French rail strikers resort to sabotage as movement grows militant

French rail chiefs reported 50 different acts of malicious sabotage on train lines on Monday with authorities fearing strikers will increasingly take matters into their own hands to keep up the pressure on the government.

French rail strikers resort to sabotage as movement grows militant
Photo: AFP

SNCF have lodged official complaints over some 50 acts of sabotage on train lines during Monday's day of strike action by rail workers.

Fewer and fewer rail staff have been taking part in the strikes as the weeks have gone on but Monday, the 18th day of the ongoing rolling strikes, was dubbed “the day without rail workers” and saw a jump in the number of rail workers downing tools compared to recent strike day.

The UNSA union had said it was “vital to deal a heavy blow” to pressure the government into making concessions.

But it appeared some strikers resorted to illegal action in order to create chaos on the trains.

Cables were also mysteriously cut in the southern port of Marseille that led to a power outage across the whole of the St Charles train station and overhead cables were also cut in the northwestern region of Normandy, in what the SNCF said appeared to be deliberate acts of sabotage aimed at further snarling traffic. 

“There were about fifty incidents of varying levels,” said a spokesperson for SNCF.

“They ranged from disturbances at level crossings to losing keys to offices, and of course the power cut in Marseille and the cutting of an overhead line in Normandy, ” said the spokesman.

SNCF described the cutting of the overhead cable in Normandy as a ” a highly technical deliberate act”.

“It was obvious it was an act of sabotage,” said the spokesperson before adding that French police will investigate the matter.

Even after power was restored in Marseille, rail workers and protesting students took to the tracks to block trains.

The SNCF believe these militant acts are a sign that the ongoing conflict over between unions and the government over plans to reform the heavily indebted SNCF is petering out.

“Generally these kind of acts happen at he end of a conflict,” said SNCF's deputy general director Mathias Vicherat. “We consider that these acts are a misapplication of the right to strike.”

While Monday saw a jump in participation, the percentage of rail workers taking part in the strike had fallen to 14.5 percent. Unions also know that public opinion and time appears to be against them. 

Opinion polls suggest a majority of French voters back the reforms. The lower house of parliament has already given them the green light, and the Senate is to vote on them this month.

But with the strikes to run until the end of June, rail passengers can expect more disruption caused by sabotage in the weeks to come.







Member comments

  1. What militant trade unionist don`t seem to learn and understand is that strikes and illegal action achieves nothing but anger and resentment from the companies and the general public.
    Everybody,in their working lives, does a little bit more than they are paid to do. A work to rule, in any dispute, disrupts the smooth running of any company and achieves results without too much antagonism.
    Try it, believe me, it works.

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French rail workers press ahead with latest two-day strike

French rail workers launched their latest two-day strike on Sunday over plans to overhaul the heavily indebted train operator SNCF, the biggest test yet to President Emmanuel Macron's wide-ranging drive to reform the country's econom

French rail workers press ahead with latest two-day strike
Workers take part in a rally called by the French trade union CGT at the Saint-Charles train station in Marseille last week. Photo: BERTRAND LANGLOIS / AFP
Neither side appears ready to back down, with Prime Minister Edouard Philippe warning that the government would not be deterred despite union pledges for three months of rolling stoppages, and possibly more.
“I get messages from people who support the government, saying we need to carry this through all the way. And that's what we are going to do,” Philippe told the Parisien newspaper Sunday.
Disruptions were so far less severe than the first two days of the strike last week, though the SNCF warned of more cancellations possible on Monday for the network's 4.5 million daily passengers.
So far, just one in five high-speed TGV trains were running, as well as one in five on main lines, while one in three regional trains were operating,
including in the Paris region.
About 20 percent of Eurostar trains under the Channel Tunnel were expected to be cancelled both Sunday and Monday, and again on Friday and Saturday.
Public opinion appears to be swinging toward the government, with an Ifop poll published Sunday by the Journal du Dimanche newspaper — carried out April 5-6, just after last week's strike — showing 62 percent in favour of the SNCF reform.
It was an increase of 11 percentage points from Ifop's survey on March 30-31, in which just 51 percent supported the reform.
“I understand the determination of certain unions, but they need to understand mine as well,” Philippe said.
Macron, who has hardly spoken publicly about the conflict so far, is scheduled to give an hour-long TV interview on Thursday.
Battle for public opinion
Two days of talks between the government and union officials last week failed to point to any deal, with Laurent Brun of the CGT's rail branch saying
Friday that the strike could extend beyond June 28.
“We're going to have a marathon if the government forces it,” he said.
At stake is the government's plan to deny a guaranteed job for life and early pensions to new hires, which it says is necessary for improving the
SNCF's flexibility and cutting costs.
The company has some 47 billion euros in legacy debt, part of which the government may absorb as part of the overhaul, ahead of opening up European passenger rail traffic to competition starting from 2020.
Workers also fear that if rivals take over lines previously operated by the SNCF, they will lose their job security and other benefits.
“Everyone can understand that in a company that's losing money, workers' futures can't be guaranteed,” Ecology Minister Nicolas Hulot wrote in the
Journal du Dimanche on Sunday.
But rail unions are hoping to take advantage of a growing atmosphere ofsocial discontent against Macron's reforms, including protests and strikes by
civil servants, energy workers and garbage collectors.
Employees at Air France, in which the government holds a minority stake, also went on strike again Saturday seeking a six percent pay raise, and
students have been blocking several public universities over Macron's plan to introduce more selective applications.
'Resentments running high'
Many analysts say the chances of any “convergence of struggles” appear remote, given the lack of a common goal among the various groups, but don't rule it out completely.
“Resentments today are running high, and these social movements can take on a life of their own that unions can't always control,” said Jean-Marie Pernot, a labour specialist at the Institute for Economic and Social Research (IRES).
The strikes, which come as a series of two-week school vacations begin across France, have thousands of people scrambling to make alternative plans.
“For me, it's possible, because I live alone,” said Francoise, 60, who avoided Sunday's strike by taking a train from Bordeaux to Paris a day earlier.
“But it's much more complicated for people with jobs that aren't that flexible, or who have children,” she said.
Other travellers are trying to work from home or turning to carpooling sites, who have been flooded with requests.
BlaBlaCar, the market leader for shared rides in France, said demand for spaces in its members' cars surged tenfold on strike days last week.