A message of support from ETUC 15th Congress against further liberalisation of rail and attacks on French rail freight.

26 May 2023

Today, Friday, 26 May, the European Trade Union Confederation’s (ETUC) 15th Congress sent a resounding message of support for French railway workers in their resistance against the dismantlement of SNCF Fret, the French state-owned railway company’s freight and logistics subsidiary.

The 600 delegates, representing the 93 national trade union confederations and 10 European trade union federations, rose with Roman Hebenstreit, chair of Vida, in condemnation of the continuing dogmatic liberalisation of rail in Europe at the direct expense of workers’ wages and working conditions and adopted the motion “Fret SNCF: when the dogma of competition disbands the energy transition”.

This follows directly from the motion adopted at ETF’s 6th Ordinary Congress 12 months ago in Budapest, where the ETF positioned itself unequivocally against the attempts of the European Commission and individual member states to dismantle and privatise railway companies at the expense of their utility as a public service.

The European Commission is currently investigating the French public rail freight company for state aid granted between 2007 and 2019 when it was a public company, specifically the cancellation of €5.3 billion in debt as well as the capital injection of €170 million made when Fret SNCF was transformed into a commercial company in 2020.

The French government is not waiting for the EC decision and is already preparing a scenario for the discontinuity of SNCF Fret to “save the public transport of goods”. Discontinuity would be a disaster for rail freight transport in France and its workers. It would mean the liquidation of the company, the elimination of 500 jobs, and the abandonment of 30% of the traffic.

In the face of the climate crisis, and despite their climate pronouncements regarding the modal shift of freight transport and intermodality, the European Commission has instead decided to attack states that support the most sustainable mode of freight transport – the European Commission has launched a similar investigation against DB Cargo in Germany.

This approach is based on the dogmatic and unfounded belief that the market can better serve the public interest. This is, despite the fact that the European Commission-led liberalisation of the rail sector in 2007 led to a marked decrease in the relative amount of freight being transported by rail, not to mention the deterioration in rail infrastructure, operations, safety, and above all, in the quality of work in rail transport.

Transport cannot and will not become a sustainable sector without sufficient and adequate funding, and, moreover, there cannot be a successful transition in transport without its workers. This dogmatic pursuit of liberalisation and assault on publicly owned companies comes at the direct expense of users and workers especially. This episode also underlines the commitment of the European Commission to resolving the pervasive issue of a lack of decent work in rail and transport generally (not to mention their commitment regarding climate change) – no commitment at all.

The ETUC has made a clear pledge of solidarity and cooperation with the transport workers of Europe in their struggle against policies that come at the expense of transport workers. With this support, the ETF strives to ensure that rail transport is a public service fit for a fair and sustainable Europe.