The General Confederation of Labor (CGT) is once again plunged into uncertainty for reasons of governance. Its secretary general, Philippe Martinez, indicated, Monday, May 30, to the members of the confederal office, that he will not seek a new mandate at the next union congress, scheduled for the end of March 2023, in Clermont-Ferrand. His choice was revealed on Tuesday morning by Les Echos, a few minutes before a meeting of the Confederal Executive Committee (CEC), during which he explained himself at length, without convincing all of the assistance. Such a decision is, in itself, not entirely surprising, but many activists are surprised to learn of it this way and at this time. It occurs in a context where the organization is shaken by lively debates on the line to take and on the democracy within it.

In the text presented “as an introduction to the CEC”, Tuesday 31, of which Le Monde became aware, Mr. Martinez assures that he “does not leave [his] responsibility neither constrained nor forced” and that he “does not yield to any pressure “. The act of handing over stems from the conviction that it is necessary, for a leader as for a union, “to renew itself”. The CGT must be “always more open to a changing world”, he writes, referring in particular to “environmental concerns”. He recalls that the confederation was involved in this theme by contributing to the creation, two years ago, of the group Never Again, with other employee organizations (FSU, Solidaires) and environmental associations (Greenpeace, Les Friends of the Earth…).

Bold move

Convinced that “we must strengthen the place of women in positions of responsibility”, Mr. Martinez proposes to be replaced by Marie Buisson, secretary general of the education, research and culture federation of the CGT. This teacher is not well known internally. It was voted on by the CEC on Tuesday: thirty-two people voted in favor, three against, while three abstained, and three did not take part in the consultation. Membership is clear, but not unanimous. Above all, this is only a first step: for Ms. Buisson to become Secretary General – which would be a first in the history of the organization – she will have to obtain the imprimatur of the National Confederal Committee (CCN). , the “parliament” of the CGT, during the congress of Clermont-Ferrand.

Mr. Martinez’s move is bold, not to say reckless, because the personality he recommends to succeed him has been a driving force in the Never Again coalition. However, many members and executives of the CGT, working in particular in industry, are wondering about the rapprochement of their confederation with Greenpeace, which is calling for an exit from nuclear power and a decarbonization of the economy, likely to jeopardize tens of thousands of jobs. The constitution of this alliance had already given rise to tough discussions during a meeting of the CCN in June 2020. Disagreements, which are still topical, for reasons of substance and method.

Secretary General of the Mines-Energy Federation – very established at EDF -, Sébastien Ménesplier wonders about the “criteria” which led Mr. Martinez to submit the candidacy of Ms. Buisson. “It’s a choice that needs to be well thought out and not the brainchild of one man,” he says. Monday’s announcement “still raises questions about how we operate,” he adds.

rebuild all

His remark resonates with the criticisms made by other important components of the union. Before the CCN, Laurent Brun, the head of the federation of railway workers, denounced, on May 10, “drifts” in the practice of power exercised at the top of the confederation, judging it hypercentralized. On other occasions, he openly pleaded for Mr. Martinez not to run again, while increasing the exchanges with several of his counterparts on the need to rebuild everything in the CGT house.

At the beginning of March, another union figure, Baptiste Talbot, who led the powerful federation of public services, had resigned from the CEC, with an argument that noted a “dysfunction (…) on the democratic level”. He also criticized the suspension of a member of this body, the subject of a rape complaint, deploring that this decision was so hasty and made public in a press release.

Mr. Martinez, who will be 62 years old in 2023, is therefore preparing to let go of the controls, while the CGT has not left the zone of turbulence. He had acceded to his post in early 2015, after the resignation of Thierry Lepaon, implicated for the work deemed very expensive in his company apartment. The latter had been designated number one after the unsuccessful attempt of his predecessor, Bernard Thibault, to place Nadine Prigent in the chair of secretary general. A painful precedent that many, within the apparatus, have no desire to relive.