Something quite incredible has happened in France this year. But only one part of the story and its effect has been reported in the UK – and certainly not the outcome.
All summer we’ve seen images of burning tyres blocking the ferry port at Calais. We’ve seen ferries being commandeered by crew and the harbour itself blocked.
Although the demonstrations were very heavy-handed, I do have an admiration for the way they fought to protect their livelihoods
More than 480 staff from the French company MyFerryLink were playing hard-ball with the French government and two ferry companies over its closure.
MyFerryLink used to be Seafrance, owned by the French railway SNCF.
Now owned by Euro Tunnel, the Monopolies Commission decreed it had to sell the ferry company. So Danish operator DFDS took over and wanted to use its own, cheaper crew.
Unlike in the UK these days, the French don’t go down without a fight. As we know, Calais was closed, DFDS staff insulted and assaulted and the two ships ‘taken captive’.
But what did the French police do? Nothing. It was as if they supported the actions of the crew.
The two ships the militant crew had taken over were vandalised. Seats, curtains and blinds were ripped. TVs and white goods were smashed, carpets ruined and the bars drank dry.
Luckily for new operator DFDS, the engine rooms were not sabotaged.
Arrests? None, even though I’m sure the authorities knew who was involved.
The results of their actions? DFDS has given in, knowing it will not be able to operate to France without French crew. Out of the 487 French MyFerryLink staff, 402 were awarded jobs.
All 170 British workers lost their jobs, with not one demonstration or fight for support.
I remember the scenes of the miners’ strike in 1984 and the clashes with the police. After this, we seemed to lose the will to stand up for our rights.
The power of the unions in France certainly hasn’t affected its economy. The French are in Europe’s top three.
I can’t say I’ve ever had socialist views or been part of a union, but although the demonstrations were very heavy-handed, I do have an admiration for the way they fought to protect their livelihoods.