French postal workers win 14-month strike

Sept. 2019 gael-quirante-libere

Postal union leader Gaël Quirante (center) is greeted by supporters after being released from detention in June 2019.

By DAVID KIELY

The postal workers of SUD-Poste 92, in Haut-de-Seine, in the western suburbs of Paris, have won their 14-month strike, marking an end to one of the longest strikes in French history. During these long months the workers faced intense repression by the police, who worked hand in hand with the managers of La Poste, a state-run company.

Management fired the district’s elected trade-union representative, Gaël Quirante, in 2018, and he was placed under house arrest for two days last June. SUD-Poste 92 workers, members of the Solidaire trade union, walked out in protest of his firing as well as to express their own demands on issues such as privatization through sub-contracting, speed-up, the use of temporary workers, and deterioration of services to the public.

The Haut-de-Seine postal workers won many demands. Charges were dropped against Gaël Quirante, though he is still struggling to regain his post office job. The road to victory was not easy; both bosses and cops tried to curtail the resolve that the striking workers continually displayed. Now their struggle has become an example for workers of how to fight and win.

Workers at La Poste—the second largest employer in France, with over 250,000 workers—have been under increasing pressures from management. The bosses had been utilizing third-party algorithms as well as acquiring companies that specialized in data analysis. The point of these algorithms was to increase the intensity of work by bringing the “scientific” management of workers into the 21st century. Similar to the conditions employed by companies like Amazon, minor tasks of workers became increasingly scrutinized by data science groups such as the Hardis Group.

Under the new rules at La Poste, workers were required to serve as elder care, in return for an extra fee to customers. The new program allowed subscribers to pay for a postal worker to visit elderly relatives in addition to tending to their normal postal routes. In northern France, La Poste had experimented with requiring workers to staff small railroad stations as an additional workload. The overall objective was to require workers to do more, and faster.

The strike spanned the duration of the struggles against Macron’s labor law reform, the fight for university admittance, and the yellow vest protests. Striking postal workers demonstrated at rallies and picket lines in solidarity with the movement protesters. Undoubtedly, their participation was as important for building these movements as it was for drawing support for the postal strike.

When Stamford, Conn., hotel workers were fighting for a union, the French postal workers sent messages of support. In return for the postal workers’ solidarity, the U.S. hotel workers organized an action outside the French consulate in New York City to support the strike. In addition, socialists from the U.S., Spain, France, Greece, and elsewhere raised money to help build the largest strike fund in French history.

The Haut-de-Seine postal workers won many demands. Charges were dropped against Gael Quirante, though he is still struggling to regain his post office job. In the current period, in which workers’ victories are few, the victory of the Hauts-de-Seine French postal workers is important. The postal workers can serve as inspiration to workers facing pressure from the bosses and capitalism, threats from police, speed-up, and dehumanizing working conditions. The French postal workers showed that when workers fight, they can win.

In times of struggle the bosses try to utilize every violent and abusive appendage of business and state to isolate workers’ who dare to fight back. They readily employ tactics such as interrogating workers in closed-door meetings, arresting and firing their elected leaders, and calling police or private goons to intimidate them. But working-class solidarity can show that workers are not alone. Solidarity is the most powerful weapon of our class.

Congratulations to the workers of SUD local 92! Their victory serves as inspiration for workers everywhere, and we in Socialist Action are proud to have played a small roll supporting the strike.