(Eng) Extract from _Le Monde Libertaire (1) (Fr)

neil birrell (neil@lds.co.uk)
Thu, 11 Jan 1996 21:22:01 +0100


THREE WEEKS FULL of struggle, huge demonstrations and an
incredible spirit of revolt which has pushed the last of the 'hard
core' to refuse to go back to work: we have really spent a month of
imagination with the railworkers which allows us to think that for
a long time to come things aren't going to be like they were. The
results are there for all to see: a freezing and a renegotiation of the
contract plan, an agreement to honour the old system of
calculating conditions relating to retirement and termination of
employment, salary negotiations for 1996, a freezing of the
redundancy programme, a freezing of restructurisation and
splitting up of the company and even the resignation of
Bergougnoux (TN managing director of the SNCF) without
anybody asking for it. Yes, it is fair to say that we have achieved a
famous victory. But it is also obvious that the bourgeoisie, with
Juppe' in the lead, has not lost a lot of ground and notably on the
plans for the social security system we must be ready to prepare
for more struggles. The bourgeoisie are not on their knees they are
getting ready to come back for more.


Within the General Assemblies since the 14th December returning
to work seemed a good idea: our wonderful comrades in the
CFDT, these untiring 'class strugglers', left it to the railway
workers to decide how to pursue the action. As if we were waiting
for them to tell us what to do! These 'comrades' who were however
being presented by the media as the good guys, had decided that
the government had given solemn undertakings to the French
people in such a way that they wouldn't dare lie to the good people
by going back on their promises. For the railway workers on the
other hand the problem was clear: you don't stop a three week
strike without detailed written calculations and as a consequence
of this the General Assemblies, with the exception of Strasbourg,
decided to carry on with the strike. Still on the 14th at 9.15 in the
evening the letter from the Transport Minister arrived which
showed that he accepted all the workers demands with the
exception of that relating to the 175 billion franc debt. On that
note there was relief from the weaker ones who then gave a firm
call to go back to work reckoning that they had 'won' a battle that
others had fought. The outcome was to surprise nobody: a timid
drift back to work, slowed down by the knowledge that they had
got very little compared with what could have been obtained and
with remorse at having to leave behind comrades met at other
factories, strikers they had met at the demos and the students who
had taken it on themselves to fill the coffers for the strike.

Thus the network was not back to normal until Monday the 18th
December with the Midi (TN South of France), Rouen and a few
others staying on strike for nearly a week longer and occupying at
the same time. All in all this 'great victory' has left a bad taste in
the mouths of the railworkers... but it isn't over yet, far from it. On
Tuesday the 19th December, wherever they were able to, the
unions met up with the regional managements of the SNCF who
laid it down in black and white: no question of going back on the
question of redundancies as envisioned before the ministers letter
was sent. The contract had been frozen until the 30th April and
then it would be executed. Given this situation a threat of further
strike action for an unlimited period beginning on the 24th
December was put on the table. The following day the SNCF
mannagers went back on their redundancy and restructuration
plans and accepted the status quo.


People have spoken a lot about a private sector proxy strike (TN
the private sector whilst not striking directly had a lot of sympathy
for the strikers). If this is a real phenomenon it would be useful to
put it in a real and relative context. In fact, we should note, that in
many cases there has been no 'strike of the heart' because the
workers voted with their feet. On the 28th November they went out
onto the street, and stayed there. In the Rhone-Alpes, it was
Grenoble that gave the best example of this; since the 28th
November, most of the big companies - those with a 'modern'
reputation in the area - were on the street with no intention of
doing anything else (...). And of course, there as elsewhere, this
wasn't just a matter of chance but rather a determined expression
of the workers, militant syndicalists or not, to make some sense of
the revolt by other workers who are outraged by the unfairness of
this society.

However, as we were all able to see, there were many places where
the strike didn't happen. We could base an explanation on the
actions of the timid ones, CFDT in the lead, but this would not be
enough to explain how such a wide spread movement, which had
not been listening, at least up until then, to the strike breakers, was
able to hesitate so much that finally half of those who could have
been there stayed on the track. Let's be quite clear: years of
syndicalist bureaucracy has been more effective in putting a brake
on the struggle than all the parasites with their bad intentions and
their shady dealings. Thus the CGT who have had such a good
strike are so angry that the UD and the UL have sometimes made
them wait a week or more simply for a statement and that Vianet
(TN general secretary of the CGT) and other permanent members
of the confederal offices should have wait a week and a half to
speak (under their breath) about generalising the conflict. In the
factories also the delegates sabotaged the struggle. At Chambery,
for example, those irresponsible members of the CPAM gave
warning of a two hour walk out... whereas the General Assembly
had voted for a resumption of an all out strike; these 'comrades'
felt this to be unrealistic. Renault's Industrial Vehicles subdivision,
again located in Chambery, saw its union members congratulate
the railworkers who came to hand out leaflets but never even
thought of organising a General Assembly to find out the wishes of
a group of metal workers who have a reputation for militantcy.
We can go over all this again and again but the problem will still
remain: even if a movement is spontaneous along with all the
qualities that that brings with it, if unionism remains what it is,
that is to say in a large degree a movement of seperate social
partners in a revolutionnary social project it will be impossible for
the movement to go beyond the stage of confrontation and become
truly self-organising. Nothing is finished, as expected the
bourgeoisie wish to put us back in our places and the victory of the
workers will depend on their state of preparation. This is a
struggle... and we must win it.