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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: Accord et reprise du travail au port de Marseille

by Christophe Deroubaix

Agreement and resumption of work at the port of Marseilles

Translated Sunday 30 December 2007, by Gene Zbikowski

Agreement and resumption of work at the port of Marseilles

Methane tankers. The strikers at the Fos and Lavéra sites approved an agreement on Saturday. It maintains public employment in the port area without affecting the public gas company employees.

Marseilles, by our regional correspondent.

(Translated from l’Humanité April 2007)

At the port of Marseilles, the longest conflict since 1992 ended on Saturday. The strikers, assembled in a general assembly at the house of trade unions in Martigues, unanimously approved the agreement to end the crisis. The agreement had been drawn up the previous day by the CGT trade union at the independent port of Marseilles (PAM) and the public gas company GDF. The text provides for the creation of five jobs reserved to port workers at the future GDF2 site. Since the beginning of the strike on March 12, the CGT has demanded that the connecting and disconnecting of methane tankers be done by PAM workers.

On the subject of privatization.

Consequently, the agreement comes close to the workers demands. “Our proposals have changed. We discussed the sharing of the work,” underlined Mireille Chessa, the general secretary of the CGT trade union in the French département of Bouches-du-Rhône, shortly before negotiations were resumed.

In the end, the port workers will be involved in all the terminal activities. Together with GDF workers, their jobs will go beyond simply connecting and disconnecting the methane tankers. “The draft agreement does not affect the prerogatives of the GDF personnel,” underlined Pascal Galéoté, the deputy secretary of the CGT trade union at the port. According to GDF, this set-up “resolves the problem” of safety, which had been their concern throughout the conflict in which GDF opposed the presence of port workers at the GDF2 site. “When they put forward safety arguments, the real reason is to be found not only in the privatization of PAM workers (the PAM is a public company at present) but also in the privatization of GDF,” Mireille Chessa had retorted at that time.

While the modalities for the application of the agreement are still to be negotiated, the resumption of work was effective as of this weekend. The only political figure to react was Communist presidential candidate Marie-George Buffet, who felt the workers had “won a determining victory.” She also denounced the attitude of the government and “the withdrawal of the government” since 2002.

This affair was a turning point.

Despite this return to normal at the western basins (Fos-Lavéra) of the port of Marseilles, the problem remains. Why was it necessary to wait more than two weeks to find an agreement which, in the final analysis, is not particularly miraculous? Jean-Marc Coppola, the secretary of the French Communist Party federation, denounces the “very political use of the struggle” and denounces “the very great responsibility of the French government prefect, because he did not respect the promises that had been made.” Coppola, who was the administrator of the PAM from 1998 to 2002 repeated: “At that time, conflicts were limited because there was a common desire to limit them, while respecting both labor and management, and this permitted a growth in traffic.” “GDF was the beginning of the privatization of the port, it was a threat to jobs at the whole port. We knew that this affair was a turning point,” explained Pascal Galéoté.

And yet this “turning point” which was negotiated with a favorable outcome for the workers by the biggest trade union at the port is a precursor to others, such as the one concerning the FOS 2XL project which is to allow the Port of Marseilles to free itself of its dependence on oil (75% of the port activity) by tripling the container activity, which generates a lot of added value. The massive investment of 400 million euros will be made, half and half, by the public and private sectors. But the project provides for the creation of private terminals. They are the symbol of a change in balance, with private investment associated with a withdrawal of government involvement.

As for the part of the port that is located within the city of Marseilles itself, it is the object of many commercial and tertiary development projects (Terasses du Port, Luc Besson’s cinema complex), but no industrial project has yet been put forward, and the activity of these basins is suffering the consequences of de-industrialization. The case of the Saint-Louis Sucre sugar refinery, where management has announced the end of the refining activity in 2008, emphasizes this interdependence, since imported sugar cane is disembarked at the Marseilles quays of the PAM.

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