French show their fraternity as public donates €500k to striking rail workers

The French are living up to their renowned principle of fraternité as a fund launched to support striking rail workers, who have caused train travel misery, has pulled in a record half a million euros in just over two weeks.

French show their fraternity as public donates €500k to striking rail workers
Commuters wait on a crowded platform at Gare de Lyon in Paris on a strike day. Photo: AFP

More than 15,500 people have contributed to the kitty via the fundraising website Leetchi since it was set up on March 23, before the first of the rolling two-day strikes began last week.

A total of €527,285 had been collected by Monday at midday, with the figure rising several thousand euros by the hour.

“When I was young, we used to organise collections for local workers on strike,” said Jean-Marc Salmon, a sociologist who launched the online fundraiser. “I simply wanted to rehabilitate this practice using the internet.”

The money will be distributed to the various unions participating in the strike in proportion to their representation among SNCF workers.

The hardline CGT will get the biggest share, 34 percent, and will then distribute the cash to striking workers to make up for the pay they lose when they walk off the job.


Why talking about France's 'strike culture' is a such sensitive topic

Unsa-Ferroviaire union will get 24 percent and Sud-Rail will take 17 percent of the fund, with the rest being distributed to a range of smaller unions.

“I unreservedly support the rail workers in their defence of public service,” wrote one donor on the Leetchi site, which allows contributors to leave comments when they pay in.

When The Local spoke to rail passengers affected by the strike many were supportive.

“I completely agree with the rail workers and the reasons behind what they're doing,” Hamet Sylla, whose train from Gare du Nord had been delayed for five hours, told The Local. 
“It's absolutely vital to protect your rights and keep on fighting those trying to take them away. And the disruption to our day might be annoying but this is part of living in a society where you have the right to protect yourself.”

The strikes, which began on April 3rd and are set to run until the end of June, have cost the SNCF around 100 million euros so far, the operator's chief executive Guillaume Pepy said on Monday.

Workers have pledged two days of stoppages every five days to protest the government's planned overhaul of the operator, which according to Pepy have caused losses of around 20 million euros per day.

On Monday around one in five high-speed TGV trains was running whilst no Ouigo trains – low cost TGV services – were operating.

France's regional TER trains were running a third of the usual services while Intercité trains were badly hit with only one of six trains running.




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.