• Sophie Binet was elected head of the CGT at the end of March, taking up the issue of pensions, but also that of wages, in the midst of inflation.
  • A figure of the feminist movement, the trade unionist has since her election expressed little on the subject of women.
  • While the CGT has transformed the strike at the childcare company Vertbaudet into a symbol, 20 Minutes interviewed the CGT leader on the subjects of professional equality, sexual violence, or the evolution of the feminist movement.

Sophie Binet, a feminist who has been working for years for the cause of women, replaced Philippe Martinez at the end of March at the head of the powerful General Confederation of Labour (CGT). The opportunity for 20 Minutes to cook the trade unionist on issues of equality, while she has just erected the strike led by the women of Vertbaudet, a sign of childcare in the North, as a symbol. At 20 Minutes, she announces that she has given an ultimatum to the management, which expires this Friday evening, date beyond which she intends to "move to the next step".

Very few women have held the highest position in a major union, is this a sign to you that things are changing on this side?

Yes, it was a strong desire of the CGT to feminize its general secretariat, a strong signal sent to union activists and women more generally to show them that they have their place, even at the highest level.

Your election is undoubtedly a sign that things are moving, but at the head of local authorities or federations, there is still a very small minority of women...

This is not a very small minority, we are 25% women general secretaries of departmental unions and federations, 26% women members of national management committees, and 40% women unionized in the CGT. And in the confederal leadership of the CGT we are at 50% since 1999, we were the first trade union organization to achieve parity. But this is not satisfactory. I immediately said that I didn't want to be the tree that hides the forest. And that it was good to have a woman general secretary, but that it had to be translated into a strengthening of the proactive impulse of the CGT on the issue.

What are you doing concretely to change this?

We are transparent about the situation, we have an annual thermometer that makes it possible to measure changes and setbacks, it has been 10 years since we launched it and it has been 10 years that it progresses. Then we do a lot of internal training, especially on the issue of sexist and sexual violence, to ensure that they do not have a place in the CGT. And finally, we have a proactive work to feminize our bodies, we try to move towards a fair representation of women, that is to say that they are represented in the management bodies in the image of what they represent in the salaried sector.

How do you explain this discrepancy between the percentage of women unionized in the CGT and women who work (10 points difference)?

By history, because the sectors of historical establishment of the CGT are predominantly male sectors: industry, large companies, workers. And the CGT is less established in the tertiary sector, among executives, intermediate professions, employees, where there are more women.

Nicole Notat (CFDT, from 1992 to 2002) and Carole Couvert (CFE-CGC, from 2013 to 2015) had both come under fire for being women. Has it evolved a bit on this side, for you?

In the media there have been, with many journalists who do not realize what they are doing. Yves Calvi [presenter on BFM TV] asked François Hommeril [confederal president of the CFE-CGC] "So, you calmed him down, Sophie Binet?" I was treated on RTL to a note of gravelly humorist where at the end he said that Barbie was going to launch his Barbie CGT, in my image. On social networks there are always sartorial remarks. And then on the other hand in the organization it is rather a great pride of the militants to have a woman secretary general.

Today, many feminist activists note a shortness of breath, almost exhaustion. Do you also feel this burnout?

The feminist movement is like the social movement, it is transforming, with new phases, but I do not think there is a loss of breath. He scored a lot of points in the consciousness and the heads with super fast evolutions, I find it impressive what we managed to move. On the other hand, there are obvious obstacles, including institutional changes that are not being made. So in my opinion the form of shortness of breath comes from the gap between awareness which has rarely been so strong with tolerance thresholds that drop, and as in front it does not move, this lockdown appears all the more violent. Adèle Haenel is representative of this situation, with her "we get up and we break" and the fact that she leaves the cinema.

On sexual violence at work, should we go further? Or is the current framework sufficient?

No, the framework is not sufficient, in the law there are clear general obligations: prohibition of gender-based and sexual violence, responsibility of the employer, obligation of prevention, but these provisions are not effective because there are no sanctions in case of lack of prevention and not enough actors to accompany and protect victims. We propose to put in place sanctions for employers who do not have a prevention plan on gender-based and sexual violence, this concerns more than 80% of companies. Secondly, we need resources to support victims, in particular by strengthening the prerogatives of staff representatives. The unions have gained harassment and violence referents in the CSE (social and economic committee), except that the elected representatives of the CSE are too limited to represent far too many employees, and they do not have mandatory training on sexual violence and do not have delegation hours to play this role. There are also calls for rights for victims of domestic violence: the right to paid leave, paid absence, a ban on dismissal and the right to geographical mobility. These are concrete proposals that would be a game-changer.

Should people convicted through internal investigations be definitively excluded or can the defendants return to responsibility after a period of time?

I have no position on this, the feminist movement has not pushed this debate, it is the point on which we must move forward. When there is sexual assault, we say that we need sanctions, but the next step is to actually ask ourselves how long. As feminists, and I think this is the case of the majority of the feminist movement and the CGT, we are very critical of the French policy of systematic condemnation and of all prisons without working on prevention and recidivism. It's the same with women. We will have to reflect on that.

You support the strikers of Vertbaudet, a children's clothing company, some of whose employees are asking for increases, but you refused the bonus offered by management, why?

The strikers are demanding increases to keep their wages in the face of inflation. Management's proposal for 2023 is a 0% increase while prices are exploding. The problem with premiums is that they are punctual, and they do not count for retirement, unemployment etc. We know that women will have a pension 40% lower than men. The strikers of Vertbaudet want to contribute to have a better pension tomorrow and to be able to guarantee their purchasing power in the face of inflation, knowing that they have salaries at the level of daisies, between 800 to 1,500 euros, with night hours, staggered schedules, 25 km a day to push his trolley to make the packages, the carrying of heavy load which results in musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) neither prevented nor recognized nor repaired. I have given a clear ultimatum to the management, if the strikers' demands are not met on Friday night, the CGT will take the next step.

You made the Vertbaudet a symbol, why them?

They are representative of the situation of the majority of female workers, glued to the "sticky floor", locked in wages at the Smic, close to the Smic or less than the monthly Smic, since 30% of women are part-time. And they are faced with an unrecognized hardship and sexist management. The fact that it takes two months of strike to open negotiations, we allow ourselves that because they are women. They have also been made inappropriate remarks, the content of which I do not want to say.

"We need environmental planning"

A report by France Strategy recommends a new levy for the wealthiest households, in order to finance the climate transition. Are you for it?

Pollution is primarily caused by the richest who by their wealth can escape the consequences, which is why it is essential to link social and environmental justice. We also know that there are major investments to be made to make the transition a success, it is not compatible with an austerity policy. We must find new resources, find fairer taxation, involve the ultra-rich and large corporations that pay less and less taxes in France, and we must ensure that the wealth we create first increases wages and investments before fattening shareholders and exploding profits as today.

What does the CGT want to see achieved on the climate and the environment?

We must have a real strategic anticipation and a real democratic debate, and get out of the pendulum effects at the whim of the lobbies: one day we ban coal-fired power plants, and the next day we authorize pesticides on sugar beets, go understand the coherence ... This is why we need environmental planning, and anticipate the needs of populations over 10, 15, 20, 30 years and be able to measure the effects of pollution. Because all production pollutes, but not in the same way. But just to say "we will transfer the thermal to the electric", if we do not worry about the way we manufacture electric cars, in ten years we will have a problem ...

  • Sophie Binet
  • CGT
  • Trade union
  • Strike
  • Women's rights
  • Violence against women
  • Society