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Vol. 71/No. 41      November 5, 2007

On the Picket Line
Rail workers strike in
France over retirement

PARIS—The big majority of rail workers in France struck October 18 to defend their retirement system. More than 200,000 participated in demonstrations throughout the country.

The government of prime minister Franšois Fillon has announced its intention to scrap the retirement system that covers 500,000 rail workers and other state employees, which allows them to retire as early as 50 years of age.

The French government is seeking to raise the number of years these workers must labor to enjoy a full pension, which is currently 37.5 years. This period was raised to 40 years for workers at private companies in 1993 and for most state employees in 2003.

During the strike very few trains ran throughout France, and virtually the entire Paris bus and Metro system was shut down.

With all six rail unions calling for the strike, 74 percent of rail workers, and 90 percent of rail engineers, stayed away from work. More than half of the Paris Metro and bus workers participated as well, as did a similar percentage of the workers at the national gas and electricity companies.

This is higher than the 67 percent that participated in the three-week strike of 1995, which forced the government at the time to abandon its effort to get rid of the retirement system.

—Derek Jeffers

Postal workers in UK
walk out over shift changes

LONDON—Postal workers in Liverpool walked off the job on October 10 when management tried to impose shift changes. The unofficial strikes started as workers returned to the job after two official 48-hour strikes by 130,000 postal workers throughout the United Kingdom.

The unofficial strikes spread to south and east London. In parts of Scotland workers also walked out after Royal Mail took strike deductions for two recent strikes from one week’s wages.

The Communication Workers Union (CWU) organized similar rolling strikes from the end of June to early August in response to plans by Royal Mail to cut 40,000 jobs, raise the retirement age from 60 to 65 before 2010, lower pensions, and change working hours and conditions.

“Everyone was going to return to work until the question about shift patterns came up,” said Antony Stone, who works at a Liverpool depot. “When we were told we would still have to start at 6 a.m. and then work Saturday afternoons, without any negotiation, that was the turning point.”

On the picket line at the Nine Elms postal depot in southeast London October 11, management tried to intimidate workers and order them back to work. They said the strike was illegal because they hadn’t given a seven day notice and that the CWU wasn’t behind them. Worker’s responded that they were staying out. The bosses called the cops in an attempt to close down the picket line. They also tried to get picketers’ cars towed. The strikers moved their cars and continued picketing.

On October 12 an agreement was reached by the CWU and Royal Mail and further official strike actions scheduled for the following week were called off.

Workers in Liverpool were the last to return to work ending their unofficial strike October 18 after management agreed to negotiations over the shift changes.

—Ól÷f Andra Proppé
and Danny O’Brien

Danny O’Brien is a member of the Communication Workers Union and a delivery worker at the Nine Elms depot in London.  
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