Strike in France: Philippe Martinez is a central figure

Thursday, 05.12.2019
15:35 clock

The man with the dark mustache and bushy eyebrows is currently seen everywhere in France. Philippe Martinez, head of the French left-wing trade union confederation CGT, warns on television: "As long as not all three points of the reform are withdrawn, will continue to strike." The 58-year-old is one of the leaders of the strikes in France, to which numerous unions have called. Martinez predicted a "massive mobilization" and wants to force President Emmanuel Macron to his knees. The strikes are directed against his pension reform.


In detail, that is not yet known. But the "three points" that Martinez is about are at the heart of the planned changes.

  There should be a point system, every Euro earned makes a point on the retirement account. Macron calls it fair – Martinez sees it as a preference for high earners and disadvantaged people on low incomes.
    Maybe it should work longer than before.
    For the calculation of the pension, it is no longer just the highest earning years that should be used; instead, the entire working life should be the basis for calculation, which would lead to falling pensions.
  Martinez, a CGT unionist since 1984, criticizes this as unbalanced: "The truly privileged does not touch Macron." For a long time, the union boss has portrayed Macron as the "president of the rich," giving generous gifts to corporations but forgetting the poor in the country. Martinez takes advantage of the discontent in the population and likes to talk about "class struggle".

The father worker, the mother cleaning lady

  Since 2015, Martinez is head of the CGT, he was elected with 93.4 percent of the vote. The CGT was once the most powerful coalition for workers in the country, but for years it has been arguing with the moderate CFDT who deserves first place. That's why Martinez has a lot at stake. The strikes are an opportunity to gain new followers by pushing for social justice.


Martinez is popular because he looks and acts like a normal French worker. This is not a pose. He is the son of Spanish immigrants, his father was a worker, his mother a cleaning lady. That makes Martinez credible. "When we played cowboys and Indians, he wanted to be an Indian, to fight on the side of the oppressed," French media sources quote a school friend about Martinez.

  The union boss does not care about conventions. He likes to go to meetings with government officials in a second-hand jacket and without a tie, while colleagues from other unions get dressed up.


Bertrand Guay / REUTERS
Union boss Martinez (left at the table): Leger meeting with Prime Minister Edouard Philippe (r.)

  At a young age Martinez went to the Communist Party. In 2002, he resigned without explanation. However, as a trade unionist he drives a decidedly left course and tries to win the French for his cause, who are dissatisfied with the government. This is a radical departure from the moderate CFDT, which did not call for a strike.



Martinez has fought hard for his job. As a metal worker, he got a job in a Renault factory near Paris, where he became a union representative. He played football in the factory team.

  He knows how he caused a stir: in 1997 he insisted on a ban on dismissals. Before becoming head of the CGT, he spent six years within the union federation responsible for the national metal industry, one of the CGT's most powerful divisions. "He is very solid, a pragmatist," said Bernard Vivier, director of the research institute Institut supérieur du travail.

First ask bravely, then negotiate pragmatically

  No sooner had Martinez become head of the CGT in 2015, he announced his commitment to a 32-hour week. Macron's labor law reforms were already condemned by Martinez when he was a minister – and also after Macron was elected president.


The union boss demanded a pension at the age of 60, and the retirement age in France is currently 62 years. In addition, Martinez wants a minimum wage of 1800 euros a month; currently it is about 1500 euros at a 35-hour week. Martinez is a tactician, first he storms ahead, then he negotiates pragmatically. "A real politician," union colleagues say about him.

  Martinez is committed to eliminating salary differences between men and women. For him, social achievements are the best guarantee for all in the fight against racism and right-wing parties. His tactics in the current social struggle: crippling. Martinez does not say how long the uprising will last. Every day should be rescheduled – depending on the concessions of the government.

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