Hardline French CGT union elects first female boss amid bitter pensions dispute


As protests against pensions reform continue, France's second biggest trade union – the hardline CGT – on Friday elected its first ever woman leader. Sophie Binet, 41, emerged as the surprise pick to replace outgoing secretary general Philippe Martinez following a long night of deliberations.

Binet's election came at the end of the CGT's congress, which opened on Monday in the Alps, with  some 1,000 union members gathering for the leadership tussle.

The former school supervisor has been described as the "compromise" candidate after frontunners Marie Buisson, representing the outgoing team, and Céline Verzeletti, a former prison warden , failed to win cross-party support.

Binet, who champions environmental issues and gender equality, is the head of the union's UGICT division representing engineers, managers and technical staff.

Union divided

She has the difficult task of picking up the pieces of a deeply divided CGT, at a time when French unions are locked in a standoff with President Emmanuel Macron over plans to raise the retirement age.

The CGT has formed a united front with the more moderate CFDT to block the government's penions overhaul, and her promotion comes just days before union bosses are to hold crunch talks with Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne.

The CGT is calling for a return to a retirement age of 60 and a minimum pension of €2,000. To finance this, they propose the end of contribution exemptions, an increase in the contribution rate and professional equality between women and men.

Sliding membership

Founded in 1895, the CGT union – Confédération Générale du Travail – represents numerous sector from industry to tertiary through a network of federations. Their chiefs come together to form the overall executive committee, tasked with choosing a new leader.

Speakers at the congress criticised the orientation of the federation under Martinez, and the lack of internal democracy.

Membership has been on the slide in recent years, pushing the CGT into second place with 606,000 behind the Confédération Française Démocratique du Travail (CFDT).