Agence France-Presse Branch of the French National CGT Journalists' Union (SNJ-CGT)
Bad Vibes at the Works Committee
At a special session of the AFP Works Committee held on Thursday October 30th, CEO Pierre Louette suggested that the unions, who under French law are elected to represent staff on the committee, take part in a general discussion on the future of the Agency’s statutes, and notably on his preferred solution, the setting up of a foundation to finance AFP as part of the government’s plans (see our leaflet dated October 28).
"Given that the agency doesn’t belong to anybody in particular, it belongs to those who make it what it is," he gushed. "Are you ready to think about that with us?"
On behalf of CGT unions acting for all staff categories (journalists, employees, workers, technicians and white-collar), your representatives stated that our union is not in the habit of mixing up the defence of staff interests with helping run, or reorganise, the company.
For the CGT, those are two irreconcilable activities which go by the name of "co-management".
Unfortunately some trade unions fell right into the CEO’s trap by declaring straight out that they would like nothing better than to take part in joint studies with management with a view to ending our 1957 statutes.
Lining up behind the Confédération générale des cadres (CGC), a union which has practically no representation at AFP but which has nevertheless put out more statements in a couple of weeks than it has ever since the statutes came into force, it was surprising to find both the SNJ (French national journalists’ union) and the CFDT (French Labour Confederation).
The CFDT journalists’ representative even got so carried away that he said his union had a long tradition of "co-management"!
The CGT warns staff to beware of such divisive attitudes. They can only benefit a management which is seeking to privatise AFP in line with the ultra free-market principles in vogue at the highest levels of the French state.
Unions which stick to such a line are taking on a heavy responsibility, and are likely to regret it bitterly later on.
We also very much regret that it was not possible to hold a staff general assembly in the headquarters building straight after the special Works Committee meeting, as had been initially planned.
The meeting with Mr. Louette had been convened at the urgent request of the union representatives on the Committee, and staff had a right to be informed on its proceedings.
That’s the very least to be expected from elected union representatives - unless of course some delegates are afraid of laying out positions which are basically in line with those of management!
AFP AS A FOUNDATION: TAX LOOPHOLE OR CHARITABLE CAUSE?
As for the CEO’s proposal to create some kind of foundation or trust in order to finance a future AFP, we would like to recall a few simple truths.
First and foremost, as was pointed out by the SUD-AFP union rep on the Works Committee, it is difficult to imagine how the agency can be made more independent by calling on private capital to finance it!
Secondly, as Mr. Louette himself pointed out, the appeal for investors of foundation or trust structures - much less widespread in France than in English-speaking countries - is very often based on their taxdeductible status.
Is there really much difference, at bottom, between being financed by private companies seeking to avoid tax and being privatised?
One difference which certainly exists is that the foundation/trust system is much less transparent, which is no doubt one of the reasons for its appeal!
We also pointed out that while no private company is likely to invest in an AFP foundation with a view to making spectacular profits, some companies may well see it as a way of burnishing their image.
One only has to look at the list of private companies who are keen to be listed among the benefactors of certain well-known French foundations - such as the HEC business school (www.hec.fr/fondation/) or the Institut Pasteur pharmaceutical concern (www.pasteur.fr) - to understand this.
Last but not least it should be noted that in the English-speaking business world which seems to exercise such a powerful appeal for our management, foundations are very often synonymous with "good works", ie charity.
Mr. Louette quoted specifically the institutions set up by US billionaires such as Bill Gates and Warren Buffett.
Do we really want AFP to be listed as an "official good cause" in France, alongside the Little Brothers of Poverty and the National Campaign against Epilepsy?
We would prefer to keep both the image and the reality of a commercial company, financed not by dogooders but from the sale of real value-added services, including those we provide to the French state!
JOBS: STORM WARNING
On an even more important issue, that of jobs, the CEO’s statement before the Works Committee confirmed our fears. Management will indeed be seeking staffing cuts, and they will no doubt affect all employee categories.
This precisely at a time when AFP is supposed to be launching into the brave new world of high technology and conquering new markets. It just can’t be done.
Mr. Louette even confirmed what we had observed without his help: jobs are already being cut, by simply not replacing people who retire.
Thanks a lot for the young, and for the ever more numerous people scraping by on precarious freelance and short-term contacts!
The CGT journalists’ union will fight not only to preserve our 1957 statutes, but also to ensure that the company’s main stakeholders - the state and the French media - give us the means not only to grow but also and above all to save our jobs and working conditions.
SNJ-CGT-AFP, Friday October 31, 2008