French labour union General Confederation of Labour (CGT) newly named General Secretary Sophie Binet delivers a speech on the last day of the CGT trade union s 53rd congress, at the Grande Halle d Auvergne in Cournon d Auvergne, central France, on March 31, 2023. AFP
The head of a member union representing middle managers, Binet's election means incumbent Philippe Martinez has failed to impose a successor despite months on the front lines of the ongoing protests against President Emmanuel Macron's pension reforms.
At a meeting with Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne next week, "all the unions together, united, will go to demand the withdrawal of this reform," Binet told delegates at the CGT congress in Cournon-d'Auvergne in central France.
Martinez had previously backed a call for a "mediation" between worker representatives and ministers over the changes.
Binet's name emerged from overnight wrangling after his chosen candidate, Marie Buisson, failed to gather enough votes in the union's executive committee.
The 41-year-old, a former school administrator, has led the UGICT union since 2018 and worked at the CGT on environmental issues and gender equality.
She will have an uphill battle to re-knit the federation.
Martinez has faced criticism from CGT hardliners, including for his alliance in the retirement battle with the more moderate CFDT -- currently France's largest union federation by the membership.
Powerful member unions including railway, energy, and chemical workers found fault with his leadership.
Binet's election comes days before union leaders' meeting with Borne, whose move to ram Macron's pension reforms through parliament without a vote has ratcheted up tensions.
Labour Minister Olivier Dussopt told Europe 1 radio on Friday that "no one will prevent anyone from talking about anything" in the meeting.
CFDT chief Laurent Berger had threatened to walk out immediately if the government refuses to address pensions.
"We have to grasp this opportunity to re-establish contact and see where and how it may be possible to make progress," Dussopt said, while insisting that the government would "implement the bill".
Opponents of the pension reform, which would increase the minimum retirement age to 64, still hope France's Constitutional Council will block it in a decision slated for April 14.