The Ugly Reaction to the TPG Strike: Francophobia and Temporary Amnesia

Read here about the second strike planned for 4 December. 

GENEVA, Switzerland – Since the Geneva Transport Workers Union (SEV) voted in favor of going on strike, Francophobia – blaming French commuters – has reared its ugly head, helped along by a case of convenient temporary amnesia.

It only takes reading the comments section of Geneva-based French-language newspapers or the @TPGeneva Twitter feed, to realize that a large contingent of Geneva residents are suffering from a hyper case of French allergy and short-term memory loss.

Of 38 comments in a recently published Tribune de Genève article, 20 make reference to the “dirty” French commuters or frontaliers (many of whom are actually Swiss nationals living on the cheap in France – but… that is another article).

According to some frustrated readers, it is the French frontaliers who are  bringing “their dirty work stoppage customs,” to the otherwise perfectly functioning Ville de Genève.

Many readers – and plenty of my neighbors – blame the TPG for hiring “large contingents” of French workers – because as “we all know” the French have taken over the Geneva job market:

TdG comment2

TdG comment

The ugly talk however, may be too much for many residents and authorities.

The TPG – which says a few workers who have wanted to cross the union’s picket line have been prevented from working – has called on users to show respect and dignity towards its work force:

Loosely translated the TPG said: We’d be grateful for refraining from posting hateful, defamatory, racist, xenophobic or other injurious messages.

Others on Twitter are also calling for less hateful messages and attitudes:

The foolish and insensitive remarks about French commuters are nothing new in Geneva; after all, a local political party uses this rhetoric as a successful voting strategy.

What is appalling however, is the temporary political amnesia that blames frontaliers and not Geneva’s own voters, for these woes.

It seems that only a handful of citizens think the strike could possibly be the direct result of an election approved by an outstanding majority in May – and validated by the State Council in June – that sought to reduce transportation prices in Geneva (Popular initiative IN-146 previously annulled in 2013).

Did residents who voted in favor of the measure think that it would come without a reduction in services and / or the elimination of jobs? And… did they think workers and unions would not protest such measures?

The Geneva State Council advised the population to vote against the proposed change as it would leave the TPG with a deficit of CHF15-20 million per year.

The State Council further explained that CHF20 million was the equivalent of what the State of Geneva contributes to the operating of three very popular bus lines: TPG 3 (Crêts-de-Champel – Gardiol), 7 (Hôpital – Tours Lignon) and 23 (Aéroport – ZIPLO).

Not only did that message not register with voters, it seems Geneva voters also ignored the fact that more – not less – drivers would be needed for the new CEVA transportation system.

Temporary amnesia is only part of the convoluted equation. Going on strike is a touchy subject in the country, particularly when it comes to public servants. Switzerland has even regulated the right to strike in its constitution.

“Swiss law may deny certain categories of workers the right to strike, for example in order to guarantee essential public services,” – this could be the reason why so many outraged customers are calling for “lawsuits.”

According to Swiss legislation on labor relations, “the parties to a collective agreement may agree on a regime of labour peace for certain aspects of work, implying that they commit to refraining from strikes on the issues covered.” Some agree and think that SEV-affiliated workers should be providing services while negotiating their position, not going on strike.

In fact, strikes take place so seldom here that many Genevans may have never been exposed to work stoppage.

When Swiss TV anchor Darius Rochebin, mentioned the fact that the Swiss would finally “feel” what a labor strike was, only one brave Twitterer brought up the fact that this could be a direct result of local voting initiatives:

The hate and uncomfort provoked by the strike continue… but, as one would expect from Switzerland, life continues in a seemingly peaceful manner: cars have yet to take over the empty bus lanes.

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