French workers could be World Cup winners

June 17, 1998

French workers could be World Cup winners

By James Vassilopoulos

A range of French workers, from pilots to train workers, have made use of the world's main soccer tournament, being held in France this month, to press for a "World Cup bonus" and to campaign against bosses' attacks on pay and conditions.

A pilots' strike against Air France lasted for 10 days, ending on June 10, just before the kick-off of the first match of the tournament, between Brazil and Scotland.

With the aim of saving A$140 million, Air France attempted to cut pilots' wages by 15% and give them share options instead. It also wanted to pay new pilots a lower starting salary.

The final deal between the SNPL, the main pilots' union, and Air France allows pilots to choose between accepting the share options and a 15% pay cut or keeping their existing pay. However, those pilots who do not accept the 15% pay cut will have their salaries frozen in real terms for seven years.

New pilots' pay will not be lower, but they will have to pay for their training over a five-year period.

Despite a lot of "greedy pilots" propaganda, a poll published in Le Journal du Dimanche found that 38% of people supported the pilots.

That the pilots took industrial action against Air France and the Lionel Jospin social democratic government is very significant. Throughout the 1980s the pilots had an alliance with management against other workers in the industry.

The pilots have accepted the argument that cost savings need to be found, but it remains to be seen how Air France will implement the cuts.

Other workers in France have also been using the World Cup to strengthen their bargaining position.

Railway unions have won a special bonus, boosting last year's bonus of 850 francs (A$236) to 1000.

Public transport workers in Paris and Nantes are demanding a bonus for the extra work they will be doing during the tournament, and police unions are threatening to drive vehicles slowly to block traffic unless they get their bonus.

Airport baggage handlers and electricity workers are also threatening action.

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