SNCF Worker Strike Enters Second Week

SNCF TGV 375 at the Paris Montparnasse train station. Photo: DXR for flickr.

SNCF TGV 375 at the Paris Montparnasse train station. Photo: DXR for flickr.

Railway workers of SNCF, the French National Railway Company, continue to strike this Wednesday, July 18, with a participation rate of 11.8%. Entering its eighth day, the strike has become the longest since 2010.

Lasting for over a week, the strike has affected millions of travelers, including high school students who need to take trains to sit the Baccalauréat this week, the nationwide academic qualification exams taken at the end of secondary education.

The conflict arose out of the railway reform recently proposed by the government, which aims to balance the debt of the railway industry, now reaching some 40 billion euros. The reform will reorganize SNCF and RFF (French Rail Network), a state-owned rail infrastructure company, and allow open competition with foreign rail companies in the future. However, CGT (General Confederation of Labor), one of the railway worker unions in France, opposed this reform, as the reorganization would most likely diminish its influence.

The strike has incurred enormous costs for SNCF. According to Guillaume Pepy, CEO of SNCF, losses of some 80 million euros had been reached by day six, totaling 50 million in ticket revenue and 30 million for passengers’ reimbursement.

At the same time, since workers are not paid during the strike, families of railway workers will also endure a salary loss by 25 to 30%, estimated by Thierry Lepaon, General Secretary of CGT.

As the deputies of the National Assembly began discussing the railway reform bill on June 17, SNCF workers gathered together at train stations in Paris, as well as in front of the National Assembly building. Pierre-Michel, a 38-year-old representative of the CGT union, embraced this mobilization of workers, explaining, “Our goal today is to get ourselves seen and heard by the deputies. That goal is achieved.”

It is still unclear when the strike will come to an end, but extended rail strikes do have precedence in recent French history. In 2010, a two-week strike began on April 6. Three years before, in 2007, one in October lasted six days, and another in November lasted 10 days. The biggest strike in SNCF history occurred at the end of 1986, lasting 29 days.

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