Chronicle of a France struggling for wages

A spark was enough to ignite the spirit of the workers. For months, the continuous rise in prices has been compressing the purchasing power of households and pushing employees to strike. But in mid-October, the mobilization of refiners and fuel depot employees, exacerbated by Total’s refusal to negotiate, changed the situation. Now, as much out of necessity as out of solidarity, many other workers are following in their footsteps. Strike notices rain down in very different sectors but the watchword remains the same: to be able to live decently from one’s work, thanks to a decent salary. Meeting with these employees who have decided to fight.

Monday, October 17

At the Gravelines nuclear power plant (North): « We have lost 15% of purchasing power in ten years »

There is an atmosphere of arms vigil this Monday at the Gravelines nuclear power plant. At the beginning of the afternoon, a hundred EDF employees meet in front of the main access post to the site, between the car park and the imposing machine room with red and white walls, to discuss the terms of the day. of interprofessional action the following day. Subcontractors swell the ranks of the strikers, such as the employees of Fiducial who organized, in the morning, a filtering blockage to demand better working conditions.

Here, EDF employees have been on renewable strike since October 13, thus adding to a protest which has grown over the weekend and now concerns around ten power stations. An air of handover with the refineries where the movement, weakened by the requisitions of employees, seems to be running out of steam locally. Except that at EDF the conflict has been brewing since September. While increases of 3.6% over 2022-2023 have been proposed at the level of the electricity and gas industries branch, the CGT and the CFE-CGC are calling for a total increase of 5%. A figure deemed « rather reasonable » by Nicolas Dessertenne, the CGT delegate, in particular with regard to the rise in prices. “We have been circling around an increase in the national basic salary of 0.1% to 0.3% for years. With inflation, we lost 15% of purchasing power in ten years,” he explains.

Because it consists in part in delaying scheduled maintenance work on two reactors, the strike could lead to power cuts this winter in businesses. This is feared by EDF, whose nuclear fleet is already half shut down. At the CGT, however, we say we want a quick end to the crisis. “We know that EDF is in difficulty and we are not trying to put its head under water, confides Grégory Schrevelle, of the federation of executives. We only ask for recognition of our work. »

Tuesday, October 18

In the Parisian interprofessional procession: « We need a requisition of profits »

Facing the crowd, a fake Bernard Arnault perched on a bus stop balances fake banknotes. On October 18, 70,000 people marched through the streets of Paris from Place d’Italie. At the call of the CGT, FO, FSU and Solidaires, to demand, on the heels of refiners, a better sharing of wealth. Renaldo Raych, central CGT research and development union representative at Sanofi, compares the 1% general increase in wages and the 15% increase in net earnings per share to come for 2022. “There is a real problem, euphemism he. Two Sanofi sites are also on strike. »

In the hospital sector, white coats can no longer toil for low wages. A psychiatric nurse in Île-de-France and elected SUD health, Olivier does not imagine being satisfied with only a 3.5% increase in the index point for civil servants. “It represents 50 euros per month and absolutely does not make up for the twelve years of frost that we had before. After twenty years of nursing career, I earn 2,400 euros. When I see that the CEO of TotalEnergies is increasing by 52% in defiance of all the rules, it’s intolerable. »

Psychologist for the judicial protection of youth and secretary of the National Union of Education and Social Staff, Julie Houdan has also had her foot on the salary floor for a while. If, with 2,500 euros a month, she thinks she is living well, the lack of recognition becomes unbearable. “Psychologists earn a lot more in the private sector. We have a bonus system that increases but it will not count for our retirement! Megaphone under his arm, Mathis, 23, a student at Paris-University, hopes for a spark in the coming days. “We towed to raise awareness among students and teachers. Things are also moving in other universities like Tolbiac. Students would need at least a Smic to live. Faced with rising prices, profits must be requisitioned. »

Wednesday October 19

At the Gare de Lyon, the demonstration of resistance by railway workers

The day before, the general assembly of railway workers at the Gare de Lyon in Paris had gathered around a hundred employees, who had voted overwhelmingly in favor of a renewal of their strike which began on Monday evening. They were barely half this Wednesday, and resigned themselves to returning to work, in accordance with the « personal opinion » of the representatives of the two unions who called for a strike, the CGT and SUD rail.

“With the economic context and inflation, it’s hard to tell the guys that we’re going to have to lose money now to earn more later. For years, we have mainly held defensive strikes, against the pension reform for example. There, a movement to get something more, it’s more complicated, ”laments Bérenger Cernon, the CGT delegate. The union, which indicates that railway workers have lost 30% of purchasing power over the past forty years, called for a general increase in wages to catch up with rising prices.

Despite fairly large mobilization figures, a fortiori for a movement prepared in just five days, the protest has not been able to settle in time. In the ranks of the strikers, we regret the loneliness of the railway workers within the interprofessional, and we recall that the next deadlines, like the new pension reform promised by the executive, require preservation for future struggles. But Fabien Villedieu, the SUD rail delegate, is convinced: this strike will not have been a blow for nothing. “We were right to do it, he insists. There, we showed that the salary issue is a major issue for railway workers, and that there is potential for resistance here. Now management will take us seriously. Next meeting in November, with the mandatory annual negotiations at the SNCF.

Thursday, October 20

In Feyzin (Rhône), the pride of Total workers

On the side of the oil site of Feyzin (metropolis of Lyon), the pride of having carried from start to finish a strike movement at almost 100% is palpable. Since the national day of action of September 27, the employees in the expeditions renew the mobilization every day, general assembly after general assembly, in spite of the pressures and the requisitions. “It had been more than twenty-five years since we had had such an impact on production,” underlines Pedro Afonso, CGT delegate on the site in the Lyon suburbs. From the first days, the effect at the pump is radical for the French, the struggle of the employees of Total, but also of ExxonMobil and Esso, becomes a national issue. Added to the mobilization on the picket lines is the battle of words and TV sets. “We decided to enter the communication war”, assumes Pedro Afonso. Faced with Total’s attempt to discredit the strikers, the CGT did not hesitate to respond by distributing an authentic payslip at 1,800 euros. “We went there, even in the media that we don’t like, even the BFM and Hanouna, and that allowed us to win this battle of opinion against Pouyanné. »

If the salary issue made the headlines and crystallized the anger, the CGT operator assures him, on the side of Feyzin, this is not what launched the movement. « At the very beginning, our demands were centered on employment and investment, even if wages were also part of it, » he recalls. Because, at the Feyzin refinery, what makes people cringe on a daily basis are the degraded working conditions. « Some equipment is in such a state of disrepair that we almost had a death recently, when a coupler attached to a loading arm came off », denounces Pedro Afonso. In total, the CGT of the chemical industries has listed 11 serious accidents in the past two years, which the union attributes in part to past job cuts. In Feyzin, we continue to demand investments to maintain the park, but also the hiring of 4 temporary workers for expeditions in permanent positions.

Friday October 21

At the Sanofi Genzyme factory, « an unprecedented deterioration in working conditions »

Since October 12, production has been 100% stopped. Faced with the 4 billion euros in dividends paid by Sanofi in 2021, the employees of Genzyme, a biotechnology company belonging to Big Pharma, based in Lyon, are not asking for anything astronomical: 10% salary increase and 10,000 premium euros. « We had to settle for the moment with a 1% general increase, or 35 euros on average per month, and 400 euros catch-up for low wages », laments Bader Tebaibia, CGT union representative and production technician.

If, out of 300 employees, around fifty are still mobilized at the call of the CGT, the CFTC and FO in this unique company in the world, manufacturer of thymoglobulin (which is used in particular for anti-rejection treatment after an organ transplant) , they were up to 120 on strike on Monday. “100% of payslips are false, specifies the CGT. Since we outsourced part of human resources, some staff have deductions from their salaries of 800 euros and some even have pay slips at zero euros, whereas this is normally impossible! »

The requalification of salary grids has also generated unacceptable disparities. “Those who have been there for fifteen or twenty years earn less than people who have just arrived in the company, denounces Quentin Jesus, representative of the CFTC union section. Little by little, the gap is narrowing between our salary and the minimum wage, which has increased by 300 euros. However, over the past year, our workload has increased, with 200 additional annual hours against a bonus, leading to an unprecedented deterioration in working conditions. We can’t go on like this anymore. »


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