Return to calm at CFTC congress

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After clashes at its 1999 congress, the French Christian Workers' Confederation (CFTC) held its 48th national congress in November 2002 against a more peaceful backdrop. A new executive team headed by Jacques Voisin and Jacky Dintinger was elected, which is promoting the expansion of CFTC's presence, especially in small and medium-sized companies.

The French Christian Workers' Confederation (Confédération française des travailleurs chrétiens, CFTC) held its 48th national congress in Toulouse from 12 to 15 November 2002. Today’s CFTC, claiming descent from the Christian social strand in the French trade union tradition and the original CFTC union set up in 1919, was founded in 1964 when the majority of the former CFTC opted to set up the French Democratic Confederation of Labour (Confédération française démocratique du travail, CFDT).

In the wake of a stormy congress in 1999 (FR9912123N), the CFTC’s 48th congress was a forum for the confederation to redefine policy and to change its leadership, but not its direction, just a few weeks before the elections to joint industrial tribunal s (conseils de prud'hommes) which are a nationwide test of the representativeness of both trade unions and employers’ organisations in the private sector. CFTC's vote dropped by 1 percentage point in these elections in 1997 (FR9712185F), but its support has since revived considerably in the private sector. The latest works council election statistics (for 1999) published by the Ministry of Employment show CFTC support up by 0.7 points (5.8% as against 5.1% in 1997).

CFTC’s articles of association prohibited Alain Deleu, who had been CFTC president for the past nine years, from running for president again, and the congress elected the former vice-president, Jacques Voisin, to succeed him. Jacky Dintinger retained his position as general secretary and also became the confederation's official spokesperson. In a departure from Mr Deleu’s perceived 'personality-based' leadership style, the new team is advocating collective internal decision-making. Commentators have pointed to the new Voisin/Dintinger 'duo': Mr Dintinger is to be responsible for overseeing the day-to-day running of CFTC, while Mr Voisin will be the guardian of the union’s rule-book and character.

Apart from the difference in backgrounds between the old and new - Mr Deleu was a teacher, whereas both Mr Voisin and Mr Dintinger worked in industry, as an industrial designer and an electrical engineer respectively - the new CFTC team also has a significantly different approach to the issue of Christian values. Both Mr Voisin and Mr Dintinger adhere to the Christian social tradition but stress that they are not practising Catholics.

In tabling an orientation document at the congress, the deputy general secretary, Michel Coquillon, stressed that Christian values are the fundamental bedrock of CFTC action. The orientation document, which was carried by an overwhelming majority, calls for an economy that puts people first. It contends that 'the fatal materialistic rationale of short-term gain, economic imperatives, and unfettered speculation' must be scrapped. Under the slogan 'let’s live better', CFTC is demanding a new 'charter for workers' guaranteeing continuity of individual social rights (training, pensions and welfare) in order to address all the potential risks in a person’s working life. It is also calling for greater employee input in company policies and renewed focus on the central role of the family in society.

However, CFTC intends to adopt a more incisive and militant tone. Mr Voisin maintains that 'we have to take a harder line because we are up against a confrontational MEDEF' (Movement of French Enterprises [Mouvement des entreprises de France], the main employers' confederation). Protection of universal pensions at 75% of previous pay for those with 37.5 years of contributions was endorsed by the congress, against the backdrop of an upcoming government-initiated overhaul of the pension system (FR0208103F).

Over the past few years, in an attempt to expand its presence and increase membership, CFTC has made particular use of the system of 'mandating' employees to negotiate agreements (FR9807123F) in those companies where no union representation exists (most often in small and medium-sized businesses and the crafts sector), as provided for under the 35-hour week legislation (FR0001137F). The 48th congress reasserted the CFTC's resolve to expand its representativeness and membership and, as Mr Dintinger put it, the first goal is to explore the 'virgin forest' of small and medium-sized companies untouched by trade unions. CFTC’s slogan for the upcoming elections to joint industrial tribunals is 'Constructive union; capital C for Comprehend, Counsel, Convince'. These elections on 11 December 2002 will be a measure of the initial success of this strategy.

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