French CGT union’s first woman leader vows to continue pensions fight
By Elizabeth Pineau
PARIS (Reuters) – France’s hard-left CGT union elected Sophie Binet as its first woman leader on Friday and she vowed to continue her organisation’s fight with the government over pension reform.
Binet, 41, is the first woman to run France’s second-largest union since its foundation in 1895. A former school supervisor and head of a division in the union representing engineers, managers and technical staff, she takes charge as a large faction of the CGT is demanding an even tougher anti-government stance.
In her first speech as secretary general, she told a divided and rowdy congress in Clermont-Ferrand, central France, that she would continue the fight against the reform that postpones the retirement age by two years to 64.
“We will not give up, there will be no truce,” she said.
Binet said she would accept Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne’s invitation to meet with unions next week, but would continue to demand that the reform be withdrawn.
Borne told reporters she was happy the CGT agreed to talk.
“It is always important to maintain the dialogue so that we can bring the solutions that French people want,” she said, adding that there are lots of issues to discuss beside pensions, notably working conditions and career progression.
The CGT has formed a united front with the more moderate CFDT for the first time in years to fight the pension reform, which Borne pushed through parliament using a no-confidence vote as her minority coalition did not get sufficient support from opposition conservatives.
Since January, the unions have organised several nationwide days of strikes and demonstrations that have been attended by millions of people. They are planning further action ahead of a Constitutional Council ruling on the reform on April 14.
Binet was elected secretary-general as a surprise compromise candidate after a long night of deliberations. She beat Marie Buisson, who was backed by outgoing leader Philippe Martinez, and Celine Verzeletti, who was supported by a more hardline faction of the union.
She had been responsible for equality issues in the executive committee of the CGT.
(Reporting by Elizabeth Pineau, writing by Geert De Clercq; Editing by Hugh Lawson and Sharon Singleton)