Monday, March 18, 2013

The Thibault Era Ends at the CGT

I'm old enough to remember the Georges Séguy era and to have met Henri Krasucki, but it's fair to say that most people of prime working age can scarcely remember a time when Bernard Thibault was not the head of the CGT. With his Beatles haircut incongruously preserved in this era of rap, he did not look the part of the "modernist reformer," which Le Monde assigns him. Of course there's a certain perversity in such a designation, since "reformer" is a word that still bears overtones of "social traitor" in CGT circles, even if the age of Communist dominance of the union is long gone. Still, Thibault was ahead of many of his colleagues in recognizing irreversible changes in the world of work and in the global economy. He tried to prepare his union to confront them, not always with success.

One measure of his failure is his inability to pass the leadership on to a designated successor. He wanted a woman for the job, but none of the several women who enjoyed his favor was able to impose herself on the organization, and in the end he was succeeded by Thierry Lepaon. Lepaon, though not handpicked by Thibault and not well-known, nevertheless seems determined to carry on with a "reformist" agenda that still dares not speak its name, so in that sense perhaps Thibault was more successful than some would give him credit for. But these are difficult times for organized labor, which is strongest in some of France's worst-performing industrial sectors and which faces a Socialist government hamstrung by its commitment to budgetary austerity and with limited influence over the decisions of financially strapped firms.