French rail strikes latest: First weekend of holidays to be hit

While French rail unions are split two of the militant organisations have called on their members to walk off the job on July 6th and 7th, the first weekend of the sacrosanct summer holidays.

French rail strikes latest: First weekend of holidays to be hit
A protester sticks a SUD union sticker on a riot policeman's shield during a demo against reforms of the SNCF rail company. Photo: AFP

Sud-Rail union announced on Tuesday, after a national council meeting, that it was calling on its members to walk off the job on July 6 and 7, the first weekend of the school summer holidays.

The hardline CGT, which is the most influential union among rail workers, had last week also proposed extending the rolling rail strikes on Friday 6th and Saturday July 7th, the first weekend of the grandes vacances, when many French head off on holiday.

But the CFDT-Cheminots, another major union for workers in the state-run SNCF rail company, decided on Tuesday not to take part in any strikes over the summer.

It said it would keep its powder dry until September, when unions will engage with SNCF management to try and agree the terms for workers under the reform of the debt-laden state rail operator.

UNSA, another big union in the SNCF, has already said it will not take part in any strikes in July.

With only two unions out of four opting to continue their strike on the first weekend of the summer holidays, it is not clear what the disruption will be to services.

The CGT-Cheminots union and others have been striking every few days since early April over President Emmanuel Macron's controversial rail reforms,  causing disruption for France's 4.5 million daily train commuters.

While turn-out at the beginning was big and services were severely impacted – only one in eight TGVs were operating in the first few days of the strikes – the number of strikers has continued to decrease meaning services have been less affected as the weeks have gone by.

Their latest two-day strike, on Wednesday and Thursday, was meant to be the last but now they seem set to go on with Sud and the CGT continuing their stoppages.

However Wednesday saw the lowest number of strikers join the walk-out since the movement began on April 3rd.

Only 8.43 percent of SNCF rail workers joined the strike and ls than 32.1 percent of train drivers, with the rate having been over 50 percent for most of the period of industrial action.

On Wednesday, four out of five TGVs are scheduled to run, three out of five inter-city trains, two thirds of Transilien commuter trains around Paris, and three out of five TER regional trains. Ninety percent of international trains are expected to run.

TGV trains at Gare de Lyon in April on the second day of three months of rolling rail strikes by SNCF workers. Photo: AFP
President Emmanuel Macron has pushed through the emblematic shake-up of train services despite stiff resistance from rail workers and their unions, who have carried out their longest strike in three decades in an attempt to derail the plan.

The rail reform was a key victory in the centrist president’s push to reform wide swathes of France's economy.

Unions have been resisting plans to end life-long job security to new recruits, as well as plans to turn the SNCF into a joint-stock company, which hey saw as a first step toward privatisation despite government denials.

Macron argued that the SNCF, saddled by debts of some 47 billion euros, needs to cut costs and improve flexibility before the EU passenger rail market is opened up to competition.


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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.