - which may not be possible - or go directly to our union members. If all the unions are in agreement, it’s a powerful motivational message. But whatever happens, railway workers will mobilise against the damage to public services and their welfare rights - be that a united front of all the unions or the CGT standing alone.

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