Georges Séguy: From the Resistance, Manthausen Camp, to May 68.
Georges Séguy who led the CGT, the largest French trade union federation, close to the French Communist Party, from 1967 to 1982, died on Saturday at the age of 89 years at the hospital Montargis (Loiret).
He passed away early yesterday afternoon,” said Elyane Bressol, President the Institute of social history (IHS) of the CGT, which Georges Seguy was honorary president. He was hospitalised for several days to Montargis Hospital, in Loiret.
Hommage à Georges Séguy (CGT)
Communiqué de la CGT.
C’est avec beaucoup de tristesse et d’émotion que nous avons appris le samedi 13 août 2016, le décès de Georges Séguy, à 89 ans, ancien Secrétaire Général de la CGT de 1967 à 1982.
More dignified tributes in the pages of l’Humanité.
As an apprentice printer, a member of the young Communists, and part of the resistance group Francs-tireurs et partisans français (FTPF) Séguy was arrested at the age of 17 by the Gestapo and deported to Mauthausen.
France 24 outlines Séguy’s trade union career. His health affected by the deportation he became an electrician and worked for the French national rail service, the SNCF. He was both active in the French Communist Party (Parti communiste français, PCF) and the CGT (Confédération générale du travail).
Georges Séguy devient en 1961 secrétaire général de la fédération des cheminots, l’une des plus importantes avec celles de la métallurgie et de l’EGF (électricité et gaz). Entré en 1965 au bureau confédéral de la CGT, il succède en 1967 à Benoît Frachon au poste de secrétaire général. Il vient de fêter son quarantième anniversaire.
Georges Séguy became General Secretary of the train-drivers and rail-workers’ federation, one of the most important wings of the CGT union federation, along with the engineers (roughly in the sense used by the Amalgamated Engineering and Electrical Union AEEU), and the Gaz and Electricity producers. AFter becoming part of the national committee of the CGT in 1967 he took over from Benoît Frachon the post of General Secretary. He had only just celebrated his 40th birthday.
Un an plus tard, ce sont les événements de mai 68, les barricades, neuf millions d’ouvriers en grève, la révolte étudiante, De Gaulle ébranlé. Lors des difficiles négociations de Grenelle, Georges Séguy, au nom de la CGT, affronte Georges Pompidou, Premier ministre.
One year later and the May 68 ‘events’ took place, barricades, 9 million workers on strike, the student revolt, leaving President De Gaulle completely shaken. During the difficult negotiations with the gvoernment that took place at Rue Grenelle, Georges Séguy confronted the Prime Minister Georges Pompidou.
Sous les présidences de Georges Pompidou et de Valéry Giscard d’Estaing, la CGT, alors au faîte de sa puissance, mènera sous sa houlette une lutte permanente contre la politique contractuelle lancée au début des années 1970 par Jacques Delors, alors conseiller social du Premier ministre Jacques Chaban-Delmas.
Under the Presidencies of Georges Pompidou and Valéry Giscard d’Estaing the CGT, at the height of its power, waged a permanent war against labour reforms (part of the ‘nouvelle société’ project which drew Delors, from a left Christian democratic tradition into the right-wing government’s orbit) launched by Jacques Delors, at the time a top adviser on social affairs to the Prime Minister Jacques Chaban-Delmas.
In 1968 Georges Séguy was central to the Grenelle Agreements which negotiated an end to official union backing for the strikes in return for substantial government concessions of workers pay and rights.
The Grenelle Agreements (French: Accords de Grenelle) or Grenelle Reports were negotiated 25 and 26 May, during the crisis of May 1968 in France by the representative of the Pompidou government, the trade unions, and the Organisation patronale. Among the negotiators were Jacques Chirac, then the young Secretary of State of Local Affairs, and Georges Séguy, representative of the Confédération générale du travail.
The Grenelle Agreements, concluded 27 May 1968—but not signed—led to a 35% increase in the minimum wage (salaire minimum interprofessionnel garanti) and 10% increase in average real wages. It also provided for the establishment of the trade union section of business (Section syndicale d’entreprise), through the act of 27 December 1968.
Georges Séguy and the CGT’s role in May 68 remains a matter of great controversy on the French left, if not internationally. There are those who would dismiss the Grenelle accords, others would personally attack Séguy.
There are serious critical points to be made, above all by French leftists and trade unionists.
By contrast, it is to be expected that a section of the British left, notably the Socialist Workers Party and the Socialist Party in England and Wales, will savage comrade Séguy. Some will note the irony of those who have recently been cheer-leaders for the reactionary nationalist Brexit campaign attacking a leader of a mass trade union who obtained substantial concessions from the French government in 1968 for ‘reformism’.
In Séguy’s own account of the events of May 68 he states, that, while freely admitting that his union and party had been overtaken by events, and that a gulf between the students and the CGT had opened up (noting in passing that their anti-Stalinism was, for him, identical to anti-Marxism and anti-Communism) , the CGT and the unions had still achieved a major step forward in terms of social reform within the world of work.
Some obituaries have noted that Séguy tried to democratise the CGT during the late 1970s, and to return it to independent spirit of the Charte d’Amien (1906) a struggle which led to his eventual resignation as General Secretary (1982).
Elles ont été supérieures à celles de 1936! Avec 8 ou 9 millions de grévistes, la pression sur le gouvernement et le patronat était telle que le pouvoir a dû faire des concessions importantes. Ainsi, nous réclamions un salaire minimum à 600 francs par mois, soit une augmentation de 37%: cette revendication, qui avait toujours été repoussée, a été résolue dans les dix premières minutes des négociations de Grenelle! En dehors des augmentations de salaire, nous avons principalement obtenu la liberté des activités syndicales dans les entreprises et la réduction du temps de travail, avec le retour de la semaine de travail de 40 heurs.
The social advances were greater than those of 1936. With 8 to 9 million strikes the pressure on the government and the employer was such that they had to make important concessions. The minimum wage of 600 francs a month, a rise of 37%, a demand which had always been turned down, was accepted within the first ten minutes of the negotiations! Apart from wage rises we gained the freedom to organise unions in all enterprises, and a reduction in working time, back to 40 hours a week.
These are other interesting observations.
Georges Séguy: “Sarkozy wants to kill off the spirit of rebellion”
Translated Sunday 13 May 2007, by
The ex-General Secretary of the CGT retorts to the right-wing candidate’s speech about May 1968 (1).
As he watched Nicolas Sarkozy demonise May 1968 on television, Georges Séguy saw red. The ex general secretary of the CGT, the leading trade union, and leader of the workers strike at the time, knows what he’s talking about…
Huma: What was your spur-of-the-moment reaction?
Georges Séguy: It gave me a start. I understand that the events of May 1968 left the reactionaries and especially the employers, with painful memories. But it’s the first time I’ve heard a politician like Nicolas Sarkozy condemn a memorable moment in our national social history in such retrograde terms. The main historical importance of May 1968, is neither the police violence in the Latin quarter, nor the legitimate controversies of different philosophical currents of the time, it is the general strike of ten million workers who took over their companies.
Huma: Not everyone remembers the outcome. Can you remind us what it was?
Georges Séguy: The workers were infuriated by years of governmental and employers’ opposition to any social progress. The general strike had one aim: to overcome this blockage, to obtain the opening of negotiation procedures. A huge majority of factories which had been occupied by their workers, many for the first time, signed the commitment of 25th May 1968 at the Ministry of Employment, boulevard Grenelle. It didn’t take long. Within a few hours, many demands, which it would take too long to list, were taken into account. The most extraordinary of which was a 30% raise of the minimum wage. When you see all the commotion about the minimum wage at 1500 euros, gross or net, it is worth remembering that this raise in the minimum wage and low salaries in the provinces, in Brittany for example, boosted domestic consumption to such a point that economic growth was increased more than at any other time during the period known as the “Trente Glorieuses”.
Huma: But you are talking about the workers, and of their strikes, and it is precisely this aspect that Nicolas Sarkozy did not talk about. Is there some misunderstanding?
Georges Séguy: No. Sarkozy knew exactly what he was doing. He censored the workers strike in his speech because it contradicts his attack on May 1968. He cannot proclaim his love for the workers and at the same time revile them when they accomplish a leap forward in their conditions and in society. The worker he respects is the one who gets up early and works flat out for his boss, even if the same boss might sack him one day. It’s not the one who stays up late preparing action that will help others defend their interests and have better lives. His slogan “work more to earn more” is misleading. To earn more, you have to fight more. I challenge anyone to look back at history and prove the contrary.
Huma: What was the point of this diatribe?
Georges Séguy: This malevolent condemnation, comparing militants, trade unionists and dissatisfied workers to hooligans, aims to discredit a movement where the famous work value that Sarkozy brandishes won a spectacular victory over those whose only thought is of over exploiting it to their advantage. The scale of this movement remains and will remain, at a much higher level than a politician’s ambitions, one of the most significant examples of French workers’ attachment to the social model resulting from the National Council of the Résistance.
Huma: Nicolas Sarkozy has no qualms about referring to the Résistance himself, from Général de Gaulle to Jean Moulin, to Guy Môquet. What is your reaction to that, as a résistant who was deported at a very young age?
Georges Séguy: He certainly had the gall to quote such glorious names. But it’s precisely the great social conquests imposed by the Résistance that he wants to destroy: a social security system based on solidarity between generations, a right to retirement, freedom of action for trade unions, nationalisations, large public services etc. His programme is the opposite to that of the National Council of the Résistance. In subjecting the historical social progress of May 1968, to public obloquy, and at the same time drumming out his love for workers, Sarkozy shows that, if he is elected, the French social model will not outlive his all-consuming fervour for work.
Huma: It’s a well-know fact that workers and students in 1968 did not have exactly the same point of view. Maybe Sarkozy thinks that he can speculate on that difference. However, the slogan for the march on 13th May 1968 was “student-worker solidarity”. What finally reunited everyone was a sort of uprising against a social order to which people were subjected in different ways…
Georges Séguy: As I see it, in what the UMP leader is saying, his overall attitude towards May 1968 is of great importance. Apart from the leftist diversions of a few groups, May 1968 was also a wonderful young people’s revolt against the advocates of the doctrinaire approach and totalitarian-minded political powers which had a tendency to stiffen the democracy. This brought about a huge juvenile movement towards a society freed of old fashioned mentalities, of unfairness and of the shackles of all sorts of bans and taboos. We were spectators to a strong push for social, political, and cultural emancipation. For women, that meant rejection of inequality and discrimination, the new force of feminism was women’s rights. In short, May 1968 was a great social movement and an extraordinary request for morals, habits, and society to be modernised. I am a witness to the fact that the workers movement did not necessarily realise that at the time. By proclaiming his loathing for this call for emancipation, Nicolas Sarkozy shows us whose side he is on: on the side of the big bosses, of an out-of-date monarchial system.
(1) Nicolas Sarkozy, at the largest rally of his campaign (at the Bercy arena in Paris), declared: “In this election, it is a question of whether the heritage of May ’68 should be perpetuated or if it should be liquidated once and for all.” May ‘68 “weakened the idea of citizenship by denigrating the law, the state and the nation … See how the belief in short-term profit and speculation, how the values of financial capitalism grew out of May ’68, because there are no more rules, no more norms, no morality, no more respect, no authority … ”