Engelmann declared that he was standing for the FN in next month’s cantonal elections in an interview published by Riposte Laïque, the group which last year tried to organise a wine and sausage street party in a largely Muslim Paris neighbourhood.
After asking Engelmann to resign, the union told its 25-strong branch of council workers in the western Moselle region that he could not be both a union official and a candidate for the FN. But the majority of members said they stood by their secretary, leading to the threat to suspend the branch.
In an interview with a right-wing newsletter on Tuesday, Engelmann hit back, saying he is a “free spirit” and declaring, “In one, maybe two weeks dozens of CGT members will come out” as FN members.
The controversial candidate has a chequered political history – he has previously been a member of two Trotskyist groups, Lutte Ouvrière and the Nouveau Parti Anticapitaliste (NPA).
He says he resigned from the NPA because one of its candidates in last year’s regional elections wore Islamic head cover and joined the far-right party because he finds that new leader Marine Le Pen is the “only one defending secularism” in France today.
The CGT’s constitution bans racist and xenophobic statements. Officials argue that rules out support for Le Pen, who has recently launched a number of much-publicised attacks on Islam.
But regional official Denis Pesce admits that the union may not have done enough to fight racist and Islamophobic ideas.
“You hear all sorts of shallow ideas about immigrants, about the right and the left being the same,” he told a blog on Le Monde newspaper's website. “People have had enough of Sarko[zy] and no serious response from the left.”