For the first time since its construction, the rose city’s metro did not run this Tuesday. “In nine years of work, I’ve never seen this kind of thing,” explained Jonathan, a conductor for Tisséo at the Colomiers depot, just east of Toulouse. “The interunion gathered to call our workers into a day of mobilization in the context of inflation. It was a memorable day, and auspicious for things to come.”
“Today, We Blocked Everything and Showed Our Strength”
After mobilizing days of national strike against retirement reforms, the workers of Tisséo declared a major strike Tuesday, April 11, to oppose the company leadership’s attack on their salaries. During the annual salary negotiations, executives made clear their intentions to cancel the safeguard clause, which accounts for inflation in salaries. “They want to get rid of this responsibility for the business, and the prices of everything will continue to increase and we’ll be fighting to pay our bills,” one worker explained. Canceling the safeguard clause amounts to an attack on the workers, an attempt to lower their real wages.
After a call from the interunion of the south, made up of the French Democratic Confederation of Labor (CFDT), the General Confederation of Labor (CGT), and the National Federation of Professional Drivers (FNCR), the workers’ response is unprecedented: votes in favor of a strike surpassed 70 percent, including workers at all levels, even among management. The mobilization led to a total halting of traffic in the Toulouse transit network, a first since the construction of the lines. This strike included the metro lines, which executives succeeded in converting to an automatic system, guided by a few managers, which were the subject of previous mobilizations.
To make their anger clear, more than 500 strikers gathered in front of the besieged leadership in Mesplier at the end of the morning. One worker shouted, “We can’t continue like this! Today we blocked everything to show our strength.” In the context of the fight against retirement reforms, many issues remain unresolved. This is the case for Nicolas, who works in bus maintenance at the Colomiers depot. “I participated in almost every demonstration for retirement,” he explains, “but that costs us our lifetime too. It’s all one problem.” A few minutes later, the chief operating officer passed by. He was loudly booed by the crowd.
Contempt for leadership remains. One worker exclaimed in anger, “They make 15,000 euros per month, and we’re the ones that have to do the actual work.” One of their colleagues added, moved, “The people don’t realize that us here at Tisséo work the marginal hours, weekends, nights, early mornings, and it impacts our family lives and our health.” Stéphane Chapuis, general secretary of the CGT, continued, “Salaries are the taste of the water that fills the vase. During COVID, everyone here continued working, and we didn’t get bonuses.”
“Fire Wischnewski!” A Deep Discontent with Leadership
After speeches, workers moved to the office of the CEO, Thierry Wischnewski, to make clear that he had a responsibility to acknowledge their position. The atmosphere was tense as the strikers chanted, “We’ll make like 1789,” an allusion to the guillotine. One worker grabbed a megaphone and promised “Little Macron of Tisséo, the king will fall!” When Wischnewski refused to appear before the workers, the group returned to the strike line.
The occupation didn’t seem to encourage executives to change their position. Facing confrontation with hundreds of workers, the COO eventually emerged from his office, shouting at the crowd, “You’re the shame of public service.” An insult to the strikers, for whom the suppression of this clause is a direct attack on their living conditions. One striker responded, “We have families, Wischnewski!”
With a leadership that doesn’t appear ready to concede, this first day of mobilizing announced the strikers’ intentions. “If they drop it, we’ll take it,” said a worker, “then we’ll take the rest, the benefits, the bonuses, we can’t afford not to.” Another promised, “There, we showed our strength, and we’ll do it again.” The next day of mobilization is the following Tuesday, April 18.
This article originally appeared in French on April 11, 2023 in Révolution Permanente.