CGT-FO holds congress

EIROnline, March 2000

France's CGT-FO trade union confederation held its 19th congress from 7-10 March 2000. The congress was marked by considerable unanimity and Marc Blondel was re-elected as general secretary with 97% of the vote.

The General Confederation of Labour-Force ouvrière (Confédération générale du travail—Force ouvrière, CGT-FO) held its 19th congress in Marseilles from 7-10 March 2000. In contrast to the 18th CGT-FO congress in 1996, which was one of the most turbulent in the union's history, the 19th congress was marked by apparent unanimity. The annual report was approved by 97.8% of voting delegates.

Created in 1948 by CGT activists who wanted to free the French trade union movement from the influence of communism, CGT-FO has attempted to unite and organise workers of various political affiliations—from far-left trotskyists or anarcho-syndicalists to gaullist right wingers—under one umbrella. In its early years, CGT-FO was characterised by its active role in the setting up of the sector-wide collective bargaining system, as well as the major jointly-managed vocational training and social protection organisations (such as those for health insurance, pensions and unemployment insurance). Internationally, CGT-FO's fiercely anti-communist stance traditionally went hand in hand with an active role in European integration and in the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU).

The election of Marc Blondel as general secretary in February 1989 marked a shift towards policies based on more aggressive demands. This was demonstrated by the union's participation, alongside CGT, in the November and December 1995 industrial action in protest at the Juppé government's proposed reform of the welfare system.

At the same time, CGT-FO began to be less enthusiastic about the European integration agenda, especially after the 1992 Maastricht Treaty and the move to the single currency. It has also criticised the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC), of which CGT-FO has been a member since its inception.

This new policy of aggressive demands, which is attributed, in particular, to the influence of the trotskyist Workers' Party (Parti des travailleurs, PT) within the CGT-FO, led to serious tension within the union. This came to a head at the 1996 congress, where for the first time in the union's history, the incumbent general secretary, Marc Blondel, was challenged by another candidate, Jacques Mairé. Mr Blondel was re-elected and Mr Mairé, along with other regional and sectoral CGT-FO leaders, defected to the National Union of Independent Unions (Union nationale des syndicats autonomes, UNSA). However, the CGT-FO's electoral power base in elections of employee representatives remained unaffected. According to estimates by Dominique Labbé, CGT-FO's membership stands at slightly below 300,000.

The 19th congress took place against a much calmer and more serene backdrop than the one held in 1996. In the end, those subjects on which the various sectoral federations were likely to disagree were hardly discussed. There was no fierce debate over the reduction of working time—as implemented by legislation over the past two years (FR0001137F)—between those federations that have signed agreements on the issue and those that have strongly criticised the legal and/or collectively agreed terms of the implementation procedure. In his opening remarks, Mr Blondel especially criticised liberal economic policies and the recent proposals from employers' associations for an overhaul of the industrial relations system (FR0002143F), which he described as corporatism. In his opinion, the trade union movement must remain independent and consequently cannot be lawmaker, joint lawmaker, manager or joint manager of private or state capitalist interests. Finally, against the background of competition between French trade unions, Mr Blondel particularly attacked the attitude of the CFDT confederation.

CGT-FO's Marseilles congress also elected the members of the union's management team. At the end of the congress, the national confederal committee elected a new executive committee, which seems to indicate that the union is leaning towards more moderate leaders. Mr Blondel was re-elected for a final term as general secretary with 97% of the vote.