Rail Sans Frontière

Railway Privatisation

In Senegal and Mali, long planned railway privatisation was executed in October 2003, when the central 1.200 km railway line between the two countries’ capitals, from Dakar to Bamako, was sold to the Canadian/French enterprise Transrail.

The major profit guided goal of Transrail is more and faster transport of goods – consequentially a reduced transport of people, faster trains, and a reduced number of stops along the track. Since Transrail took over operation of the track, most train stations were closed down, gravely affecting the local communities and economies of people living along the track and depending on the use of the railway for their work and lives.

A second major profit induced goal for any company is of course to reduce costs, in other words: to exert pressure on wages and working conditions, and to get rid of part of the workforce – beginning with union activists and other “troublemakers”. During the process of privatisation, established unions and company in perfect harmony negotiated new contracts, giving up on workers’ rights and entitlements that these had achieved by working for the state owned railway for long years. The new contracts contained compensation agreements and explicit decisions on who was going to keep or lose his/her job.

The workers who were fired from their railway jobs in the course of the privatisation process are called “déflatés” in French, and this is the name under which, in Senegal, these workers organise in protest against their firings and against the process of privatisation as a whole, as Regroupement des Cheminots Déflatés (RCD).

In Mali, fired workers joined forces with community groups along the track of the privatised railway. Tiécoura Traoré for instance, a union activist and railway worker fired by Transrail for his involvement in the movement opposing privatisation in late 2004, who gained some popularity through a worldwide solidarity campaign against his firing, is now the president of ‘Collectif Citoyen pour la Restitution et le Développement Intégré du Rail Malien’ (COCIDIRAIL), a civil society organisation of women and men living along and from the Dakar-Bamako line with 800 members (December 2006).

Because the established unions were part of the process of installing the devastating new contracts (though some claimed they had been betrayed by Transrail), new unions emerged: in Senegal, the Fédération des travailleurs du rail (FET-Rail); and in Mali, the Syndicat des travailleurs du rail (SYTRAIL). These are new, progressive unions, who oppose privatisation and work together closely with civil society organisations. The emergence of these new unions in and community organisations 2004 and 2005, and their determination to work together, though, was a first step towards building common grounds for a strong people’s resistance against their expropriation.

In the meanwhile these organisations had to resolve all kinds of difficulties themselves. Internal discussions and battles had to be fought, but moreover the ‘divide-and-conquer’ strategy of the company caused difficulties; it turned out that the Senegalese and Malinese workers weren’t working under the same working conditions which initially caused tensions between the organisations. These difficulties have been overcome and both the Senegalese and Malinese organisations became ever stronger.

Also the firings and reorganisations have not yet stopped in years following the privatisation in 2003. In 2006 again 20 workers were fired, among them the leader of FET-Rail in Senegal. For 2007 social struggle is foreseen as well as Transrail, the railway company, has decided to reorganise the railway station in Dakar in manner opposed by the workers.

Car network

DaimlerChrysler Coordination

Rail network

Rail Sans Frontière

Chemical network

International and regional network of rail workers

Railway privatisation

International solidarity declaration/2007

Solidarity with Senegalese+Malinese unions/July2006

Appeal of Cocidirail (Maili)/2005

Article - United against privatisation of railways?

Report of the meeting in Dakar/2005.