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French Perspectives on Macron

My name is Pooja. I am twenty years old, and I am a Marxist-Leninist. I study French (amongst other things) in school. Recently, I became interested in the development of French politics under Macron. I saw that strikes were being held, so I decided to investigate further, deciding that there was no better way to do so than to interview one of the striking railroad employees themselves.

Note: The employee wished to remain mostly anonymous, and for this reason, I have not asked for their name.

Introduction: Can you please tell me a little more about yourself?

I'm thirty-one years old, single without children. I live near the Belgium/Luxembourg border, and I’ve been working as salesperson for the national rail company SNCF for the last 6 years. I’m unionized under the main railroad union CGT.

How do you feel about Macron, as president of France? For example, what are his shortcomings, and why do you believe his popularity with French people has fallen so much? If I'm not mistaken, his popularity has fallen to nearly 46% amongst the general French public.

I think my feelings toward Macron differ from many French citizens. They probably saw him as he depicted himself during the presidential campaign, [as] "neither left nor right." His actions, which some have depicted as close to Ms. Thatcher’s policies, have left many moderates and supporters of the former socialist party disappointed. They feel cheated. To me he was always the former Rothschild banker. His policies as Minister of Economy under Mr. Holland’s presidency speak for themselves, notably the first round of liberalization, which affected many sectors of the economy including transportation. Though he recently took an authoritarian turn which I didn’t see coming (violent crackdown on peaceful protests, [and] rule by decrees bypassing parliamentary debates, military aggression against the Syrian Republic).

I've seen a few articles about the railroad strikes, it seems many workers are participating. Can you give me an insider's perspective on this? Why are these strikes taking place? Are they due to Macron's policies?

They are. Let me explain shortly how the state-owned company is currently organized: SNCF is made of three distinct EPIC (Industrial and Commercial oriented Public

Establishments):

  • SNCF network who owns and maintains the tracks.

  • SNCF mobility operates all commercial operations, including but not limited to, passenger services, cargo transport and train stations management.

  • SNCF mother company who oversees the other two.

Most employees are part of what we call "the permanent frame" also known as "the status," which is a set of social benefits adapted to the delivery of public services 24/7. Since the early 2000s newcomers hired after the age of 30 don’t benefit from the status and use the common law as a social frame.

What Macron’s reform aims to change:

  • Changing the status of the companies from EPIC to SA (similar to the Naamloze Vennootschap [NV] in the Netherlands). Though the government has promised 100% public ownership, they refused to amend the law accordingly.

  • The transfer of both the cargo operations and the ownership of the train stations themselves to subsidiary companies.

  • Opening the network to private competition: starting in 2020, on open-access for the high speed network and starting in 2023, on a call for bids system for the different regional networks.

  • Starting next year, all newcomers will be hired outside "the status."

  • If the historic operator loses a call for bid, the workers will be transferred to the winning private company. Salaries and social benefits will be maintained for 15 months. Past this date, if negotiations between the operator and union representatives fail, social benefits would revert to a minimum frame common to the all train operators. If workers refuse the transfer they would automatically resign, forfeiting many social benefits including the right to unemployment benefits.

  • Despite what Macron has stated, the reform lacks any new investments and doesn’t propose a solution to the massive debt accumulated over the last thirty years.

As of now, the four main unions have banded together against the reform. In view of the lack of negotiations and the stubbornness of Ms. Borne, Minister of Transportation, all unions have walked out of negotiations and demand the reform to be abandoned in its entirety, and wish for a national debate and consultation.

My own union proposes the following to tackle the debt problem and the growing need for clean transportation:

  • Unification of all branches of the historic company into a single public entity.

  • An end to the liberalization and rampant privatization, which as seen in other European countries, does not resolve any of the stated issues, and in many cases has resulted in poorer services, high prices, harsh working conditions and a complete disregard for safety.

  • A massive investment for the cargo branch.

  • New taxes on polluting transports and the re-nationalizations of highways.

  • The complete buyout of the 40 billions euros debt.

Thank you for this detailed explanation. When it comes to the future, what do you expect for France, under the leadership of Macron?

I expect nothing. The road ahead for our country can already be seen abroad, notably in the UK and Germany. A sharp rise in extreme poverty. The deterioration of public services, including the most vital ones: healthcare and education. And as always, fewer and fewer rights for those who through their labor hold those societies on their shoulders: the workers.

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