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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: Réforme ferroviaire : les raisons d’une grève massive

by Marion D’Allard

Rail Reform: The Reasons for a Massive Strike

Translated Friday 20 June 2014, by Gene Zbikowski

The sixth day of the rail workers’ strike against the rail reform bill. The bill is to be tabled in the French National Assembly on June 17. The CGT and SUD-Rail call for broadening the strike.

Frédéric Cuvillier wanted to believe there would be “an exit from the crisis” on the evening of June 12, following his meeting with the rail workers unions. The meager commitments made by the junior minister for transport were not to suffice.

“For the first time, at our meeting with Frédéric Cuvillier, the question of financing the system was brought up,” Gilbert Garrel, the general secretary of the CGT rail union, revealed on the evening of June 13. But bringing something up does not mean solving it. For the rest, the junior minister laid out a certain number of proposals that could become amendments when there is a vote on the bill, which the government still intends to present to the National Assembly on June 17. These proposals “have a large number of flaws,” say the CGT and SUD-Rail, which have called on the rail workers “to continue and broaden the strike.”

“The government states that the answers provided in this text, which it proposes that we sign, are of a nature to respond to the legitimate concerns of the rail users and the rail workers. (…) it is evident that it is not Mr. Cuvillier’s commitments on amendments, which will be subject to eventual validation by the members of the French parliament, which will make it possible to put an end to this conflict,” according to an open letter to French President François Hollande, written by Thierry Lepaon, the general secretary of the CGT, and Gilbert Carrel.

The government and SNCF may very well communicate on the desirability of a reform permitting the “reunification” of a rail system that has been split up since 1997 and the creation of RFF, via the creation of two public companies (EPICs) headed by a third, a “top EPIC.” The fact is, the bill proposes to reunite two companies by creating three. “The manager of the rail network (RFF – editor’s note) and the transport company (SNCF – editor’s note) would be two distinct companies, each with its own board of directors, distinct contracts with the government, and separate production, which will not make it possible to guarantee quality rail transport while realizing useful work on the tracks,” the CGT states.

Moreover, the bill does not broach the question of debt reduction for the rail system, which is burdened with over 40 billion euros in debt, in large part contracted by the government during the development of the high speed lines in the 1980s. The bill limits itself to “stabilizing” the amount of debt. And yet, the question of financing is primordial in that it conditions the social aspects of this reform.

The rail workers, who have been on a renewable strike for six days, are also fighting so that they will not be the ones to make all the sacrifices to save a rail system that is suffocating.

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