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Pierre Frank

In France

Economic Crisis and the Strikes

(July 1931)

In the International of Labor, The Militant, Vol. IV No. 15, 18 July 1931, p. 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.

France is one of the last of the European countries to be gripped by the economic crisis. In possession of an absorptive internal market and at the same time a cheaply producing refining industry which opened the foreign markets to it, capitalist France looks back upon a prosperity period, which lasted into the second half of 1930. Only in the autumn of 1930 and the winter of 1931 did the crisis make itself felt heavily in France too. The development of the agrarian crisis and the price fall of finished goods threw French industry into a difficult position, whose after-effects the working class felt quickly and for a long time. Unemployment assumed a great scope, relative to French conditions: instead of the up to then prevalent shortage of labor, which led to the immigration of foreign-born workers, hundreds of thousands of workers now found themselves either thrown out of a job completely or put upon part time. At the same time, a stubborn offensive of capital set in to diminish the wages and the general standard cf living of the workers.

How did the French proletariat reply to this attack? In general, the proletariat has not yet taken up the defense energetically. Because the policy of the revolutionary organizations, the Communist party and the C.G.T.U. (red trade union center), as a result of the policy of the “third period”, caught, it in an exhausted state, the influence of bourgeois propaganda could make itself felt very strongly in broad sections of the working class. The steadily growing reformist organizations, on the other hand, endeavored to maintain the calm among the workers. The influence of bourgeois propaganda was above all expressed in strong anti-foreigner currents against the three million foreign born workers laboring in France and the half million colonial workers exploited to the bone by French capitalism. These anti-foreigner currents, abetted by the reformists, penetrated right into the circles of the revolutionary organizations. They frequently made their appearance not only in the unemployment councils formed by the C.G.T.U. and in the revolutionary trade unions, but also in the Communist party itself.

The first big struggles broke out in August and September 1930, in the period of transition between the abating prosperity and the incoming crisis. For years the French bourgeoisie was accustomed to see a meek proletariat before it. A strike of 4,000 to 5,000 workers was looked upon as very important: most of the labor conflicts were limited to a few hundred participants and slight rises in wages sufficed to send them back again. The bourgeoisie carried through the rationalization of the factories without encountering any noteworthy resistance. To consolidate the apparatus of power it introduced – under the pretext of protecting the workers against certain evils – social insurance which burdened them with a tax on wages in the form of compulsory contributions and chained them to capitalism under Draconic conditions. On July 1, 1930, the law came into force: at the same moment, a ferment set in throughout the country which finally broke out openly in August in the North of France in a movement which embraced close to 200,000 textile and metal workers. Some smaller movements in other parts of the country (for example, in the Lower Seine department) flared up only to be extinguished again. The labor struggles in the North lasted for weeks.

(To Be Continued)



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