CFTC fights to maintain its representativeness

The French Christian Workers’ Confederation (CFTC), whose existence is threatened by new rules on trade union representativeness, held its 51st congress on 15–18 November 2011. The confederation, with 142,000 members, says its mission is ‘to oppose all those who question the presence, action and place of the CFTC in social dialogue’. However, reforms due to be implemented from 2013 onwards could lead to CFTC losing its rights to negotiate and sign collective agreements.

Background

The reform of representativeness rules in France (FR0806039I) means that, from 2013 onwards, trade unions will need to obtain 10% of the votes in workforce elections at company level, and 8% of votes in each sector and on a national, interprofessional level (FR0808039I) in order to retain their representativeness and therefore their right to negotiate and sign collective agreements. However, the French Christian Workers’ Confederation (CFTC) might not reach these thresholds. The theme of the 51st congress was therefore a call to fight for the group’s survival, while rejecting any prospect of merger with another trade union. The CFTC now faces a crisis equal to the one it experienced in 1964, when 70% of CFTC delegates voted to leave. They formed the French Democratic Confederation of Labour (CFDT), while the remaining ‘die-hard minority’ decided to maintain a CFTC that was true to the social doctrine of the Catholic Church.

A progressive presence

It is difficult to evaluate exactly the importance of the CFTC in the new trade union landscape before knowing the results of all the workplace elections, which will be consolidated and published in 2013. The most recent data concerning the CFTC (in French, 189Kb PDF), was published by the Directorate for Research, Studies and Statistics for the Ministry of Work and Health in 2006, and were based on the works council elections of 2004. At that time, the CFTC had fielded candidates in 20.9% of companies, up from 14.5% in 1990. In the companies in which it presented candidates, it polled an average 18.5% of the votes, also higher than its 1990 results when it took 16.5% of the vote. The confederation is well established in certain sectors (automotive, distribution, transport, property, private education) and in certain regions (Alsace, Lorraine, Nord-Pas-De-Calais). However, of the total votes cast during those elections, the CFTC obtained 6.1% of the national vote, well short of the 8% necessary to ensure its representativeness at national level.

Risk of fragmentation

Newly elected CFTC General Secretary, Philippe Louis, stressed several good results obtained in workplace elections at some large companies, while at the same time acknowledging a failure in the public sector elections where the union received just 3.87% of the votes cast. The results in full can be seen on the Public Service Ministry’s website (in French). Bernard Vivier, confederal Vice-President of the CFTC and Director of the Higher Institute for Labour (IST) believes that maintenance of the union’s national representativeness is at risk, and emphasises the possibility of the CFTC becoming fragmented with pockets of strong support surviving only in certain companies or regions. Nevertheless, the CFTC has chosen to remain independent, rejecting any idea of merging with other trade unions also facing the loss of their representativeness at the national level or striving to attain representative status. Instead, the CFTC is committed to reaching the thresholds required to be recognised as representative. According to its report for 2008–2011 (in French, 7.3Mb PDF) which was adopted at the congress, the CFTC has received 10.39% of votes on the basis of 300 elections held since 2008 (490,674 votes cast).

Programme report

The union’s fight for representativeness will be led by Philippe Louis, who was elected at the congress to succeed Jacques Voisin, together with new General Secretary Pascale Coton, and Treasurer Bernard Sagez. They will be guided by the Draft Report (in French, 1.43Mb PDF) agreed at congress. The report says the union is aiming for a ‘humanist market and public sector economy which must prevail over a market economy too subservient to financial capitalism’.

Instead the CFTC calls for ‘social and environmental traceability of products and services’ which would help consumers decide what to buy, thus forcing companies to change their ‘salary and environmental strategy’. The CFTC also argues for ‘an individual and collective right of withdrawal for employees who refuse to implement a restructuring plan designed solely to satisfy the stock markets’.

This right of withdrawal, which already exists to allow employees to leave their post without sanction in the event of ecological risks or for reasons linked to personal safety, would therefore be extended to include the risk of destroying jobs. In addition, the CFTC wants it to be possible to prosecute employers who make a public commitment to preserve jobs if, having made a profit, they subsequently go back on their word. For young people, the CFTC proposes a training voucher in order to help those young people with the least qualifications.

Commentary

The CFTC congress defied experts who expected to see France gripped by large-scale trade union mergers following the reform of representativeness adopted in 2008. So far, no mergers involving the major unions have occurred. It remains to be seen whether the second prediction – the disappearance of the smallest organisations – will be fulfilled. The CFTC has certainly made it known that it will do everything to resist this possibility.

Frédéric Turlan, HERA

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