European railway trade unionists protest in Paris

Against privatisation and cutbacks

Railway workers are together on the streets because everywhere there are the same problems, confirms Dieter Mohr of the German TRANSNET union who along with 30 colleagues from the Saarland region on the French/German border stands alongside a banner reading “Fight Together” in eight languages on the poster of a railworker from Toulouse.

The bone of contention are European directives, which in recent years have paved the way for the break up of state-owned railways and for international predatory competition on the backs of employees, customers, safety and the environment and have led to the destruction of many jobs. “No more liberalisation and break ups” urges the European Transport Workers Federation (ETF). Instead of railways in the hands of private investors they should be the backbone of a social and ecological transport system promoted by the state, according to the federation.

Agapito Alcarazo of the Spanish UGT trade union complained that the separation of infrastructure and operations and the encroachment of privatised freight trains bring with them increasingly precarious employment for the workers. His expressions are similar to his colleagues from the Portuguese CGTP and the French SUD-Rail union. Hungarian trade unionist, Erika Tamasz laments the damage that Brussels’ pressure for liberalisation has led to in her country. Amongst a colourful sea of French CGT flags, which represents the majority of the demonstrators CGT leader Bernard Thibault points out: “Before the liberalisation directives, we had more freight moved by rail”.

Strong delegations of the RMT and TSSA rail unions have travelled from Britain where the former British Rail was privatised some 14 years ago. TSSA chairman, Andy Bain warns of “imperialism” and an economic state of war existing in the railways. For example, Deutsche Bahn has now swallowed the largest British freight train operator EWS. The TSSA carried a 2004 Labour Party decision for re-nationalisation of the railways.

RMT executive committee member Alex Gordon reminds us: “If New Zealand has now re-nationalised its railway, then we can in Britain too.” RMT members distributed a DVD with multilingual subtitles to the demonstrators, calling for a European-wide campaign against rail privatisation, the Lisbon Treaty and the dismantling of trade union rights. “This demonstration must be the prelude for a strong movement, with which we demand that European governments abandon privatisation and fragmentation of the railways and their workforces,” says Gordon and he hopes that the Deutsche Bahn IPO will never happen. Meanwhile, a critical Hamburg railway worker calls for resistance to the removal of international overnight trains from the city to Brussels, Paris, and alpine winter sports areas. The closure of “unprofitable” connections is a direct consequence of excessive expectations for profit-making.

By Hans-Gerd Öfinger, published in Neues Deutschland, November 2008

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