Transportation during the French Strikes: solutions exist

Today, the president of the Ile-de-France region has decided to add 220 buses to try to meet the hard times faced by the inhabitants of the Paris Region, also called Francilians[1]TOUSCH Arnaud, Strikes: the Ile-de-France Region charters 220 private buses to transport the Francilians, RTL, December 11th, 2019, 5:00 am [Read on December 11th, 2019]. Available at: https://www.rtl.fr/actu/debats-societe/greve-la-region-ile-de- france-affrete-220-bus-private-to-transport-the-franciliens-7799665355. Perhaps this decision comes in reaction to the more than 600 km of trafic jam observed Monday, December 9th, in the Paris region. Moreover, the response is late, very insufficient, unecological and under-exploits all the technical devices that exist today in France, unlike in the 1995 strike where the Internet, let alone the applications on smartphones, had not yet – or so little – touched the general public.

What is the root cause of these disturbances: the transport strike? To this question, I answer by another: why does this strike affect us more than the others? I remember, a few years ago, the media had announced that the employees of the Dysneyland Paris theme park were going on strike. This had caught the attention of elected officials and the francilians: one of the first tourist points in the Paris region, and even in France, was going to stop working. Indeed the strike took place and it lasted … one night[2]PONT Charlotte, Disneyland Paris: strike of 90 night technicians, France 3 Paris Ile-de-France, February 25, 2015, [Read on December 11th, 2019]. Available on: https://france3-regions.francetvinfo.fr/paris-ile-de-france/seine-et-marne/disneyland-paris-greve-de-90-techniciens-de-nuit-662413.html. In fact, since the strike of 300 employees (out of 13,000), in 1998, which had lasted 17 days, from Wednesday, June 24th to Friday, July 10th, it seems that the strikes are shorter at Eurodisney and therefore that the agreements arrive more quickly. See also: Les Echos, Disneyland Paris, the Mickey remain on strike, July 6th, 1998, [Read on December 11th, 2019]. Available at: https://www.lesechos.fr/1998/07/a-disneyland-paris-les-mickey-restent-en-greve-795296. Les Echos, The animators at Disneyland Paris suspend their strike, July 13th, 1998, [Read on December 11th, 2019]. Available at: https://www.lesechos.fr/1998/07/the-animals-a-isneyland-paris-suspendent-their-greve-795672. FRASNETTI Joëlle, “Thirteenth day of strike at Mickey’s” in Le Parisien, July 6th, 1998, [Read on December 11, 2019]. Available at: http://www.leparisien.fr/economie/treizieme-jour-de-greve-chez-mickey-06-07-1998-2000147113.php. The work stoppage of March 30th, 2012 lasted two (?) Days, from March 30th to 31st. See: MOUILLARD Sylvain, “Strike at Disneyland: “You do not have to be a lot to block a park!”” in Libération, March 30th, 2012. [Read on December 11th, 2019]. Available at: https://www.liberation.fr/futurs/2012/03/30/greve-a-disneyland-not-need-to-be-healthfully-to-block-a-parc_807110. Why was it settled so quickly? First, it was private money and all the actors, in order to keep their income and their posts, had an interest in having this conflict resolved as quickly as possible. Because in this process of crisis resolution, fundamentally speaking, a balance of forces existed: on the one hand the employees located at the bottom of the hierarchy (as a reminder, the CEOs of the multinationals are also employees) could use the right to strike but on the other, they were losing the income of the days during which they were not working. Finally, their action was double-edged: if they were putting their bosses “under pressure” by blocking the work tool but, unintentionally, they could also condemn their local site and therefore their jobs. It is therefore in this “social balance” – within which, of course, adjustments can be made according to technological and then political progress – that the negotiations take place.

In 1995, and today, with the public transport companies, the situation is not the same as in Disneyland: the transport employees, by their status, have a protected job (in the vast majority of cases) officially or informally[3]to measure this, there is only to count the number of social plans carried out in each of these public transport companies: the result is that no layout occur even if a company is overburdened with redundant employees and is loosing billions of euros each year, as the SNCF (French railways people and cargo transportation). Then, in case of financial loss for employees at the bottom of the hierarchy, the latter are spread over time. As for the main technical managers (SNCF, RATP), the losses will be absorbed by the public deficit[4]3 to 4 times the French GDP if one takes into account all the State commitments such as civil servants retirement or the French National Health Service (Sécurité Sociale), a problem resolved in the short term thanks to negative or almost zero interest rates. But beware of the shock in case these rates were to increase again or if the current European monetary policy was to bring an even more difficult situation!

So, looking at these public transport strikes, what are the solutions? I see two tracks: the first can be taken in 24 hours, will require some political courage at the beginning, protect the environment and allow households not only to save money but also to earn more!; the second solution would be to apply a true minimum public service.

More concretely, and from the logistical point of view, Valérie Pécresse, President of the Ile-de-France Region, should oblige any touristic vehicle (private or professional, except for ambulances and fire-fighting equipment) circulating in the first Parisian belt, to transport at least two passengers. Car-sharing applications make this perfectly possible. The roads would be then more fluid, allowing multi-passenger cars, buses and private cars to reach their destination in a reasonable time. Households would no longer need to waste gas, breathe pollutants, lose more than four hours a day in traffic jams, and loose work hours. These new forms of transportation could even make it possible to create social ties: people, in a somewhat festive atmosphere, would talk about the strike, the local help they would bring and would enter into a societal dynamic.

From an organisation point of view, Michel Godet, professor emeritus of economy and a retired civil servant himself, already brought in 2007 two concrete solutions: either somebody has a life-garanteed job but, in return, he must ensure a minimum service especially if the latter is vital to the regional and/or national economic/social life[5]If there is a public service, it is the citizen customer that must be a priority: the minimum service is the natural counterpart of the public service monopoly […] The economic and social consequences of the strikes of the public service monopolies are disproportionate regarding claims that are often sectional. GODET Michel, Le courage du bon sens : pour construire l’avenir autrement (The courage of common sense: building the future differently), Paris, Odile Jacob, 2007, p 233; or his employment is subject to a standard labor law and the right to strike is a fundamental right that he can use if he considers that a crisis situation requires it. In the second case, let me remind, the basic employee and his boss will both have an interest in having the crisis resolved as quickly as possible, otherwise their means of production could be jeopardized.

But let the French unions, who in 2016 registered between only 8 to 11% of of the working population – down from a 50% in 1947[6]If, in 1947, half of the French working population was syndicated, this rate dropped until 1958, then again from 1975 to today. By forming a kind of cartel prohibiting the arrival of new unions, the union organisations, in 2008, obtained the legalization of the financing of trade unions by companies and public authorities. The disappearance of a living syndicalism, that of multiple cells of adherents in the companies and the territories, is the main cause of the divorce with a good part of the population and, within the young people, of a-syndicalism. ANDOLFATTO Dominique (Credespo, University of Burgundy), LABBE Dominique (PACTE, Grenoble Alpes University), How many union members in France ?, 11 June 2019, Institut supérieur du travail (Higher Institute of Labor), [read on 11th December 2019]. Available at: http://www.istravail.com/actualites-etudes/les-etudes-sociales-et-syndicales/11226-combien-de-syndiqu%C3%A9s-en-france.html. On the other hand, one of the challenges that already awaits the trade unions in France, in Europe and internationally, is the social protection of more or less “independent” people who work for delivery mobile applications, as for taxis, pizzas, books… See also: BUSINESS DAILY, Why Americans are loving trade unions again?, November 22, 2019. [accessed November 25, 2019]. Available at: https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/w3csy6zl- reassure themselves: the government is already procrastinating the reforms that our European neighbors achieved several years ago. As usual, France will wait to have hit the wall of economic (public deficit) and demographic (aging population) realities to undertake, too late, its reforms.

(Reedited cover photo sources: traffic jams on the A86 / N12 towards Versailles. Photo taken near the entrance of duplex A86 tunnel. BdF, December 12th 2019, 9:00 am. Despite the late hour, the roads near the prefecture are still very busy. In Ile-de-France, congestion reached 475 km at 8:30 this morning).

Additional bibliography[7]Europe1, French Railways Strike: our solutions to get to work despite the trains cancellations, March 21st, 2018, [Read on December 11th 2019]. Available at: https://www.europe1.fr/societe/greve-sncf-quelles-alternatives-pour-se-rendre-au-travail-3605090

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