Strikes against Connex in Britain, France, Finland

On Thursday, 6 October, a five hour ‘wild-cat’ strike almost completely stopped the underground system in Stockholm. It showed massive backing for the union leader of the train drivers, Per Johansson, who was recently sacked by the infamous trans-national company, Connex.

Below, Per Olsson, from Offensiv, paper of Rättivsepartiet Socialisterna (RS - CWI Sweden), looks at Connex’s record, across Europe, of anti-union actions and its woefully history running rail services and maintaining safety for rail passengers and workers.

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Connex Sweden is part of Connex International, owned by the French giant company, Veolia Environment. The deregulation policies of the European Union, combined with neo-liberal policies on the part of national governments, have allowed Connex to become one of the biggest private transport companies in Europe.

Connex has a long history of pushing up its profits by reducing its staff, worsening working conditions and attacking trade unions. As a result, the safety of both workers and the passengers has been neglected.

This gives some background to Connex’s recent sacking of a train drivers’ union leader on the Stockholm underground.

Britain

In Britain, Connex twice lost ongoing contracts (rail franchises) for rail passenger transport. The first was in 2000, when the Strategic Rail Authority ended the contract for Central South, in London, just four years into a seven year contract. Secondly, in 2003, Connex lost its contract for South Eastern England. This was the result of continuous violations of safety provisions the provoked several strikes by the unions. The strikes were particularly directed at the decision by Connex to turn the train guards into "Kit Kat (chocolate bar) sellers" and the decision of the management to scab during the strike.

Connex’s poor service is one reason why 65-72% of people in Britain support the union’s demand for re-nationalisation of both bus and train services, so that the profit motive is taken out of transport. That is why there are strong protests against New Labour’s decision to allow other private companies, rather than Connex, to run South Eastern.

France

In June, this year, French railway workers went on strike against the first private company used to run freight rail transport in northern France. The company was Connex. The trade unions accused Connex of compromising safety by offering train drivers only six weeks’ training, compared with six months previously. Assisted by riot police, Connex attempted to crush the strike.

Finland

In November 2004, the Finnish transport workers’ union, AKT, was forced into a 13-day strike against Connex and other transport companies. Connex’s practice of only offering short-term contracts for new bus drivers provoked this. Connex is notorious in Finland for leading the way in attacks on workplace safety.

During the strike, Connex harassed workers and threatened to sack them. The company also took the union to court. The Labour Court declared the strike illegal and the union was fined 17,000 euros. But this did not stop the strike, and the workers eventually won a partial victory. Connex was forced to agree not to employ any new part-timers until new negotiations with the union in January 2006. Connex also promised to offer full-time work for the part-timers.

Norway

In Norway, in the summer of 2003, the bus drivers’ union reported Connex to the police, for breaking the law in relation to workplace safety. Connex drivers had been driving for 18-20 hours, a day, for several days, without a break.

"The company is breaking the law and super-exploits the employees. Now, the company is more interested in nailing those who report the conditions than sorting them out. They do not deserve to run the busses here," a spokesperson for the drivers told Norwegian radio.

The history of Connex is a history of anti-trade unionism and total neglect of safety and security.

This article appears in Offensiv (13 October), paper of Rättivsepartiet Socialisterna (RS - CWI Sweden), paper of the CWI in Sweden

See also posted articles on 30 September and 17 October, on socialistworld.net

10 October 2005

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