‘Greedy rail workers’: How the French feel about the latest crippling strikes

As France faced another day of disruptive strikes by rail workers and public service workers on Thursday, the French held very different opinions towards those who were causing the travel chaos.

'Greedy rail workers': How the French feel about the latest crippling strikes
An employee of the French state owned railway company SNCF walks by empty platforms on March 22, 2018 Photo: AFP
A wave of industrial action hit France on Thursday with rail and public service strikes causing headaches for commuters and passengers.
Despite the latest disruption at train stations and airports, French unions hoped the general public would support the action, with Yves Veyrier a spokesman for the union Force Ouvriere telling The Local: “People must understand, this is a last resort and this is about the future of France's public service for everyone.”
But rather than getting the full support of the country they were hoping for, the unions' latest move to pressure the government prompted divided opinions. 
A poll carried out on behalf of French bank Banque française mutualiste, newspaper “L'Obs” and France Inter published on Wednesday showed that 55 percent of the French public were favorable to the March 22nd strikes.
“We are in a country where there has always been sympathy towards strikers,” French historian Stephane Sirot told The Local. “At the moment there's not really a strong hostility towards them but that could change in the coming weeks.”
However a surprising detail was revealed by the poll which showed that in spite of the fact that a small majority supported the strikers, most respondents (six out of ten) also supported most of the planned government reforms which they see as a way to avoid services going downhill. 
There was just one crucial exception — public service reforms. 
Fewer people surveyed (around 50 percent) said they backed the government's planned public service reforms which include drastically cutting the number of civil servants, changing sick pay and increasing the use of contract workers.
However there was less sympathy towards the country's rail workers who were also out on strike on Thursday to protest the government's planned modernisation of the heavily indebted rail sector which includes the controversial move to end the special employment status for cheminots.

In a recent poll some 69 percent agreed that the special employment status of rail workers needs to be reformed.

Another poll revealed that for 58 percent of the public any strikes by rail workers over the planned reforms were “not justified”.

French strikes LATEST: France hit by major travel disruption
Photo: AFP
With the country clearly divided, the split was nowhere more evident than on social media, with many taking to Twitter to voice their views.
In an example of how the public were more sympathetic towards public service workers than rail staff (cheminots) a tweeter named Arnaud wrote:”The French do not support the greedy cheminots because they only defend their statutes and their privileges while all the French support the nursing staff and therefore our #hospitals.”

Meanwhile, others voiced their frustration with the strikers.
“I regret to announce to the strikers that they can't bother me during this #Strike22March or in the future, I can get everywhere on foot hahaha :D. Bravo Macron for reforming this situation and the SNCF in general: frequent delays, more and more accidents and massive debt!” wrote one Twitter user. 

“Dear striker, yes, YOU! Know that I, a business owner, don't have time to go on strike, I don't have the time to waste because I don't have any [time]. I don't have a quarter of the advantages that you have and look at what you're doing. I'm not the sucker, you are.” wrote another. 

Readers of The Local also voiced their frustration over the strikes. 

Others were far more sympathetic towards the cause o rail workers. One person took to Twitter to write: “Traveller who supports rail workers!!! In support of the public services” (see below). 
“The SNCF belongs to the nation! #Strike22March #22March #ISupportTheRailWorkers,” wrote another user. 


And other Twitter users who supported the strike targeted French President Emmanuel Macron directly. 


“How to stop Macron? #Simple #Basic #22March #Strike22March #Togetherinthesocialbattle



French customs officers strike over job cuts

Customs officers across France will walk out on Thursday in protest at job cuts that unions say will “weaken the customs network”.

French customs officers strike over job cuts

The national strike on Thursday, March 10th is expected to lead to delays at ports, airports and on the Eurostar.

The strike, which will include a rally outside the National Assembly building in Paris, was called by the CFDT-Douane and has the support of other unions. 

A work-to-rule protest over pay and conditions by customs officers in 2019, under the shadow of Brexit, led to delays and disruption at airports, as well as ports including Calais and Dunkirk, and on Eurostar trains.

Unions are calling on the government to axe plans to switch responsibility for import duty collection to the Direction Générale des Finances Publiques by 2024, at the cost of 700 customs’ officer jobs – and, according to strikers, tens of billions of euros to State coffers.

“We are asking for the reforms to be stopped, mainly that of the transfer of taxation, which is disorganising the network with the elimination of nearly a thousand jobs,” CFDT-Douane’s secretary general David-Olivier Caron said.

The planned job cuts come after years of restructuring and streamlining that has seen thousands of positions disappear, the unions say, when customs fraud and smuggling is rising because of a lack of resources.