Madeleine Tribolati: “Equal pay for equal work”

Contrary to popular clichés, the summer of 1936 was not one of paid holidays, as most workers had to wait until 1937 to benefit from this great advance of the Popular Front.

For many trade unionists, the summer of 1936 was primarily the negotiation of collective agreements for professional fields. The representatives of the bosses and workers had to agree in particular on salaries and classification levels. Success from strikes and factory occupations in May and June.

The employee is a 31-year-old woman who leads the delegation of the French Confederation of Christian Workers (CFTC). A minority among employees, where the CGT is dominant, the CFTC is the main organization among employees. It is she who submits the proposal for the salary tariff, inclusion in the classification, which is based on consultation with the members.

The deputy chiefs are surprised: “I can clearly see the standard for men. But where is the benchmark for women? “.

“There is none because pay is commensurate with ranksnaps Madeleine Tribolati. Besides, why do you want the salaries to be different? »

Choked by his partner’s confidence, the boss replies:

“But women eat less than men! » Madeleine Tribolati, tit for aunt: It is clear, sir, that you never invited me…”

The deaf dialogue continues:

“Women mend their own clothes…” “But what’s to stop you from doing the same?” »Unionist counterattacks.

Madeleine Tribolati is not the type to give up. Born to a laborer and cleaner father, she was hired at 13 as a clerk straight after her certificate, then became a shorthand typist thanks to evening classes and learned about trade unionism thanks to Christian patronage in Montrouge:

“I joined Unionism with some seriousness, she said the evening of her life because I found a way to be useful to others and especially to the working class of which I was a part. »

In 1924, at the age of 19, the young girl took her card to the French Federation of Women’s Trade Unions (CFTC), also known as the “Boulevard des Capucines Federation”. She sees it as a kind of putting the gospel into practice because she said:

“Bearing one another’s burdens shouldn’t just be something we say at Mass. »

To complete her training, she attends classes at the Ecole Normale Sociale every fourth Sunday of the month. With this intellectual background, he will quickly assume responsibility in the labor federation that is the heart of the CFTC.

Machist unions and employers

And it is within his union that he first leads the battle for equality. The CFTC, subservient to the Church’s social teaching, assigns different roles to each gender, especially in the family.

It is in fact within its union that it first fights for equality

The president of the Confederation, Gaston Teissier, and a large majority of men are therefore in favor of the bill banning the work of mothers, and it is generally accepted in society (it is enshrined in law) that the man, not the woman, is the head of the family.

The pressure is all the greater because the Great Depression created massive, uncompensated unemployment that increased competition for jobs.

But Madeleine Tribolati doesn’t want to give up:

“By what right and in the name of what principle, she wrote and defended the avant-garde position of the time, Would we like to divide humanity into two camps, one of which would have the privilege of freely developing its development, while the other, in order to avoid all competition, would be forced to limit its own? »

She was helped by the existence of women’s unions (like her) within the CFTC until 1947: “At the CFTC, we have been fortunate to have women’s unions. Women independently took positions and defended their positions at conventions. »

But they shouldn’t rely too much on the male species to fulfill their demands. During the negotiations in the summer of 1936, she was one of the few to represent both women and the entire profession:

My male colleagues at the CFTC or CGT didn’t dare to contradict me, but I don’t know if they would go to great lengths to defend the same position. “, she says.

In 1936, she did not completely win her case. Collective agreements only limit, but do not eliminate, differences in pay. We will have to wait more than ten years for the principle to be enshrined in the Labor Code. For female employees, the discount cannot exceed 10% of a man’s salary (for equivalent position and performance), compared to around 30% before the strikes. Equality is a long-term struggle!

Pharmaceutical negotiations

However, it must be remembered that the pressure of employers to reduce all wages is merciless. Madeleine Tribolati found it again in 1951, when following the law establishing the Smig – the guaranteed inter-industry minimum wage, the forefather of the SMIC – it was necessary to discuss with the bosses the consumption basket according to which this minimum wage would be indexed.

Confrontation with employers is sudden. The latter compete for everything

In the absence of statistics, the unionists, thanks to activists in the industry, had carefully prepared files, collected the monthly budgets of their members’ households and compared them with commercial prices.

Confrontation with employers is sudden. They fight over everything, from the number of bars of soap and their quality to the cloth on the table where the worker’s family eats lunch. And should it extend beyond the edges and by how much? How long does a badger last (for shaving)? HLM rent is too high to serve as a reference, those who do not have access to it – which is the majority at that time – will drink the difference … Why green beans rather than potatoes? etc.

“When it comes to housing, we gave waterthis offended the employer’s representative », recalls the negotiator, so far the only woman in this position at the CFTC). Five after the end of the war, another dares to compare:

After all, what you put in your standard budget, the POWs didn’t have all of this, which proves that we can do without…”

Other negotiating issues will follow, such as the extension of the Arrco pension scheme, job security and training, but also the creation of an international confederation of Christian trade unions.

Madeleine Tribolati rejected the “deconfessionalization” of the CFTC, which was transformed into the CFDT in 1964. Together with other minorities, she participated in the re-establishment of the Christian Union, of which she was vice-president until 1987. She died in 1995 in Paris.

For the next :

  • Maitron Dictionary, a biography of the French labor movement.
  • A video interview with Madeleine Tribolati was conducted in 1993 by Bernard Baissat and Nathalie Viet-Depaule (CNRS) for Maitron.

Find our ‘Ten Lives for Social Causes’ collection

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