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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: Georges Séguy : "C’est l’esprit de révolte que veut tuer Sarkozy"

by Charles Silvestre

Georges Séguy: “Sarkozy wants to kill off the spirit of rebellion”

Translated Sunday 13 May 2007, by Emma Paulay

The ex-General Secretary of the CGT retorts to the rightwing candidate’s speech about May 1968 (1).

As he watched Nicolas Sarkozy demonise May 1968 on television, Georges Séguy saw red. The ex general secretary of the CGT, the leading trade union, and leader of the workers strike at the time, knows what he’s talking about…

Huma: What was your spur-of-the-moment reaction?

Georges Séguy: It gave me a start. I understand that the events of May 1968 left the reactionaries and especially the employers, with painful memories. But it’s the first time I’ve heard a politician like Nicolas Sarkozy condemn a memorable moment in our national social history in such retrograde terms. The main historical importance of May 1968, is neither the police violence in the Latin quarter, nor the legitimate controversies of different philosophical currents of the time, it is the general strike of ten million workers who took over their companies.

Huma: Not everyone remembers the outcome. Can you remind us what it was?

Georges Séguy: The workers were infuriated by years of governmental and employers’ opposition to any social progress. The general strike had one aim: to overcome this blockage, to obtain the opening of negotiation procedures. A huge majority of factories which had been occupied by their workers, many for the first time, signed the commitment of 25th May 1968 at the Ministry of Employment, boulevard Grenelle. It didn’t take long. Within a few hours, many demands, which it would take too long to list, were taken into account. The most extraordinary of which was a 30% raise of the minimum wage. When you see all the commotion about the minimum wage at 1500 euros, gross or net, it is worth remembering that this raise in the minimum wage and low salaries in the provinces, in Brittany for example, boosted domestic consumption to such a point that economic growth was increased more than at any other time during the period known as the “Trente Glorieuses”.

Huma: But you are talking about the workers, and of their strikes, and it is precisely this aspect that Nicolas Sarkozy did not talk about. Is there some misunderstanding?

Georges Séguy: No. Sarkozy knew exactly what he was doing. He censored the workers strike in his speech because it contradicts his attack on May 1968. He cannot proclaim his love for the workers and at the same time revile them when they accomplish a leap forward in their conditions and in society. The worker he respects is the one who gets up early and works flat out for his boss, even if the same boss might sack him one day. It’s not the one who stays up late preparing action that will help others defend their interests and have better lives. His slogan “work more to earn more” is misleading. To earn more, you have to fight more. I challenge anyone to look back at history and prove the contrary.

Huma: What was the point of this diatribe?

Georges Séguy: This malevolent condemnation, comparing militants, trade unionists and dissatisfied workers to hooligans, aims to discredit a movement where the famous work value that Sarkozy brandishes won a spectacular victory over those whose only thought is of over exploiting it to their advantage. The scale of this movement remains and will remain, at a much higher level than a politician’s ambitions, one of the most significant examples of French workers’ attachment to the social model resulting from the National Council of the Résistance.

Huma: Nicolas Sarkozy has no qualms about referring to the Résistance himself, from Général de Gaulle to Jean Moulin, to Guy Môquet. What is your reaction to that, as a résistant who was deported at a very young age?

Georges Séguy: He certainly had the gall to quote such glorious names. But it’s precisely the great social conquests imposed by the Résistance that he wants to destroy: a social security system based on solidarity between generations, a right to retirement, freedom of action for trade unions, nationalisations, large public services etc. His programme is the opposite to that of the National Council of the Résistance. In subjecting the historical social progress of May 1968, to public obloquy, and at the same time drumming out his love for workers, Sarkozy shows that, if he is elected, the French social model will not outlive his all-consuming fervour for work.

Huma: It’s a well-know fact that workers and students in 1968 did not have exactly the same point of view. Maybe Sarkozy thinks that he can speculate on that difference. However, the slogan for the march on 13th May 1968 was “student-worker solidarity”. What finally reunited everyone was a sort of uprising against a social order to which people were subjected in different ways…

Georges Séguy: As I see it, in what the UMP leader is saying, his overall attitude towards May 1968 is of great importance. Apart from the leftist diversions of a few groups, May 1968 was also a wonderful young people’s revolt against the advocates of the doctrinaire approach and totalitarian-minded political powers which had a tendency to stiffen the democracy. This brought about a huge juvenile movement towards a society freed of old fashioned mentalities, of unfairness and of the shackles of all sorts of bans and taboos. We were spectators to a strong push for social, political, and cultural emancipation. For women, that meant rejection of inequality and discrimination, the new force of feminism was women’s rights. In short, May 1968 was a great social movement and an extraordinary request for morals, habits, and society to be modernised. I am a witness to the fact that the workers movement did not necessarily realise that at the time. By proclaiming his loathing for this call for emancipation, Nicolas Sarkozy shows us whose side he is on: on the side of the big bosses, of an out-of-date monarchial system.


Translator’s note:

(1) Nicolas Sarkozy, at the largest rally of his campaign (at the Bercy arena in Paris), declared: "In this election, it is a question of whether the heritage of May ’68 should be perpetuated or if it should be liquidated once and for all.” May ‘68 “weakened the idea of citizenship by denigrating the law, the state and the nation ... See how the belief in short-term profit and speculation, how the values of financial capitalism grew out of May ’68, because there are no more rules, no more norms, no morality, no more respect, no authority ... "


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