Norway: Rail workers hold national strikes over EU rail privatisation

Norway hit by train strike over EU regulations

Norway hit by train strike over EU regulations

Trains across Norway stopped for two hours on Thursday as employees walked out to protest against the implementation of the EU’s 4th Railway Package, a set of legislative texts designed to complete the single market for rail services. Protesters said the rules would weaken train services in Norway and have announced more strikes for 31 October. Norway is bound to follow EU rules due to its EEA membership.

Railway employees all over Norway walked off the job to protest implementation of the latest package of EU rules and requirements. The strike not only brought all train traffic to a standstill but was also lead to cancellations and delays throughout the day.

Members of employees’ organisations Norsk Lokomotiv-mannsforbund (NLF) and Norsk Jernbaneforbund think railway regulations in Norway should be formulated and decided by Norwegian officials. NLF leader Rolf Ringdal told state broadcaster NRK that the new “EU rail package” overrides Norwegian authority over the country’s own rail system.

“The EU wants to make it obligatory to have competition within all passenger train traffic,” Ringdal told NRK. “We believe that will weaken overall train service in Norway.” NLF claims that Norway’s decision to accept the EU rules, even though Norway is not a member of the EU, will make train service less democratic since Norwegian voters will no longer be able to influence “what kind of train service we shall have.” Norway, claim the unions, stands to lose control over its own railroad and railways.

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This picket sign demanded local authority over the Norwegian railway system for coming

The workers are thus signalling their displeasure through the strike, which ran from noon to 2pm and included protests in front of Parliament, in cities including Trondheim, Bergen and Stavanger and several smaller communities. The Airport Express Train that serves Oslo’s main airport at Gardermoen was also affected.

Trains in service when the strike began proceeded to or remained at the nearest station at noon and where to park there for the next two hours. NRK reported that Oslo’s trams and metro system would also be affected, but only between 12:30 and 1pm. Several bus lines were also affected by sympathy strikes.

No alternative transport was offered by state railway Vy, formerly NSB, and bus service was expanded. Vy officials warned that since it “would take time” to get parked trains back in position on their various routes, passengers faced delays through the afternoon commuter rush.

Transport Minister Jon Georg Dale of the conservative Progress Party has defended the EU’s latest regulations that are meant to streamline service around Europe and create an inner market for railroad services. Dale claims it will become simpler to approve new trains for service and issue safety certificates. Since Norway is a member of the EU’s European Economic Area it’s generally expected to go along with EU regulations.

The EU pushing it’s privatisation of rail across EU members countries steps up a gear with its 4th railway package

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French workers union CGT general secretary Philippe Martinez (3rd L) takes part in a demonstration in Paris. Photo: AFP

After announcing the end of lifetime employment guarantees for public sector workers, French President Emmanuel Macron prepared to end these guarantees for rail workers, another social right established during the Liberation from Nazi Occupation at the end of World War II.

Plans to scrap the rail workers’ statute are part of a broad attack by the financial aristocracy across Europe on all the social gains of the working class obtained after the October 1917 revolution and the victory over Nazism in 1945.

This is above all the product of a deep and intractable crisis of European and French capitalism. The government aims to smash the rail workers’ statute to boost productivity and competitiveness at the SNCF, which like many French firms, is rapidly failing faced with global competition.

Léon Blum’s government created in SNCF in 1937 as a joint public-private enterprise that was 51 percent state-owned, unloading billions of francs of private rail operators’ losses on the public. At the same time, his government was isolating the revolutionary struggles of the Spanish workers in the Spanish Civil War against Francisco Franco’s fascist coup, and brutally smashing strikes in France. This counterrevolutionary policy proved utterly bankrupt three years later, with the Nazi invasion of France and the collaboration of the French bourgeoisie with the Nazis.

Rail workers played an important role in the resistance to Nazi Occupation. As the SNCF helped the Nazis deport hundreds of thousands of Jews or resistance fighters to death camps, important sections of railway workers joined the resistance. Approximately 800 SNCF employees were shot by the Nazis for disobeying orders. Nearly 1,200 were deported to concentration camps for sabotage or acts of insubordination, and 2,361 were killed by bullets, mines or in aerial bombardments.

The statutes of public sector workers and of railway workers were guaranteed after the defeat of Nazi Germany in World War II and the Liberation of France. Now, nearly three quarters of a century later, Macron’s attacks on the railway workers aim to scrap these social rights.

'Privatisation is hell': Protesting French rail workers defend their strikes
Rail workers protesting in Paris. Photo: AFP

What is the 4th railway package?

The 4th railway package aims to remove the remaining barriers to the creation of a single European rail area. The proposed legislation would reform the EU’s rail sector by encouraging competition and innovation in domestic passenger markets.

The European Parliament rubber stamped the ‘market pillar’ of the EU’s Fourth Railway Package which means that train operators must have complete access to the networks of member states to operate domestic passenger services.

The European Council had already agreed that mandatory competitive tendering should be the main way of awarding public service contracts.

RMT general secretary Mick Cash said that the failed Tory privatisation of rail over twenty years ago using EU directive 91/440 was now being imposed on over 500 million people by EU diktat without any real mandate.

“This rail package is designed to privatise railways across Europe and its proposals are remarkably similar to the McNulty report on the future of GB railways, imposing further fragmentation and attacks on workers.

Competitive tendering started EU-wide in 2019, although the government and local authorities can invoke get-out clauses that will delay effective free-tender competition until 2033 the EU are pushing their rail privatisation ‘Directive’.

France was the fist to take up the Directive, making an early start with Macron opposing the unions and diving straight into the fourth railway package.

Emmanuel Macron has been confronted with the strongest social mobilisations in France since his election. Even though these mobilisations are heterogeneous and gather a large variety of struggles, they were originally triggered by Macron’s rail reform which embodies the President’s harsh neoliberal agenda.

On March 14 2018, French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe announced the main features of the rail reform to come. A week later, the rail workers and the civil servants demonstrated together nationwide and a few days later, as the rolling strikes called by the railway unions were beginning, the student’s mobilisation against the implementation of restrictive admissions procedures in the universities really kicked off.

Since March 2018, French rail passengers had to contend with heavily disrupted services as nationwide strikes over Macron’s push to implement the EU forth rail directive started reforms and strikes for Société nationale des chemins de fer français (SNCF) raged on.

SNCF is France’s national state-owned railway company, and operates the country’s entire national rail traffic, with 14,000 trains running daily. It employs more than 180,000 people in 120 countries around the globe.

European Union (EU)-mandated opening of French railways to private competition.

EU rules foresee the opening to private competition starting on 25 December 2023 for regional rail transport, and by 14 December 2020 for high-speed trains (TGV). French officials are drafting a bill to turn the EU directive on the SNCF (National Society of French Railways) into domestic French law.

The Forth rail directive.

The involvement of the EU in the railway industry started in the end of the 1990’s with a White Paper advocating for liberalising the rail sector and introducing market-based logic. In 2001 a first package of European directives were adopted by the European Council imposed the organisational and accounting separation of the rail infrastructures form the rail companies.

This led to disorganisation and additional charges for the maintenance of the railway lines that caused a lack of investment in the infrastructure and extra charges for the rail companies due to rail tolls. The second package (2004) intensified the opening to competition of the rail freight while the third (2007) extended the opening to competition to the international passenger railways which took effect only in 2010, in order to give some time for the public railway companies to be prepared for competition.

These reforms turned out to be ineffective and very costly: they raised the prices of the tickets, the number of accidents increased while the freight railway continued its decline. Regardless of any evaluation of the previous changes to rail transport regulation, the European Commission persisted with its ideological goal of completing the liberalisation of the rail and produced a fourth railway package which was voted by the European Parliament in December 2016.

The technical aspect of this aims at systematise the interoperability of the rail system among the whole EU, unify safety standards and authorisation for rolling stocks. On the other hand, the political aspect consists in one single objective: the opening to competition of the market for domestic passenger transport services by rail.

The fourth railway package started its roll out in December 2018 and therefore the opening to competition has to take place by the end of 2020. In other words, France has to comply with this set of European directives and modify its legislation for integrating these rules in 2018 and enforce them before 2020.

Such a legal obligation tends to confirm the thesis according to which the EU is responsible for all neoliberal evils among Europe. The spectrum of the EU competition dogma EU is widely seen, among the opponents, as the true origin of Macron’s rail reform. The implementation of the fourth railway package during Macron’s five years term was inevitable unless the French government was ready to engage a harsh power struggle against the EU’s directives, which is a very unlikely possibility given Macron’s neoliberal stances.

Next in line.
The European Commission sent a reasoned opinion to Greece and Ireland urging to communicate the national measures taken to transpose EU rules on the opening of the market for rail domestic passenger transport services and the governance of the railway infrastructure, as part of the 4th Railway Package.

What is a reasoned opinion?
The European Commission establish many reasoned opinions about member states breach of EU-law. A member state can then decide whether to accept or negotiate the opinion or risk that the Commission will bring the case to the European Court of Justice.

EU reasoned opinion to Greece and Ireland. As at the end of 2016, the EU states agreed to transpose the Directive (Directive (EU) 2016/2370)) into national law by 25 December 2018. As the two countries did not complied with the directive, the EC sent at the beginning of 2019 a letter of formal notice. To date, Greece and Ireland have still not communicated to the EC which measures have been taken to that end.

Greece and Ireland have two months to comply with their obligations, otherwise, the Commission may decide to refer the cases to the Court of Justice of the EU.

Railway infrastructure: Commission urges GREECE and IRELAND to enact EU law on rail market opening and governance

July 2019, the Commission decided to send a reasoned opinion to Greece and Ireland urging them to communicate the national measures taken to transpose EU rules on the opening of the market for domestic passenger transport services by rail and the governance of the railway infrastructure (Directive (EU) 2016/2370) which are parts of the 4th Railway Package. In December 2016, Member States agreed to transpose the Directive into national law by 25 December 2018. In January 2019, the Commission sent a letter of formal notice requesting Greece and Ireland to comply with the Directive. To date, however, Greece and Ireland have still not communicated to the Commission which measures have been taken to that end. They now have two months to comply with their obligations; otherwise, the Commission may decide to refer the cases to the Court of Justice of the EU.

Single European railway area: Commission calls on DENMARK, IRELAND, the NETHERLANDS, and POLAND to fully transpose EU law

July 2019, the Commission decided to send a letter of formal notice to Denmark, Ireland, the Netherlands, and Poland for failing to transpose certain provisions of the EU rules on establishing a single European railway area (Directive 2012/34/EU). The Directive aims to create a single European rail area, notably on competition issues, regulatory oversight and financial architecture of the railway sector, the power of national regulators, improved framework for investment in rail, and fair and non-discriminatory access to rail infrastructure and rail related services. In November 2012, Member States adopted the Directive and agreed to transpose these rules into national law by 16 June 2015. The Member States concerned now have two months to reply. Otherwise, the Commission may decide to send a reasoned opinion.

for all those that suggested the EU would not force privatisation on member states railways think again, for all on the Left that wish to see UK rail nationalisation notwithstanding EU competition laws here’s another reason it will never happen within the EU.

This year in the UK Train fat cats receive £1.2 billion in share payouts as rail network crumbles
Firms who provide trains for the country’s crumbling rail network have paid out a staggering £1.2billion to shareholders, an investigation has revealed. The little known companies have links to a tax haven and make a fortune from leasing the rolling stock to train operators across the UK.

The huge payments come as millions of passengers are suffering delays, overcrowding and rocketing rail fares”

Taking back the railways is going to be a tough track and not possible within the EU LINK
Nationalisation of utilities is and always has been a non starter, The Labour party really need to be up front with its supporters about what is possible while ever we remain within EU rules and its articles.

Tony Benn once said:

“The EU has the only constitution in the world committed to capitalism … it destroys the prospect of socialism anywhere in Europe, making capitalism a constitutional requirement of that set-up.”

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