Train strike 56 pics DS
YOUTH TAKES ON THE RAILWAY
The election of Emanuel Macron in May 2017 rewrote the rulebook for French politics, yet the new governments economic orientation is in line with its predecesors, particularly that of President François Hollande, of which Macron was at the heart. This economic standpoint is seen by the working world as the cause of the deteriorating public services in French society. The reform of the national railway company, SNCF, is one of the government's major projects, but it reignites social conflict in this company where tensions are very high. In the spring of 2016, railway workers led a strike lasting several weeks, which the employees ultimately lost, but was key in introducing a new demographic into the political landscape: the youth. The strike announced by the unions in March 2018 could be a continuation of those in 2016, shining light on profound social issues that go beyond the simple question of French railways.
The sons of teachers or railroad workers, from the provinces or from the suburb ghettos, of Norman or Moroccan origin, with a university background or not, they share some common codes, the same language, the same new medias. What’s more, they have another thing in common: French society collapsing in on them. They are the new face of a France that France doesn’t want to see: multicultural, hyper-wired, full of energy, but also without any perspectives. A generation with no future. And without future, it is hard to feed dreams. This generation’s areas of interest are very materialistic.
The youth in May 68 had been fed on great battles, great History. Their imagination and their utopias had marked the French society. Today’s youth has been fed with insecurity and fantasies about decline. They don’t seek to change the world as much as to be part of it. They mainly fights exclusion. Especially their own exclusion, from a society that hasn’t even thought of giving her a place. Having a stable job, an apartment, having children: this is what the young French are looking for.
And that’s why they are quite a few that choose to work at the SNCF, the French national railway company. The deterioration of working conditions and job insecurity are not as strong as they are in some other sectors. Having a relatively secure job allows them to project themselves in the future. Also, the SNCF is one of the last bastions of the working class, in a country where the elites don’t even say the word “labor” anymore. In the SNCF, these young people find some solidarity and build friendships. And they also try to be to be part of a long history of fights for social justice and the defence of public services.
They try to do this by being active in the unions, not only to defend a heritage but also to change the organizations from within. They move beyond the established framework of traditional activism. They are members of the CGT or SUD, but even more they belong to the same generation. Labels are not that important anymore. The dynamics are more and more “horizontal”, isolating the union’s heads from the base.
The young unionists try new things. They grope for answers. They know they must reinvent the way to fight. At the St-Lazare train station, those young people are the one who took the control of the strike against the labor act and the new flexibility plan of the SNCF
This internal conflict within the SNCF and the national strike against the labor act have fed on each other. A huge number of train workers were ready to be involved in the strike very early on in the spring. But not the head of the CGT, the main French union. The union chose to delay the beginning of a massive strike. It broke the dynamics, and therefore widened a little more the gap between the CGT’s direction and the base. Nevertheless the youth got a foot in the door. It has shaken up things, maybe more than we think.