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Workers’ International News, December 1938


Strikebreakers in France


From Workers’ International News, Vol.1 No.12, December 1938, p.3-4.
Transcribed by Ted Crawford.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


The general strike of French workers on November 30th failed in its objective. Less than half the organised workers obeyed the call to come out. Daladier, who capitulated so miserably before the Fascists in February 1934 and resigned the premiership, proved that he could be “the strong man” when it came to making a stand against the workers and utilising military conscription to break their strike. In 1936 he was one of the leaders of the Popular Front, to-day he opposes the Popular Front, but both in joining and in opposing he has consistently followed the best method of breaking the strikes of the French workers.

The 3-year plan for recovery put forward by Reynaud rests the greater part of the additional direct taxes on the shoulders of the workers, by increasing the price of sugar, coffee, wine, tobacco and transport as well as postage and taxes. These decrees coining on top of the inroads made on the working week and the moves towards granting belligerent rights to Franco produced an upsurge of resistance on the part of the workers.

The Communist and Socialist leaders put forward the slogan: “Daladier must go!” But to the Daladier government they opposed no positive alternative before the workers. Daladier conferred with the army chiefs and prepared to crush the strike by military measures, the mobilisation of the strikers and the use of troops.

Faced with the prospect of civil war, left unprepared by their leaders, with no revolutionary lead given, large sections of the workers failed to respond to the call for a general strike.

Thorez, leader of the Communist Party of France, declared blatantly that the workers were prepared to accept the economy decrees and the abolition of the 40-hour week provided that Daladier was removed. In other words, the “Communists” demanded that Daladier’s foreign policy, seeking an understanding with Germany, be replaced with a policy consistent with the needs of the Kremlin. To secure such a change in the French government’s policy they were prepared to sacrifice the material interests of the workers, who were required to defy the military resources of Daladier to secure a return of the Popular Front government.

After two years of the Popular Front, during which the gains made in the battles of June 1936 have been gradually filched away by currency devaluation, by the increase in the cost of living, by the inroads on the 40-hour week, the prospect of facing the armed forces of Daladier in order to set up yet another Popular Front government was received by the workers without enthusiasm. Where a revolutionary leadership with a fighting policy, consistently set forth over the past period, would have succeeded in lining up the workers to make a reckoning once for all with the exploiters, the “Communist” policy of class conciliation and National Unity could serve only to disillusion and undermine the fighting spirit of the workers.

In June 1936, while the strikes were sweeping France, Leon Trotsky from his Norwegian asylum, warned of the treacherous role that the newly formed Popular Front of Thorez, Blum, Jouhaux and Daladier would seek to play. To-day his words turn out to be a prophecy:

“The ruling class has a real staff.

“This staff is not at all identical with the Blum government, although it uses the latter very skilfully. Capitalist reaction is now playing a big and risky game, but playing ably. At the present moment it is playing the game of ‘losers win.’

“Let us to-day concede all the unpleasant demands which have met with unanimous approval of Blum, Jouhaux and Daladier. It is a far cry from recognition in principle to realisation in action. There is the parliament, there is the senate, there is the chancery – all these are instruments of obstruction. The masses will show impatience and will attempt to exert greater pressure. Daladier will divorce Blum. Thorez will try to shy to the Left. Blum and Jouhaux will part company with the masses. Then we shall make up for all the present concessions, and with interest.

“This is the reasoning of the real staff of the counter-revolution, the famous ‘200 families’ and their hired strategists. They are acting in accordance with a plan. It would be light-minded to say that their plan is groundless. No, with the assistance of Blum, Jouhaux and Cochin, the counter-revolution can attain its goal.”

Daladier did in due course divorce him, and the result of the November general strike shows that Blunt and Jouhaux have parted company with the masses.

When, after the events at Clichy, the workers began forcibly to expel the fascists from the factories and workshops, Blum, as prime minister, came forward to protect them, to demand for them democratic rights as Frenchmen. And symbolically, in the strike last month it was these very same fascist proteges of Blum, these followers of De La Rocque and Doriot, who were the first to break ranks among the strikers and lead the way into the factories.

Both the Popular Front politicians and the fascists have served each in their own way as strike-breakers. And now the 200 families, having made use of both, is now for the time being independent of both. There can be no doubt that the bourgeoisie, for all their fair words about conciliation, will exploit their advantage to the full and launch new attacks on the French workers.

The general strike was an adventure undertaken at Moscow’s behest and with the typical light-mindedness of the Stalinist bureaucracy which imagines that it is possible to turn worker’s militancy on and off like a tap, or to organise a struggle against a Daladier without pointing the real way out to the workers.

The Stalinists will pay the penalty for this frivolous playing at politics by a further weakening of their influence in France. But what is of real concern is that the workers will pay the penalty for the crimes of their leaders in further encroachments on their standards of life.

In Britain, now that British Imperialism has had time to lick its wounds and work out the new position arising as the aftermath of the Munich “settlement”, the question of some sort of Popular Front as the alternative to the National Government has come up as a serious topic of political discussion. The British workers must learn from the experience of their fellow-workers in France that the Popular Front is a strike-breaking conspiracy; at the head of the gang initiating its activities stand the Thorez and the Harry Pollitts, blacklegs-in-chief to the bourgeoisie.

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