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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: La CGT sort par le haut de sa crise de direction

by Sébastien Crépel & Clotilde Mathieu

CGT Comes Out of Leadership Crisis with Heads Held High

Translated Tuesday 10 February 2015, by Gene Zbikowski

No sooner had the new general secretary, Philippe Martinez, been elected with 93.4% of the votes than he adopted a combative tone, inviting the CGT to undertake a national action in March. On Feb. 4, the National Confederation Committee continues its discussion of encouraging a debate within the trade union on the direction that it is to take.

A definitive vote. With 93.4% of the vote, Philippe Martinez was elected to head the CGT on Feb. 3. Following his first speech, the new general secretary was given an ovation by the officers of the 33 trade union federations and the 96 départemental unions (UD) which compose the National Confederation Committee (CCN).

A “combative” speech, which “expresses well what’s at stake, without waffling,” according to a UD secretary. A speech in which, right after his election, this metalworker, age 53, a child of the suburbs, a former technician at Renault’s Billancourt factory, put the CGT back on the terrain of struggle. He called for a big national day of action in Paris in March. “A mobilization in which it will not be enough to say what we reject, but will also be necessary to say what we want,” he warned a few days earlier before the executive body of the metalworkers federation, from which he comes.

A “hands-on” general secretary, who announced on Feb. 3 that he would visit at least two thousand local trade unions in the run-up to the next confederation congress, which is scheduled for Spring, 2016. He also promised to hold “decentralized” meetings of the CCN, that is to say, meetings bringing together the members of several regions.

As to the ten-member team that will form the new confederation bureau, it obtained 88.8% of the vote at the CCN meeting. Colette Duynslaeger, the general secretary of the postal workers federation (FAPT), with 82% of the vote, gets the sensitive job of administrator of the confederation treasury.

Also entering the confederation bureau: Virginie Gensel-Imbrecht (energy), Pascal Joly (Ile de France regional union), Gisèle Vidallet (Haut Garonne départemental union), Céline Verzeletti (civil service), Denis Lalys (social organizations), Fabrice Angéi (public services), Marie Saavedra (Vaucluse départemental union), and Gregory Roux (railworkers).

A completely new bureau, still with as many women as men, but whose role could change. Speaking of the outgoing confederation leadership, Philippe Martinez confided in mid-December to the executive committee of the metalworkers federation that “I’m convinced that we’ve got a confederation bureau made up of experts who can deal with the issues well, but who don’t know how to animate a leadership team collectively or to encourage, share and validate decisions with a national, or even trade union leadership.”

An initial proposal rejected on January 13

So the second proposal was the right one, in order to find a way out, heads held high, of the leadership crisis that began on October 29 with the revelations in the Canard enchaîné weekly newspaper regarding the costs paid by the CGT for the renovation of the official apartment, in Vincennes, of its previous general secretary. Three months of sudden developments and of tension, which reached their climax on January 7, with the announcement of Thierry Lepaon’s handing in his resignation to the trade union confederation’s authorities. “There’ll be a new general secretary next week,” he stated at the time.

The decision to resign was taken under pressure from the Confederation Executive Committee (CEC), from the départemental unions, and from trade union federations, which felt that the general secretary had to clearly commit himself to not getting re-elected.

Once Thierry Lepaon’s resignation was official, the delicate problem of choosing a successor plunged the trade union confederation into a new phase of tension regarding the conditions for deciding on a new confederation bureau. An initial proposal of ten names, with Philippe Martinez heading the list, failed to gain the necessary two-thirds vote from the CCN on Jan. 13. The main reason was because Thierry Lepaon had participated in drawing up this proposal, something that a portion of the representatives of the federations and the départemental unions considered unacceptable.

So Philippe Martinez was charged with starting over from scratch. His road map was to propose a bureau which does not include anyone from the resigning bureau. The task was accomplished on Feb. 3, but this does not answer other pending questions at the CGT – the leadership crisis has brought to the surface deep questioning on the part of its membership.

Five points being debated in the trade union confederation.

It was in order to take on this debate uncompromisingly and to the very end within the CGT that the CCN is, on Feb. 4, to set out “a balance statement” of the “realization of the orientations of the 50th confederation congress” with a view to preparing the next congress, scheduled for 2016, on the basis of the five points developed by Thierry Lepaon before the leaders of the CGT union organizations on Dec. 15. These five points include the CGT’s trade union approach and its message to employees, the place it occupies in the trade union world and its relationship with other trade union confederations and with the worlds of associations and political organizations, and the democratic internal functioning of the CGT.

These are the orientations of the CGT which have got to be spelled out, but make no mistake about it, we need real discussion on the fundamental questions,” Philippe Martinez told the leaders of the metalworkers federation in January. On Nov. 20, he said that “ ‘settling’ the problem of the general secretary without working on those questions amounts to lying to the membership.”

CGT Vital Facts

Male-female equality is maintained. The CGT’s new leadership team is made up of five men and five women, with a majority from the federations and a minority from the départemental unions. None have ever been a member of the confederation bureau before.

694,857 This is the number of CGT members, according to the last total made public in early 2014.

The fifteenth general secretary. Since the CGT was founded in 1895, fifteen general secretaries have headed it. There have been six since 1947: Benoît Frachon (1947-1967), Georges Séguy (1967-1982), 
Henri Krasucki (1982-1992), Louis Viannet (1992-1999), Bernard Thibault (1999-2013), and Thierry Lepaon (2013-2015).

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