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International Socialism, Winter 1968/69


A French Comrade

France: The fight goes on


From Survey, International Socialism (1st series), No.35, Winter 1968/69, pp.6-8.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


A French Comrade writes (October 14): Four months after the general strike which shook France,the ‘Red October’, which the Gaullist State feared so much, but which many of the young militants of May were looking forward to eagerly, has failed to materialise. And this is scarcely surprising.

After a strike of five or six weeks, which brought them minimal gains, the workers are not ready to plunge willy-nilly into a new strike. During the return to work last June, many young workers did speak in terms of merely postponing action till October. Most of them had been attracted by the student movement, and showed the greatest distrust towards the Communist Party and the CGT, whose restraining role they well understood.

But the great majority of workers did not think in these terms. It must be recalled that during the strike the Stalinists had completely isolated the factories from each other, put their own strike pickets on the gates, and thus compelled the great majority of the working class to stay at home and follow the strike passively. The worker who had stayed at home for five weeks did not go back to work with the feeling that he was beaten. Many considered the gains won as inadequate, but nonetheless of some value. They voted for the return to work because they felt they would not gain much more by continuing the strike. Moreover, the propaganda of the Communist Party militants, orientated to the legislative elections, which, they said, ‘would allow us to win what could not be won by means of the strike’, got a certain response.

The Gaullist and right-wing victory even seemed to justify, to some extent, those who had claimed that it was not possible to gain any more in the given situation.

Nonetheless, many short strikes – between a couple of hours and a day in length – broke out between the end of the general strike and the beginning of August, most of them provoked by actions on the employers’ part designed to get the upper hand over the workers again, and to restore a more rigorous discipline. Every time the bosses tried such a manoeuvre, the immediate response of the workers was to come out on strike, in spite of the union representatives who were calling for a return to ‘order’.

At the end of the summer holidays the main problem facing workers was the ‘recovery of days lost in the strike’. For the Grenelle agreements made provision for the workers to be paid for a certain number of strike days, but that the workers would have to work some Saturdays between September and December of this year to make up for lost production. The unions had promised to organise a struggle against this measure, declaring that there is no ‘recovery’ of a strike. In fact, the CGT not only decided not to organise the struggle against ‘recovery’, but in some cases even declared itself in support of Saturday work, accusing those who refused to do it of playing the ‘Leftists’ game. The attitude of the CGT can be easily explained. At all costs it had to avoid organising a serious struggle, even on the limited issue of ‘recovery’, for in a situation that was still ‘warm’, such a struggle would run the risk of setting the whole movement going again. And so in some firms we saw the CGT proclaim that it would not oppose recovery ‘in order not to divide the workers’ (e.g. Citroen and Snecma), although at the beginning of September 80 per cent of the workers were refusing to work the additional hours. In other firms (Alsthom, Credit Lyonnais), there has not been a single union leaflet for two months, and the CGT is advising every worker to make his own personal choice on the matter. In effect, the CGT doesn’t want to talk about action for the moment.

The CFDT, the second largest union organisation, has often taken a more correct position at the shop-floor level and asked workers not to make up the hours. But the leadership of this union has also taken good care not to launch a campaign on the issue.

Parallel to its total inactivity, the CGT has started a new drive against ‘leftists’, and has systematically removed from any position of responsibility in the union all those militants suspected of having some sympathy for revolutionary ideas. But this attitude, closely linked to that taken .in May and June, seems to explain the losses of votes in the recent union elections (October 10), where, in the large factories (Renault, Rhodiaceta), the votes lost by the CGT (1200 at Renault) went mainly to the CFDT candidates, now considered by a considerable part of the working class as ‘to the left’ of the CGT, largely because of its pro-student attitude during May.

We should add that the repression on the part of the employers, although it is very real, has not yet seriously affected the working class. It has been felt above all by the militants in the small and medium-sized firms, where the bosses saw the Gaullist victory as a personal victory over the union militants. And they took their revenge. But in the big firms, apart from citroen, where the same thing has been going on for twenty years, there have not been any mass sackings of union militants. And even in the medium-sized firms, the repression has often met violent reactions from the workers. At ‘Joint Français’ at Bezons (in the Paris area) 1,600 workers went on strike to protest at the sacking of the CGT union secretary. Within two days all the factories in the area (about 12,000 workers) were on strike in solidarity, and it took the whole weight of the union machinery to halt the movement, which the unions had started in the first place. And these are just a few symptomatic instances to show that the workers are far from being demoralised.

For their part, the students have not been demobilised by the extended holidays (from May to October). From the beginning of September there has been renewed activity in the Latin Quarter. The Faculty of Medicine was the first to be affected, and there were scuffles between left-wing students and plain-clothes policemen, assisted by Gaullists belonging to the so-called ‘Autonomous Teachers’ Union’.

Similarly, as soon as it was reopened, the Sorbonne was taken over again by revolutionary students. Political papers are sold freely there, and not a day passes without a meeting being held on the premises of the Faculty of Letters in Paris.

But despite this, it is in the secondary schools that the agitation is at the highest pitch. The Comités d’Action Lycéens (High school action committees) (CAL), which bring together revolutionaries of all tendencies, have in many cases forced the authorities to accept general assemblies of pupils on the premises in teaching hours. In Paris, for example, such an assembly brought together 1,500 out of 3,000 pupils in the main hall of the ‘Honore de Balzac’ college, and the participants dispersed singing the Internationale. At the ‘Turgot’ college, 400 pupils held a meeting of solidarity with the Mexican students, despite the ban imposed by the school authorities. And these are not merely isolated examples. Most colleges now have a CAL.

But the crucial problem is now to link up the school and university students’ movement with the working class. For if the students enjoy a certain degree of sympathy among large sections of workers, they have not so far been able to capitalise on it. Many of them actually believe that it will require merely a few demonstrations to serve as an example to bring the working class into action, as in May. Some tendencies even advocate violent and systematic confrontations with the police to oblige the workers to take sides. It is obvious that such methods will serve only to build barriers of hostility between the workers and the students.

This orientation is opposed by those students (at present a minority) who are active in the Action Committees in the localities and factories. These committees contain workers and revolutionary students. There are about 200 in Paris and the suburbs.

These committees stress that it is no longer the time for demonstrations as ‘examples’ to the workers, but rather for systematic propaganda activity in the working class areas and the factories, the only means to link up with the workers and to win their confidence.

According to whether the former or the latter of these orientations becomes the dominant one, the student movement, or at least its leadership, will either become more and more cut off from the workers, or manage to get out of the university ghetto and link its fate to that of the working class.

Another equally important problem is that of the unity of action of the Maoist, Trotskyist and anarchist tendencies which emerged in May. Tens of thousands of students and workers had their attention attracted towards these ‘leftist’ tendencies, but are somewhat disoriented by their profusion. Unity in action of the revolutionaries in the factories, working-class localities and the whole of the country is not only possible but necessary, if many young revolutionaries are not to be discouraged. Negotiations are at present in progress, and it is too soon to say whether they will come to a successful conclusion. But there are not too many obstacles to the creation in France, in the coming months, of a revolutionary organisation capable of having a certain influence in the political life of the country.

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