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Frédéric Souillot, a mustachioed “biker” at the head of the Force Ouvrière union

1. Mustache

Frédéric (“Fred”) Souillot is first and foremost a face. The French who discover it will quickly learn to recognize the new boss of Force Ouvrière (FO), who will be appointed this Friday, June 3 by the members. Distinctive signs: a horseshoe mustache – not to be confused with the walrus mustache of his CGT counterpart, Philippe Martinez – and a silver ring on each ear. The “biker” swapped leather for a suit jacket after a motorcycle accident a few years ago.

2. Continuity

Supported by the outgoing general secretary Yves Veyrier and by the boss of the powerful FO Federation of Metallurgy Frédéric Homez, Souillot represents the “reformist” line within a union fractured by the wars of currents. It was Jean-Claude Mailly, leader from 2004 to 2018, who brought him up to the confederal leadership in 2015. He then accepted without showing the slightest hesitation.

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3.Secret

The man behind such a look will have to expose himself to the media, he who has long avoided them. Frédéric Souillot has rarely been on the front line on sensitive issues, except for the closure of the ArcelorMittal factory in Florange (Moselle), when he was federal secretary of FO Métaux. “He is a good negotiator, easy to contactunderlines one of his supporters. He is a faithful guy in friendship, loyal. Activists love it! »

4. Burgundian

Aged 54, Frédéric Souillot returns when he can to his region, near Beaune, in Côte-d’Or. A fan of hiking, he also sometimes evokes his gypsy origins. He is the son and grandson of communist militants – a shame, when we know that FO was founded in 1947 on the regrouping of militants hostile to the alignment of the CGT with the PCF. His personal Facebook page opens with a quote from Jean Jaurès: “It’s that basically, there is only one race: humanity. »

5. Steelworker

Coming from the Fédération de la Métallurgie, Frédéric Souillot has had his card with FO since 1997, two years after being hired by Schlumberger, a company specializing in the maintenance and installation of service stations. An energetic shop steward, he made FO the first house union. Contacted, his HRD at the time refused to say anything bad about it.

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6. Trotskyists

Rarely at FO, two candidates were in the running at the Rouen congress (Seine-Maritime), which opened on Monday May 30. But the challenger, Christian Grolier, secretary general of the Federation of Civil Servants, withdrew his candidacy on Wednesday 1er June, anticipating his defeat.

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In 2018, Grolier almost won against Veyrier. He then had the support of Trotskyist militants… who, this time, supported Souillot. “They favored the unity of the house”welcomes support from the new number one. “There are big money stories behind this agreementwarns an opponent, Trotskyists cannot live without FO subsidies. »

7. Device

Some criticize his lack of experience or his reformist positioning: “Will we become CFDTists? » wonders the leader of a federation. Others would have liked this succession to be the subject of more internal debate. Souillot is also attacked for his sometimes hasty way of managing conflicts within the organization, as in 2021, when he cleaned up the Departmental Union of Finistère.

8. Hemorrhage

Among the files awaiting the new number one: to stop the decline in the number of members. FO claims some 500,000, but without being transparent about its figures. “In reality, it is much less, no more than 300,000according to Dominique Andolfatto, professor of political science at the University of Bourgogne-Franche-Comté and co-author of “Anatomie du syndicalisme” (PUG, 2021). In addition, FO activists admit that the Covid crisis has caused them to lose 15% of members. During the health crisis, union ties have been damaged, as it has been more difficult to lead meetings and talk to members. »

May 1: are the unions still able to oppose Emmanuel Macron?

9. Retreats

Another priority for Souillot: organizing the union fight against the pension reform announced by Emmanuel Macron. Retirement at age 60 must remain “an aspiration for FO, an ideal”warned the outgoing Yves Veyrier in his speech to the activists gathered in congress.

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10. Ghosts

Two ghosts still haunt FO. The first, Pascal Pavageau, short-lived secretary general between April and October 2018, forced to resign for having filed his “comrades” according to their religious convictions or their supposed sexual orientation: on Facebook, he took a stand against Souillot and the alliance of Metallurgy and the Trotskyists, seeing “further confirmation of the shenanigans that[’il] been denouncing for years”.

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The second, his predecessor Jean-Claude Mailly, support of Souillot, and criticized by part of the troops for having appeared at Macron’s HQ, five days before the second round of the presidential election.

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