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The New International, February 1939



Chronicle of the French General Strike

A Compilation Made From The Dispatches To The NY Times During The Struggle


From The New International, Vol.5 No.2, February 1939, pp.57-58.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


(compiled from the NY Times)

NOV. 15. Decree laws go into effect.

Nov. 17. The first violence occurs. A Communist party demonstration against the decree laws and the embargo on Spain was held. Demonstrators repeatedly crashed police lines in order to get into the plaza where the demonstration was held. A CP Municipal Councillor was arrested. Many factory workers took part.

Nov. 21. First sit-down strikes occur, instigated by CP (Third International) and the SP (Second International) members in factories. Hutchinson rubber factory in Paris suburbs, also Kuhlman chemical plant (180 workers). In Denain at an arms factory, 467 of 600 workers refused to work extra time or negotiate with factory heads. They were supported by a mass meeting of 20,000 metal workers.

Nov. 23. At Denain in the North (Department de Nord), 5,000 metal workers strike in sympathy with 4,000 sit-in strikers of Cail arms factory. At Valenciennes in the same district the metal workers union colls a strike of 17,000 for Nov. 24.

Nov. 25. Press reports large strike movement now exists in Paris and Department de Nord.

In Paris 12,000 occupy Renault auto factory. Police and Mobile Guards attack with tear gas, alone previously arranged plans. Workers fight back, hurling auto parts, machinery. Many arrests – 50 police and Mobile Guards hurt.

In Denain, workers seize metal plant – fierce battle with Mobile Guards, workers are ejected, march out singing the Internationale. Several thousand miners join the metal trades strikers.

Small group of railway workers demonstrate in Paris – dispersed by police.

At Anzin, railway mine workers go on strike (railroad line serving mine). Government then mobilized 400 workers (Anzin) who at first refused to work, claiming their mobilization papers incorrectly drawn – later worked in afternoon.

Government sets up military courts at Valenciennes to try strikers. In Paris suburbs, workers occupy Breguel and Bloch aviation plants. (Almost all aviation plants are now tied up by strikers, some for previous causes.) In northern France, mine and metal workers now on strike total 40,000. In Denain and Valenciennes, the civil population is much excited and takes part in all demonstrations. The workers ejected in Valenciennes re-occupy the factory.

In St. Nazaire, oil workers go out.

Lille metal, textile and chemical workers vote to strike on Saturday. Workers returning from work demonstrate at North railroad station, shout “Daladier to the scaffold.”

At Anzin, the strikers defy the government requisition of the railway line and block the lines in the afternoon, also preventing the locomotives from getting up steam.

On this day, the Executive committee of the CGT issued a call for a general strike on No. 30, five days later.

Nov. 26. The “day of protest” called by the CGT. Three major meetings in Paris – about 50 in the provinces. Most orators “labored hard to persuade their listeners that this is not a political strike.” Radical Socialist civil servants refuse to join strike.

Workers occupy two chemical factories in Lille. Ejected by police. Government permits mass meetings in Valenciennes, but warns that those who “speak too violently” will be arrested.

Jail sentences of Renault auto workers – ten days to six months. Daladier requisitions the railroads, 506 Anzin workers to be tried by military court. 400 fired.

Daladier calls workers in Valenciennes district to colors. Four hours later union heads order strikers to return to work.

Factories and mines are cleared.

Nov. 27. Adminstrative Council of postal employees refused to strike – but rank and file spokesmen later issue a statement saying they will be in the forefront of battle. National Confederation of War Veterans condemns the strike.

Day reported calm except at Denain. Workers catch strikebreaker in mine, force him to carry red flag, sing Internationale.

Metal Workers Union at Valenciennes reverses decision of yesterday ordering strikers to return to work, now orders diem to continue striking indefinitely.

At Loos, 1,000 workers occupy Kuhlman chemical plant.

Union of railway supervisors (foremen, chiefs of service) reject strike. Association of municipal employees (city, town, village, police) reject strike.

Nov. 28. 25,000 fired at Renault auto factory. Will be rehired after examination. Daladier requisitions all civil servants and employees of bus and subway using pretext of war mobilization law. League for Rights of Man opposes decree laws, also general strike. Police Federation opposes decree laws, also general strike. 5,000 metal workers out at Dunkerque, stopping work on five government ships.

Nov. 29. Eve of strike. Daladier sends troops to aid police and Mobile Guards. Especially heavy concentrations in Department de Nord, Paris, and seaports. He has requisitioned subways, gas, water, light, telegraph, telephone – also railways and workers in Valenciennes district.

Nov. 30. GENERAL STRIKE. All sources except CP press report fiasco. Government estimates strikers as from 2% or 3% to 25% in mines. Jouhaux estimates 75% to 80%. Admits failure of bus and subway strike in Paris, due to government measures – after a 2-hour walkout. Claims 100% longshoremen strike. 80% effective in mines. NY Times reports that only 191 of 10,842 Paris transport workers refuse work. Press reports railroads running.

United Press estimates 2,000,000 out. Paris suburbs working – except Renault. United Press reports communication services normal except in Marseilles and Boulogne where street cars and buses were on strike. In afternoon Marseilles streetcarmen returned to work.

Telegraph, telephone, postal are normal.

CGT claims that workers came to work in nationalized industries but did not work. United Press finds it significant that CGT refuses detailed figures on strike to newspapermen, using as excuse “since there are hardly any newspapers it is not necessary to make such statements.”

Disorder during day. Several hundred break police lines at auto factory; sing Internationale.

Textile workers of Dijon strike.

150 occupy Rennes arsenal in sit-in.

2,000 foundry workers strike, return in afternoon.

It is significant that the miners and metal workers who had been striking spontaneously for a week did poorly on day of general strike.

Dec. 1. Government estimates 70,000 fired. SP estimates 1,500,000 fired or locked out (100,000 textile workers in North, 25,000 school teachers, 20,000 metal, 4,000 miners, 4,000 mine railway workers).

2,500 locked out at shoe factory, riot, break way in.

Longshoremen still on strike.

Metal workers in St. Nazaire shipyards strike because of discharge of other workers for striking.

Dec. 2. Continued strikes and riots against lock-out. Riot with Mobile Guards in Denain.

2,000 demonstrate at air factory in Toulouse.

General strike at St. Nazaire – 11,000 metal and shipyard workers.

10,000 metal still out in North.

Ship Normandie on strike. Waiters, supply men, dining-room stewards call strike against discharge of some strikers. Joined later by sailors. They defy government requisition of the ship.

Dec. 3. Total on strike on Normandie and other ships is 5,000 in sympathy with 60 who were discharged. Government bringing navy forces in order to sail ship.

Dec. 7. Normandie still laid up. Government succeeds in sailing one ship, Paris.

Last metal trades workers call off strike, return to work in Valenciennes. 14 leaders were sentenced from ten days to one year.


The spontaneous strikes sprang up among the automobile workers and the metal workers who were helped to some degree by the miners. Other workers going out were in aviation, chemicals, textiles, rubber and arms factories.

The most militant were the metal trades workers of Denain and Valenciennes where the most severe fighting took place. In Denain the population took an active part in demonstrations.

The delaying of the strike call by the CGT – putting it off for five days gave government time to demoralize the workers through threatening measures and radio appeals.

The militancy of the workers continued after the failure of the general strike in isolated cases. The Normandie strike and the St. Nazaire shipyard strike took place after the general strike.

Role of Jouhaux and the CGT

Nov. 15. National Congress of CGT in session rejects the decree laws “as suppression of the social reforms voted by Parliament.” A resolution for a general strike presented by Chambeand, proof-readers’ delegate (printing trades) was put off until Nov. 17 when it was rejected. The Convention called for “a public demonstration of protest” on Nov. 26.

Nov. 16. Jouhaux told convention the decree laws were “unacceptable as written.” Said labor might “return to its supreme arm, if necessary,” hinting at general strike.

P.J. Philip, NY Times correspondent, reporting this statement by Jouhaux made the following comment: “Mr. Jouhaux has, however, a manner of placating extremists by threatening publicly measures that he himself secretly opposes and his threat should not be interpreted as an immediate menace.”

Nov. 22. Six days later, after many spontaneous strikes, the CGT announced it would call a general strike.

Nov. 25. CGT calls general strike for Nov. 30. “The strike must be held without any manifestation or meeting.” The workers were not to allow themselves to be provoked into disorder. “Everybody must return to work when the strike is over.”

Nov. 26. At “protest meetings” CGT speakers insisted that the strike was “not political.”

Nov. 28. CGT letter to Daladier blames him for strike, repeats it is “not political.”

Nov. 30. During the day of the strike, Jouhaux writes Daladier that he, Jouhaux, had already decided to resign from all posts as representative of labor in Bank of France and other committees before he read in the paper he had already been dismissed.

Dec. 5. The CGT holds a meeting in order to try to stop the strikes that still continue in the aftermath of the general strike. Says Jouhaux: “If we permitted the continuance of agitations, the Confederation would enter a phase of impotence.”

Role of Blum and the Socialist Party

Nov. 17. SP Executive Committee demands convening of Parliament.

Nov. 25. Rumors that SP and CP will be outlawed. Blum rushes about, seeing Radical Socialist leaders, asking them to withdraw support from Daladier. Is refused.

Prints letter in Le Populaire to Daladier blaming him for creating conflict, and advises him, “The only admissible solution is to give up the fight – resign and pave the way for a government of peace and moral unity that can restore civil peace and republican order.”

Nov. 27. Blum writes again that the Daladier requisition order affecting the railways is illegal, since it was not sanctioned by a full Cabinet meeting, as no Cabinet meeting has been held since the crisis began.

Nov. 29. On eve of strike, Blum calls for meeting of “shadow Parliament” of Socialists and all others who wish to attend to meet Friday, Dec. 2, saying “An exceptional situation demands resolutions of an exceptional character.”

Dec. 1. After strike, Blum writes, “At the end of this sad day, as I contemplate the battlefield, I can see no other victor than reaction ...”

Role of Communist Party

Nov. 17. Demonstration in streets against decree laws and the embargo on Spain. Supposedly organized by communists; CP Municipal Councillor arrested as leader. During rest of strike no more such meetings are reported.

Nov. 25. Duclos in a meeting of the Chamber Finance Committee protests against the “expulsion of workers by force from the factories when it could have been done by agreement.”

In Daladier’s radio appeals to the country in the five days before the strike, he insisted that the strikes were simply “brutal assaults on the peace policy of the government, which is seeking to avoid spilling the blood of Frenchmen for interests that are other than those of France.”

Dec. 2. L’Humanité considered the strike a success. “Magnificent movement of protest.”

The Daily Worker ran an ad in the NY Times claiming that it was the only paper correctly to report the strike, beating the capitalist censorship which tried to suppress the news of the victory.

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