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“We’re going to war again”: unions threaten to disrupt the Rugby World Cup

The opportunity is too good for the unions to let it slip away without inviting themselves to the party.

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“We’re going to war again”: unions threaten to disrupt the Rugby World Cup

The opportunity is too good for the unions to let it slip away without inviting themselves to the party. While millions of oval ball enthusiasts prepare to support their favorite team during the Rugby World Cup, which begins this Friday evening in Paris, union representatives are on a war footing. These activists intend to take advantage of the cameras of the globe trained on France and the crowd of spectators expected to put forward their demands. Something to fear disruptions in the weeks to come... And give a taste of what the Paris Games could look like next year.

On the authorities side, the tone is intended to be reassuring. “It’s about showing the world that France is still such a great welcoming country. We expect 500,000 foreign supporters. We must show them that we are capable of receiving them properly so that they become ambassadors of France when they return home,” insisted Wednesday to Le Figaro Philippe Spanghero, member of the strategic orientation committee of the National Rugby League . However, we will have to count on a host of strike notices filed across the country: in Paris, Toulouse, Bordeaux, Nantes, Lille. So many cities which will host World Cup matches over the next seven weeks and where the unions have decided to mobilize, here at the RATP, there within the municipal police, elsewhere among air traffic controllers.

The social context is explosive, while inflation continues to weigh on household budgets. In Toulouse for example, a large inter-union of the urban transport group Tisséo is calling for a strike on Friday, while many Toulouse residents are expected in a “fan zone” for the opening match which will pit France against the New Zealanders. . “The network will be very, very disrupted, we are not going to get in the way,” threatened the deputy general secretary CGT Tisséo, Jean-Philippe Favier, to our colleagues from France 3 Occitanie this week. Everyone is burying their heads in the sand, so we are going to war again.” A threat that is not taken lightly, the union having mobilized sustainably against pension reform in recent months. “If we have to hold out until the end of the Rugby World Cup, we will,” he then scoffed.

Same bellicose tone within FO-RATP. The union filed a strike notice at the beginning of August for station agents on the day of the opening match, after having filed a first strike notice a few weeks earlier as a threat which ran for the entire duration of the competition. The union, which has a majority among tellers and other station staff, is demanding better working conditions, including higher bonuses and more recruitment. Without prejudging the scale of the mobilization, the secretary general of FO-RATP Jean-Christophe Delprat intends to “sound the alarm” with this punchy action at the opening of the tournament. “It’s our last weapon against a management that doesn’t hear us,” he says.

The trade unionist argues that this strike, “if it is followed”, could lead to serious security problems related to the management of flows in the station. It could also paralyze automatic metro lines which are controlled by station supervisors. However, Friday evening, more than 80,000 supporters are expected at the Stade de France, north of the capital, for the clash between the XV of France and the All Blacks. Not to mention the vast “fan zone” installed on the Place de la Concorde, in the heart of Paris, which should also attract a lot of people. A good number of them would have to use RATP lines and stations to get there.

“I am not worried,” however, wanted to reassure the Minister Delegate in charge of Transport Clément Beaune Thursday morning, after a meeting with the CEO of the Parisian transport group Jean Castex. The minister stressed that the strike notice at the RATP concerns “a few agents” and “not the driving agents who will transport the spectators”. Thursday, the boss of the RATP was also reassuring. “Yes, there was a social movement concerning station agents. Today we have the figures, it’s less than 10% participation rate” in the strike, said the former prime minister.

Organizers of events like the Rugby World Cup take “social risk” very seriously, particularly in France. Experience plays a role: it must be remembered that a strike by RATP drivers was largely involved in the fiasco of the Champions League final held at the Stade de France in May 2022. The unions, who are acutely aware of their power nuisance, never hesitate to take advantage of these events to obtain more from company management. Their threats are carried out with varying degrees of success. The Football World Cup in 1998 and the Euro Football Championship in 2016, both organized in France, gave rise to strike threats at the RATP, the SNCF and even among Air France pilots. Everything was finally back to normal in due time. Likewise, the thunderous threats from the CGT on the sidelines of the Cannes festival this year did not disrupt the event. Same thing for Roland Garros.

This blackmail, which consists of posing a social threat to major sporting events, testifies to a “change in the nature of the strike”, identifies political scientist Dominique Andolfatto, author of A History of Unions. 1906-2010. “The unions today favor a sort of collective action-spectacle, in the sense of politics-spectacle,” continues the specialist in trade unionism. The movement does not come from the base. It is managed by union leadership. However, although these actions may make noise and are relayed by the media, they generally have no impact on the condition of employees.” All this, in a context of loss of members of the centrals, who are finding it increasingly difficult to organize large-scale strikes. And the expert concludes by paraphrasing Shakespeare: “Much ado about nothing.”

In sectors of activity where strikes are recurrent, starting with transport, companies are mobilizing to manage this “social risk” which threatens large sporting gatherings. The management of the SNCF, in particular, declares itself "listening to the feedback from the field and the trade union organizations" and remains "attentive on this subject", although there is "no specific alert at this stage. ". The appointment of Jean Castex at the head of the RATP, last November, should be placed in the perspective of these major events that France is preparing to host. Her predecessor, Catherine Guillouard, had created a harmful social climate within the Régie. The former prime minister managed to ease tensions somewhat, at the cost of numerous bonuses.

Will the unions follow through on their threats? One thing is certain, some are ready to mobilize again in a few months. “The Rugby World Cup is a trial run before the Olympics,” which will be held in Paris next summer, warns the general secretary of FO-RATP.

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