Swiss railway workers strike against job cuts, 2008


The workers demanded that the Federal Railways restructuring plan and a consequent 400+ job cuts be withdrawn

Time period

March 7, 2008 to April 5, 2008



Location City/State/Province

Bellinzona, Ticino
Jump to case narrative


The Strike Committee and the Solidarity Committee formed by the workers of Swiss Federal Railways – cargo division in Bellinzona. These workers represented SEV (Transport Workers’ Union), UNIA (an active trade union in service industries), and Transfair (a Christian trade union).


Not Known

External allies

Group of politicians of Ticino canton (where Bellinzona is located), the bishop of Ticino

Involvement of social elites

Group of politicians of Ticino canton, the bishop of Ticino


Swiss Federal Railways and its cargo subsidiary in Bellinzona

Nonviolent responses of opponent

Not Known

Campaigner violence

Not Known

Repressive Violence

Not Known


Economic Justice



Group characterization

Swiss Federal Railway workers

Groups in 1st Segment

Politicians of Ticino
Bishop of Ticino

Segment Length

5 days

Success in achieving specific demands/goals

6 out of 6 points


1 out of 1 points


3 out of 3 points

Total points

10 out of 10 points

Notes on outcomes

the cargo division of Swiss Federal Railways withdrew its reconstructive plan, thus preventing the cutting of 400+ jobs.

The workers did not lose their jobs and stayed strong throughout and after the campaign, keeping the strike committees and organizing groups together.

By day 2 of the campaign, the participants grew from 420 workers to 8000 supporters, also garnering support from allies like the politicians of Ticino.

Database Narrative

The cargo division of Swiss Federal Railways (SFR) had repeatedly been suffering financial deficits for a few years and even changed top management. On March 6, 2008, SFR announced a major restructuring plan that involved shutting down its maintenance workshops; more than 400 jobs were to be cut as a consequence. 126 jobs were to be cut in the town of Bellinzona, Switzerland. These workers represented SEV (Transport Workers’ Union), UNIA (an active trade union in service industries), and Transfair (a Christian trade union).

The workers demanded detailed information on the plan. In the morning of March 7, 2008, an assembly of workers demanded that SFR clarify the rumor of job cuts. They forced Nicolas Perrin, the managing director, to provide an answer and he said that the rumor was true; there would be job cuts. Immediately, 420 workers of Bellinzona depot rose up and threw Perrin out of the assembly hall. The workers then decided to go on strike indefinitely. They demanded the withdrawal of all plans for the job cuts. The workers elected a strike committee, with Gianni Frizzo as the chairman. The committee organized the campaign and managed the negotiations. They also formed a solidarity committee in every town and factory of the region in order to keep the strike running.

On March 8, more than 8,000 people marched along the streets of Bellinzona, waving flags and balloons that said “Hands off the job,” and yelling the same phrase. On March 12, the SFR suspended the restructuring plans while the two sides held round-table talks for negotiation. The company offered a two-month suspension of job cuts if the strike ended. On the following day, the workers rejected the offer. On March 15, the workers made it clear that they demanded the withdrawal of all job cuts.  

A group of politicians from Ticino (the region of which Bellinzona is a part) launched a solidarity fund. The strike workers collected more than one million francs (more than 600,000 Euros). The strikers also received political support from the Ticino canton government and the bishop of Ticino, who also coordinated financial aid.

During the strike, the strikers occupied the maintenance workshops and welded the rail tracks together to prevent trains and wagons from going in and out. Over Easter weekend, they also threatened to block the Gotthard Tunnel, blocking all traffic between the Ticino district and Italy. The workshops in Bellinzona were the only ones capable of producing special brakes for cargo trains, so their bargaining power proved to be a crucial factor. The strikers hung red flags from windows and balconies that said “Hands off the Workshops.” They collected funds and signatures on street corners.

Realizing the economic constraints of the company, the strikers proposed a future management plan for the workshops that were intended to be closed.

On Saturday, April 5, 2008, Moritz Leuenberger, the head of the Federal Department of Transport, withdrew the plan for job cuts. The future of the cargo workshops remained undecided, but the jobs would not be cut for the time being.


This strike was soon followed by a demonstration in Bern, organized by the industrial workers who were also to be affected by the restructure plan (2).


"Protests greet rail cargo job cuts announcement." Mar 7, 2008. Web. Oct 10, 2010. <>

Wallace, Ellen. "Bellinzona train cargo workers settle in for long strike." Translated from article. GenevaLunch. Mar 10, 2008. Web. Oct 24, 2010. <>

Sarti, Roberto. "Major strike shakes Switzerland - the Bellinzona railway workers." In Defense of Marxism. Apr 18, 2008. Web. Oct 24, 2010. <>

Landon, Vincent. "Railway workers end strike." World Radio Switzerland. Apr 8, 2008. Web. Oct 24, 2010. <>

"1°maggio2008 - MANIFESTAZIONE SINDACALE A BELLINZONA." Youtube. Posted by alessioarigoni. May 4, 2008. Web. Oct 24, 2010. <>

Additional Notes

Edited by Max Rennebohm (08/06/2011)

Name of researcher, and date dd/mm/yyyy

Jeewon Kim, 24/10/2010