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Strike: the “Yellow Vests” of the SNCF

PFor once, the unions have almost nothing to do with it. The CGT, Sud Rail, the CFDT or even the Unsa are not at the origin of the strike which is paralyzing part of the main line network (TGV and Intercités) this weekend, and perhaps those of Christmas and new Year’s Day. They clung to an informal movement of ASCTs (Agents of the commercial train service, that is to say the controllers), born first on a Facebook page bringing together some 3,000 of them, according to The world. “These are the yellow vests of the SNCF! observes Gilles Dansart, expert in the railway sector and responsible for the specialist newsletter Mobilettre.

Controllers feel left out. Since this year, train drivers have had the status of supervisor, not them. They also say they suffer from a lack of consideration, means, money, and rail against the living conditions to which they are subjected, including many nights away from home (about ten per month)… “The controllers are in first line in trains. They suffer the consequences of the inconveniences experienced by travelers, such as clogged toilets or the absence of air conditioning, ”explains Didier Mathis, the secretary general of Unsa Ferroviaire.

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But the controllers short-circuited the trade unions, however powerful at the SNCF. Since the Macron reform of 2020 creating a single Social and Economic Committee, the railway workers are, say the unions, less in contact with their staff representatives, drowned in this new structure. In addition, the SNCF is now organized into subsidiaries (SNCF Réseau, SNCF Gare et Connexion, SNCF Voyageurs, etc.), which also breaks up the union forces.

Finally, the railway workers’ unions seem increasingly unsuitable. The CGT, the SNCF’s leading union, is highly centralized and does not involve enough activists; Unsa mainly represents executives; FO only has a few strongholds… The controllers have therefore organized themselves in order to defend their own corporation. This is the first time since 1986 that such an informal movement has arisen within the railway company. At the time, freight railway workers, for the most part, had fought against the “Radio ground train” reform, which replaced a second driver with a radio link.

The problem is that you can’t claim just anyhow within a company. It is a question of being organized, and representative of the employees. The controllers have therefore spoken with the unions, so that they defend their demands with the management. Sud Rail and the CFDT, which correspond the most to their mode of action, have taken them under their wing. On November 2, the two unions filed a strike notice for the weekends of December 2 to 5, from January 23 to 26 and then from January 30 to 2; Unsa and CGT then joined them.

When the CGT calms the ardor of the strikers

Beforehand, these unions had to negotiate with… the controllers. This is the failing of spontaneous actions: their leaders are not necessarily experienced in the art of negotiation nor in the subtleties of a company like the SNCF. “There was food and drink in their demands, we had to sort it out! recalls, a little bewildered, a union leader. The controllers, for example, wanted the SNCF to pay them a profit-sharing equal to that granted to its employees by TotalEnergies, which reaped solid profits thanks to soaring energy prices… “We had to make them understand that SNCF is not exactly Total! testifies a trade unionist.

In a rather paradoxical way, Sud Rail or the CGT therefore had to calm the ardor of the controllers. “Even the CGT is used to the culture of negotiation, while these strikers say: We want to get what we claim. The problem is that this movement is facing corporate management in order to get something; he is not leading a political fight,” explains Gilles Dansart.

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Budding strikers don’t necessarily have a sense of timing either. “They have a hard time understanding everything. First, they were told that it was better to wait for the annual wage negotiation, which starts the second week of December, because they would be better heard if they weighed in with the other unions. They nevertheless negotiated with the management, but they refused a bonus of 600 euros gross per year. Some did not even know that it could be included in the calculation of pensions! » grumbles the same trade unionist.

Discussions also focused on strategy. Railway unions await the content of the pension reform, announced on December 15. Unions have debated whether to support the controllers’ strike now, or wait until the end of the month (or even the beginning of next year) to launch a single big mass movement. The yellow vests of the SNCF have decided; they didn’t want to wait. And SNCF passengers are suffering the consequences from this weekend, and perhaps during the holidays.

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