"It is better to be drunk with loss and to beat the ground, than to let the deeper things gradually escape."
- I. Compton-Burnett, letter to Francis King (1969)
"Cynical realism – it is the intelligent man’s best excuse for doing nothing in an intolerable situation."
- Aldous Huxley, "Time Must Have a Stop"
Wednesday, 28 September 2005
Topic: World View Organized Labor: Sailing Off with a Whole Ship Over the last several years in these pages there have been a few discussions of organized labor – for one example see April 11, 2004, Last night I dreamed I saw Joe Hill, about a labor dispute out here. Back then I noted my conservative friend says what's wrong with America is we restrict businesses and the key to getting the economy going again is outlawing unions, and making it illegal for any employee, individually or collectively, to oppose or even to comment on how that employee is being treated. That is, if you don't like your job, or your pay, or your benefits, or you think you workplace is unsafe - just quit. Get another job if you're so damned unhappy. Well, that's one view. Class warfare was in the air. And still is.
But no union over here would try to pull of what is reported below from "Our Man in Paris," Ric Erickson, editor of MetropoleParis. These folks are serious.
Strikers Snatch Ship
PARIS - Tuesday, September 27 - Listening to radio France-Info news earlier today, I became concerned about the state of France. The radio reported that striking ferry sailors had seized one of the SNCM ships and were sailing it to Corsica. This was a very brief report, followed by an update from the Paris bourse, sports news and weather.
'Sort of casual,' I thought, 'for what is obviously a major escalation in the ongoing war that other countries would call labor relations.' Strikers in France, used to being ignored by management, are capable of inventing unusual and interesting tactics to get attention, but sailing off with a whole ship?
Technically it's like piracy. What is the prosecutor in Marseille doing? Where is the navy, or sea-going police? What will the Prefect of Corsica say about it? Instead of answers, I learned that the municipal council of Perpignan in Languedoc-Roussillon has rejected the notion of renaming the region 'Septimanie.'
It all goes back to the end of August or the beginning of September in 415, when Ataulf was assassinated in Barcelona. It was a time of decline for the Romans, in this area called Septimanie on account of the legion stationed there, or it relates to a union of seven bishops at the time of Visigothic kings. Skip ahead 1589 years to 2004 when Georges Frêche gets elected as the head of the region, and he wants to bring the old name back - but residents, many of whom are Catalan, are against the idea. They think the old name sounds like 'septicémie,' or a serious infection.
Meanwhile the strikers are sailing across the bright blue Mediterranean towards Corsica, where they are expected to arrive about 22:30 tonight. Police forces on the troubled island were guarding another ferry belonging to the private line, Corsica Ferries, after STC and CGT strikers had attempted to block loading.
As evening fell more details have emerged on the TV-news. The general secretary of the Corsica-based STC marine union, Alain Mosconi, told AFP at Ajaccio about noon that his members had 'gotten under way' with the mixed ferry, Pascal Paoli. TV-news reported that 30 unarmed but hooded men boarded the ferry that had a crew of about 60. There are no passengers aboard.
The ferry seizure comes after battles last night in the port of Marseille between the CRS units in full riot gear and using teargas against CGT strikers. The confrontation involved about 200 strikers and the police, and led to the arrest of two strikers.
This in turn set off a blockage of the entire ports of Marseille and Fos sur-Mer on Tuesday, closing down cargo, container, mineral and petroleum shipments. A small group of strikers arrived in Nice Tuesday morning but SNCM had already moved its high-speed ferry 'Liamone' offshore. At other ports a total of nine SNCM ferries are idle.
The events this week follow a series of strikes of the embattled ferry service that is owned by the state. The unions oppose a government plan to hand over control to a private investment group, Butler Capital Partners.
Tonight news agencies are announcing that the government has decided to go ahead this afternoon with its deal with the private investors, saying that their offer was the 'most acceptable.' The state is expected to continue as a minority shareholder. Butler Capital has indicated that it will lay off 350 to 400 sailors out of a total of 2400 who work for SNCM.
In the meantime, somewhere off the coast of Corsica, the hijackers have claimed that they have 'not stolen' the ferry and that they 'are not mutineers.' Union members and the police are waiting for their arrival in the port of Bastia, where CGT marine members have already occupied the SNCM offices.
In Marseille the court is saying that the hijacking is a 'flagrant crime' no different from hijacking an airliner. A judicial source told AFP that conviction could result in a 20-year prison term. Maritime gendarmes are to investigate.
The two CGT delegates arrested Monday night have had their detention prolonged, but should appear in court on Wednesday. They risk a year in prison and a fine of 15,000 euros. This afternoon a CRS troop was protecting the commissariat where the two are being held. Union members expect to meet early Wednesday morning to decide whether the port strike will continue.
Commandos Seize Strikers
PARIS- Wednesday, September 28 - Five helicopters carrying government quick-reaction anti-terrorist GIGN forces swiftly converged on the hijacked ferry this morning off the port of Bastia and recaptured it from the strikers who offered no resistance.
The SNCM ferry, the Pascal Paoli, arrived near Bastia in Corsica last night but stayed offshore, controlled by the strikers, on account of CRS troops occupying the port. The GIGN commandos staged their raid to recapture the vessel in daylight, quickly seizing the striking hijackers and handcuffing them. Reports said no firearms were used.
After the action, which took only a few minutes, the ferry turned away from Corsica to return to the mainland, most likely to Toulon where the French navy has its major Mediterranean base.
Corsican protestors occupied Bastia's port and nationalist politicians of the Unione Naziunale de l'Assemblée de Corse denounced the government action, claiming that an agreement had been brokered on Tuesday evening that called for the hijackers to return the ferry to government control. In return they were guaranteed that there would be no police action and no arrests.
The port of Marseille was reported to be still blocked by striking port workers and SNCM ferry crews.