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Monday, October 2, 2023

Sébastien Menesplier: “An attack against all CGT activists”

Just five days after the pension reform came into force, the general secretary of the CGT federation of mines and energy (FNME-CGT), member of the CGT confederal office, was summoned to the gendarmerie to respond of a power cut in Annonay (Ardèche), in March, when the executive forcefully imposed a reduction in the legal age of departure from 62 to 64. This invitation sets a particular tone for the start of the social year. At the same time as the government is rushing to forget the historic social movement of the first half of the year by announcing a social conference, ultimately reduced to nothing, on wages, a wave of disciplinary procedures accompanied by police and judicial summons is falling. on employees who participated in strikes. Procedures most often initiated or under the denunciation of public companies, particularly in energy. Faced with this anti-union repression, solidarity is being organized. A rally is planned for Wednesday, from 8:30 a.m., in front of the Montmorency gendarmerie (Val-d’Oise), where the representative of the FNME-CGT must be heard. In Brussels, European unions will provide support to their French counterparts. Humanity contributes, in its own way, by giving voice, through Sébastien Menesplier, to the nearly 1,000 activists and union leaders worried following the social movement at the beginning of the year.

You are expected on Wednesday September 6 at the Montmorency gendarmerie. What state of mind are you in?

Positive, even if receiving a police or judicial summons is always a problem. But we consider that the actions undertaken by the FNME and its unions have been in favor of the general interest and for the new generation of agents in the electricity and gas industries (IEG), hired since September 1 without being able to benefit from the regime pioneer of the sector. Our battle was just, especially since this pension reform has never been accepted by the world of work. I don’t expect a simple five-minute interview, given the elements included in the summons. This will be a free audition. But some end up in police custody. I prepare myself for all possibilities.

At this stage, what are the reasons for your summons?

I will be heard at the request of the public prosecutor of Privas, following the opening of a procedure in the community of brigades of Annonay. I don’t know who filed this complaint, but everything indicates that it came from Enedis. It is as a legal entity that I am summoned to the gendarmerie. The complaint does not refer to my union mandates. However, it is obvious that I am heard because I am general secretary of the FNME-CGT, but also because I am leader of the CGT confederation. The entire organization is targeted. However, we are neither terrorists nor thugs, but public service agents. We master our production tools. My case is seen as an attack against all CGT activists and IEG agents. This is a political attack. But beyond my simple case, more than 400 complaints were filed in the professional branch of IEG, following this social movement. Prosecutions are often initiated. They are unacceptable.

The location of this investigation, stronghold of the Minister of Labor, Olivier Dussopt, coincides with that where a power cut took place on March 7…

If I must be heard for this electrical sobriety, like all the other actions since January, I will specify that this is the result of a debate and a democratic vote on the part of the agents in the general assembly on the pickets. We assume these actions and we claim them. They are not just symbolic. We intend to denounce the energy policy pursued in our country against the public service. Providing free energy to schools, swimming pools, libraries, town halls and school canteens is a due. It is not normal to apply such high prices, when France has energy sovereignty. The liberalization of the sector leads to no longer protecting the French. I have no regrets and I will always take responsibility for the actions of the electricians and gas workers. I am secretary general of a Federation which was at the forefront of the social protest against the pension reform, but also on salaries at the end of 2022, when we fought to obtain a lasting increase of 200 euros gross monthly in the IEG. The CGT, through its struggles and its ability to organize workers, is disturbing. The FNME, just as much. We are aware of this.

Nearly 1,000 activists or leaders of the CGT are worried. Are we in the process of criminalizing trade union rights?

Yes, this criminalization is being organized and this count of 1,000 worried CGT members is only the beginning. It is clear that the CGT is targeted. The executive is offended by our ability to challenge its choices on energy policy. We are a point of resistance against the neoliberal steamroller. We have a real democratic problem in France. On pension reform, Emmanuel Macron and his government took into account neither Parliament nor the unions, nor the rejection by citizens. They came into force with the use of 49.3. I don’t know how this will end. But the democratic divide has worsened in quick succession with the yellow vest movement and the contestation of the pension reform at 64. RN elected officials are rubbing their hands. A danger awaits France!

You are general secretary of a federation of the CGT, the FNME, which distinguished itself during this conflict by numerous symbolic actions, including that of the “Robin Hood”. What do they reveal?

When we carry out free energy operations, we highlight everything that the government does not want to do. Let me explain. In energy, the management of our companies supports government policy, which no longer protects the French. The price shield only compensated for the price increases caused by the energy market. Faced with the lies of the executive, the FNME decided to tell the truth to the French. Restoring access to energy for a family that is deprived of it, we explain: non-payment of bills is primarily due to prices that are far too high. In reality, bills should be divided by two or three. For twenty years, liberalization has been accompanied by a boom in fuel poverty, penalizing 13 million people, many of them families already in serious difficulties. In France, people can no longer eat hot food or wash with hot water. It’s a reality. We are the Robin Hoods and we embrace it.

You have received numerous messages of support from your European counterparts. Is the anti-union repression in France specific or is it part of a broader phenomenon on a European scale?

This is unfortunately a European phenomenon. I take the example of Belgium. Our comrades in the FGTB are leading struggles to protect industry and public services, against austerity, and are also facing anti-union repression. Moreover, on the day of my hearing, they will gather in front of the French embassy in Brussels to support all criminalized union activists.

This repression is organized on a European scale, because it is part of the austerity policies imposed by the Commission. Union forces need to converge to oppose each other. This is the meaning of the day of mobilization on October 13, at the call of the European Trade Union Confederation, in which the French inter-union organization is part. This mobilization is an important step, not an end in itself, because austerity hits from January 1 to December 31.

After his meeting with party leaders last Wednesday, Emmanuel Macron validated the organization of a social conference. The latter would ultimately only concern branches with minimums below the minimum wage. Is it credible?

If there must be a social conference, it must take into account all the subjects raised by the trade union organizations since the fight against pension reform. On August 28, Sophie Binet, general secretary of the CGT, reminded the President of the Republic of the urgency of increasing salaries and pensions in the face of inflation. The high cost of living affects everyone. Many retirees live in increased precariousness, even though they have worked their entire career, with low wages. The President of the Republic cannot open a social conference focusing solely on the minimum of the minimum. We are waiting for the content of this conference to measure the real intentions.

Interview conducted by Naïm Sakhi

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