People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)

Vol. XXX

No. 20

May 14, 2006

French Working Class To Strengthen 

Struggle Against Globalisation

M K Pandhe


THE 48th Congress of General Confederation of Trade Unions (CGT), France was held in Lille (Northern France) from April 24 to April 28, 2006. Over one thousand delegates attended the congress which was held in Lille Grand Palace. About 40 delegates from fraternal trade union organisations in 20 countries participated in the congress. I attended the congress on behalf of the Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU).


The congress was overshadowed by the recent historic struggle of the students and the workers in France who jointly fought with firm determination against the anti-employment measures taken by the French government. These measures would seriously affect the job security of young workers. Though the struggle was initiated by the students, workers joined it in millions all over the country completely paralysing the economy. The CGT played a significant role in the struggle, which lasted for over two weeks, and which forced the French government to withdraw lock stock and barrel its retrograde proposal. The struggle openly challenged the globalisation policies of the French government and created a fervent anti-globalisation atmosphere in France.


The massive verdict given by the people of France last year in a nationwide referendum rejecting the European Constitution had a powerful impact on the developments in Europe. The working class of France played a notable role in the referendum to oppose the retrograde Constitution.




The growing militancy of the French working class had a clear reflection on the deliberations of the 48th congress of the CGT. The speeches of delegates during the congress narrated the valuable experience of the activists all over France in mobilising the working class on both the issues. The repeated applause of the delegates appreciated the remarkable achievement of the rank and file CGT activists who brought glory to these struggles.


Bernard Thibault, general secretary of CGT in his presentation of the report proudly mentioned the struggles waged by the French workers since the 47th congress and the leading role played by the CGT in these struggles.


The report of the general secretary strongly criticised the policies of the capitalist class all over the world advocating liberalisation, privatisation and globalisation. As a result of these policies unemployment has grown all over the world while social security measures are under severe attack. The curtailment of trade union rights and marginalisation of the trade union movement has become a global phenomenon.


Thibault opposed the policies of French capitalists who have intensified attacks on the livelihood of the French workers. He congratulated the CGT cadres for effectively resisting these attacks and giving a fitting reply to the capitalist offensive.


The CGT general secretary expressed solidarity with the struggles of the working class all over the world against the policies of the World Bank and the IMF and called for strengthening of the international trade union movement.


He condemned the US attack on Iraq and demanded withdrawal of US troops from that country. He also congratulated the people of Nepal for their valiant struggle against autocratic monarch. He demanded restoration of democracy and release of all political prisoners in Nepal. The CGT also supported the struggle of the people of Palestine for their rightful homeland.


Thibault expressed concern at the growing part time, low-paid employment and rampant system of short-term contracts, which is resulting in the drastic reduction of the quality of jobs. He criticised the concept of labour flexibility, which in practice, is only destroying regular employment. “Casualisation and job insecurity cannot result in sustained development of economy”, he asserted.


CGT general secretary criticised the recent trend of international cartels taking over pension funds, resulting in a significant decline in pensionary benefits. He advocated CGT proposals for improvement in financing by employers and the government of the pensionary funds so as to ensure adequate restoration of pensionary benefits.


Thibault mentioned about a survey conducted by CGT about the reaction of members towards the unions affiliated to CGT. It was found that the older workers were satisfied but the younger workers were not happy about the functioning of the unions. He laid special attention to the problem of young workers in the organisation.


Regarding women workers he noted that 44 per cent of employment in France consisted of women while the CGT membership of women is only 35 per cent. The women delegation to the congress was 27 per cent, which needs to be increased.


While concluding Thibault gave special attention to strengthening of TU democracy and more involvement of workers in union activities. He advocated that no union should sign an agreement with the employers unless it is ratified by a majority of the workers in the establishment. He gave a call for increasing the CGT membership to one million.




The congress discussed the following three documents placed before it for its consideration:

  1.   Report on activities

  2. Document on policy of CGT

  3. Report on distribution of affiliation fee receipts to different levels of organisation


All these documents were debated in the congress. There was a free and frank discussion and delegates expressed their views in the light of experience they gained since the 47th congress of the CGT. The congress has elected commissions on each topic to monitor the debate and the representatives of the commissions replied to all the points raised by the delegates. There was voting on each issue. The first two documents were adopted by about 80 per cent majority of the delegates.


The document on the allocation of share of affiliation fee was adopted by nearly 70 per cent of the delegates. On certain issues a system of card voting was adopted, which took into account the membership of each union indicating its voting preference.


There was a pre-congress discussion among all affiliated unions and more than one  thousand amendments were received from different unions. In the meetings of the union, held after the discussions, mandate was given to the delegates to decide the voting preference. A certain number of delegates abstained from voting on all the documents. On an average, 90-95 per cent of the delegates took part in the voting.


The debate was open for all the delegates and every union was permitted to speak. However, the time allotted was only four minutes for the speech. Hence every delegate had prepared written text to explain his viewpoint in a crystallised manner.




Several speakers gave instances of victimisation of trade union leaders for participating in union activities to resist the policies of globalisation.


One North African worker pointed out the grievances of the migrant workers whose conditions are extremely bad. He appealed to the trade unions to take up their issues in right earnest. Many speakers reported how through protracted struggles they could convert short-term contract into long-term contract to ensure better job opportunities to the workers.


Speakers criticised the government for allowing MNCs in oil sector to make huge money due to the abnormal rise in oil prices. Privatisation of motor services and airports were criticised by some speakers who demanded a determined struggle to stop these moves.


Many speakers noted how the French Labour Code has been destroyed in the name of flexibility and casualisation while the employers blatantly go about violating the legal provisions.


Problems of retired workers were raised by several speakers who asked for payment of more attention to them. They demanded enhancement of pension to meet the rising cost of living.


Some women delegates argued for fixing demonstrations at a time when women can participate in large numbers keeping in mind their domestic responsibilities.


In order to make the CGT activities more effective some speakers suggested strengthening of the coordination between different industry-wise federations of CGT.


Election of the new leadership was held in a democratic manner through secret ballot. Bernard Thibault and other leaders were elected with overwhelming majority of votes of the delegates.


In his concluding remarks, Thibault congratulated the delegates for successfully concluding the congress and called upon all the unions to work unitedly to implement the decisions taken by the congress.


The congress concluded with the singing of Internationale and with slogans for worldwide unity of the working class in the struggle against globalisation.