SHARE
COPY LINK
OPINION - FRENCH STRIKES

UNIONS

‘Stop pissing everyone off’: French boss to union chief

In an open letter to the man attempting to bring France to a standstill, a business owner tells him to stop living in the past and stop 'pissing everyone off.'

'Stop pissing everyone off': French boss to union chief
Philippe Martinez, the head of the CGT union. Photo: AFP

Philippe Martinez is the combative/antagonistic/workers' hero (delete as appropriate) who is head of the CGT, the trade union that has led the strikes that have led to fuel shortages, cancelled trains and planes and blocked roads, bridges and docks. Not to mention violent street protests and the blockage of papers that refused to publish his column.

Here small business owner and author Julien Leclerq tells Martinez (photo below) exactly what he thinks of him and his tactics in trying to bring France to its knees.

Dear Philippe Martinez,

I have the impression I have been living with you. I fall asleep hearing your name, I get up reading it, I eat my lunch watching you… It's impossible to turn on my TV, my radio or open a newspaper without glimpsing your red flag flapping proudly beside burned tires or placards denouncing bosses, your now famous moustache never far away either.

Admittedly, it has been a prosperous few months for you. You've rediscovered all the resentment and violence, which are your trademarks in order to vilify the owners of big companies, which your flock have in turn proposed to “throw out” or “hang”, to put to use the terms widely shared on images on the Internet.

All this for a labour law that will ultimately not change much for anyone, and is – frankly – a half measure (whether you're for or against it).

Long gone are the days when you had to face the scandal of extortionate revamp carried out in the staff apartment of the former CGT leader (fired, incidentally, on January 7, 2015, the day of the Charlie Hebdo attack – great foresight from you!) or the time when you had all those shops closed against the unanimous opinion of the employees and managers who worked in them.

Oh and let's not forget the story of one of your employees who had their temporary contract (CDD) renewed 184 times. Yes, all of this feels like a long time ago!

Now you block refineries, power plants, and even newspapers, all in an ultra-violent poisonous atmosphere, against a backdrop of police officers being beaten up.

I will push my sincerity as far as to admit that I agree with you on some points; mainly that this law has been brought forward in haphazard manner. The government never should have waited as late in this five-year period to address the thorny issue of the Labour Code, and it’s clear that they could review it.

The list of controversial questions is indeed far too long to be covered in full here. But one which I would include is, how can a trade union representing barely 3 percent of workers block a sensitive petroleum site in the middle of a state of emergency and with ease?

Dear Mr. Martinez, people often warn me about my optimism, which could verge dangerously on naivety. 

Nevertheless, I am not optimistic enough to hope to convince you that you are going about this the wrong way. 

And yet… how I long to show you that those caricatured positions which you so often occupy are from days gone by. 

Employers are no longer the type which you describe to us, businessmen are a million miles away from the foul portrait that you present to young people in order to scare them. 

Employees of firms seem to me to be much smarter than you imply (whether you like it or not, they are able to discuss company agreements, they are responsible adults).

In our day-to-day lives, we are trying to make ends meet, to gain some exposure for our company, find ways to promote happiness at work despite an obvious loss of purchasing power for all and to invent paths to development all at the same time… this is the reality for small and medium size businesses.

That’s reality for 99.9 percent of French companies, these little companies that have the key to boosting employment, since they have created 80 percent of jobs in the last twenty years.

I'm not trying to make you cry over my fate as a businessman. I chose this path, and despite all the problems of my daily life, I am happy.

I am trying to show you that social dialogue between employees and bosses is no longer how you imagine it to be. And it deserves to be handled differently to how you have chosen to tackle it over the past few days. 

I want to remind you, too, of an enormous inevitable conclusion that you seem to deny: to destabilise businesses will affect all those who work there, including employees.

Believe me, I took a company to the edge of bankruptcy six years ago: everyone is much happier in a healthy business. 

Finally, I would like to make you aware of the great harm you do when you suggest to our young people that France is Bangladesh and that our companies do not want them.

Dear Mr. Martinez, you will obviously not agree with everything I have just written to you and you will shut yourself away in this denial of the changing world around you, desperately loyal to a way of thinking that is totally archaic and outdated.

And let's be honest with each other, everything that is going on at the moment gives you a feeling of such importance, you do not really want or have any interest in things improving.

I'll give you some advice. If you remember only one thing from this letter, I would like it to be this; it is 2016, Mr. Martinez. 

And in 2016, a great era, there are many other ways to make your voice heard than that which you have chosen: pissing everyone off, absolutely everyone.

Mr. Martinez, nobody will finish a winner or will benefit from this catastrophic social climate in which you have plunged the country. No one, not even you.

(Julien Leclerq is a small business owner and the author of the book Journal d'un salaud patron “Diary of a bastard boss”.)

An original version of this article was published in French in Le Figaro newspaper.  To see the original CLICK HERE.

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.

UNIONS

Five things you need to know about trade unions in France

France's trade unions are notorious for bringing the country to a standstill, but the country has one of the lowest rate of unionised employees in Europe and the numbers are falling. Here's what you need to know about "les syndicats", including why many workers in France won't join them.

Five things you need to know about trade unions in France
Unions in France. But why are their numbers dwindling?

A survey published by France’s human rights defender, an independent administrative authority, revealed that a “fear of reprisal” was cited as the most common reason for employees’ low-engagement in trade unions. 

A large majority of those surveyed said their trade union activities had a negative impact for their professional growth and said they felt discriminated against by their employers.

The survey highlighted the main causes for the decrease of trade union membership in France since the 1950's, which is now one of the lowest rates of unionised employees in the European Union. But for most of the 19th century, trade unions achieved some major accomplishments for workers’ rights. 

Here are five things you should know about trade unions in France. 

Philippe Martinez, the outspoken head of the CGT union. AFP

What is a trade union and why is its purpose? 

A trade union’s main objective is to defend the common professional interests of a group of people who share the same or similar professions.

Trade unions were made legal in France by the 1884 Waldeck-Rousseau law, which was reaffirmed by the current Constitution.

Which are the main trade unions in France?

In order to negotiate and sign agreements on behalf of employees, a trade union must be granted the legitimacy to represent its members. 

There are seven criteria a union must meet to be fully representative of its members:

  • Respect Republican values

  • Be independent 

  • Be financially transparent 

  • Have a minimum of two years’ seniority

  • Have influence 

  • Have members who pay their dues

  • Have a check and balances system set up with employees

This last point is the most important and is measured every four years during professional elections

There are employer and employee trade unions in France. 

Four unions are accredited at the national level to negotiate and conclude agreements in all sectors for employees. 

The Force Ouvriere union at a protest in Paris. Photo: AFP

  • The General Confederation of Labour (Confédération générale du travail CGT)
  • The French Democratic Confederation of Labour (Confédération française démocratique du travail CFDT)
  • The French Confederation of Christian Workers (Confédération française des travailleurs chrétiens CFTC) 
  • Workers' Force (Force ouvrière FO)

The French Confederation of Management (Confédération générale des cadres CGC) is the only union accredited at the national level to negotiate on behalf of managerial staff. 

All of these are headed by a secretary general, and have trade union officers and delegates. 

Employers in France are usually represented by the Movement of the Enterprises of France (MEDEF), which is the biggest of its kind. 

Some professional groups also have their own trade union, such as doctors who are represented by the confederation of French medical unions (CSMF) or journalists who can become members of the national union of journalists (SNJ). 

Students also have their own union called the national unions of students of France (Unef).  

Members of the CGT union during a recent Paris transport strike. AFP

 

Why are unions important? 

Trade unions are the main entities fighting to improve (or at least hold on to) work conditions, salaries, and social protection for their members.

The government must consult the unions when carrying out social reforms. As per a 2007 law, any amendments to the work code must be consulted with trade unions before being made. Prime Minister Edouard Philippe had to negotiate with unions before passing the contentions 2017 labour reforms

How are trade unions funded?

Trade unions are mainly financed by membership fees as well as by certain taxes such as the employers’ contribution to the financing of trade union organisations. French law requires the full disclosure of trade unions’ accounts. 

Is it important to be a union member? 

There is no right answer to that as the choice is mainly a personal one. 

France has one of the weakest rates of unionised employees in Europe as the percentage of union members has been on a downward spiral since the post-war years. 

The latest data published by the Work Ministry showed that only 11% of employees in public and private sectors were union members in 2016, with men being more prone to join a union than women.  

Public sector employees tend to be more unionised than those in the private sector, with 19,1% in the public sector belonging to a union compared to 8,4% of their private counterparts. 

However, most unions still play an important role in negotiations within a company. In particular, professional unions will still be consulted by the government on their respective sectors. 

Professional trade unions are also the main actors fighting to provide better work conditions to their respective sector. 

 
SHOW COMMENTS