PARIS (Reuters) - Rank and file members of France’s biggest union, the CFDT, urged their leaders on Tuesday to take a tougher stand against President Emmanuel Macron’s reform agenda.
At a convention bringing some 10,000 CFDT members together in Paris, executives came under fire for snubbing protest calls from the Communist-rooted CGT against a labor law overhaul last month, the first major reform of Macron’s five-year term.
“Your words are too soft ... we really need a much harder position,” CFDT union official Pascale Meunier from telecoms group Orange told members of the union’s executive committee during a debate.
The revolt is a new sign that some grassroot union members are worried Macron’s government is running roughshod over unions. On Friday, delegates from the Force Ouvriere (FO) union voted in favor of pushing for a harder line.
The CGT, which fell behind the CFDT earlier this year as France’s biggest union, was the only major union to hold protests against the labor reform though some FO and CFDT union members joined the demonstrations.
The absence of FO, France’s third-biggest union, disappointed many of its members as it had marched with CGT in 2016 against a labor reform by the previous government.
Norbert Raffolt, a CFDT official with the union’s metal-working branch, accused the union’s leadership of turning a deaf ear to calls for a tougher line.
“Today you can hear it in the room. The rank and file is saying ‘we’ve got to move it, we’ve to give a different answer’,” Raffolt said.
CFDT head Laurent Berger responded by saying street protests risked being seen as old-fashioned by the broader public and he urged members to push back against the implementation of the reform at their workplaces.
“I understand and even sometimes share the legitimate desire of some of you to put shoes on and express your frustration,” Berger said a speech closing the convention.
“But let’s not give the government arguments to cast us into the annals of history,” he added.
Even if unions step up pressure on Macron’s government, at this point there is little that they can do against the labor reform as he signed the decrees underpinning it last month.
However, a tougher tone from the unions could make life difficult for the government as it seeks to launch talks on revamping unemployment insurance and professional training in the coming months, followed by the retirement system next year.
Union leaders are due to meet individually with Macron starting Oct. 12 about the upcoming reforms.
Writing by Leigh Thomas; Editing by Geert De Clercq and Richard Balmforth