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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. 16, 25 July 1931, p. 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.

(Continued from last issue)

The compulsory contributions of the workers to social insurance marked the first wage decreases. The party and the C.G.T.U. finally issued the correct slogan “against the workers’ contribution”, after a series of vacillations, during which they sometimes demanded the struggle against the whole social insurance law, or else the creation of insurance treasuries by the trade unions for the purpose of carrying out the law. These vacillations, together with the policy of the “third period” hurt the revolutionary organizations tremendously, and when they finally issued the slogan “Against the workers’ contribution”, they no longer found any strong echo in the masses. In the North, the influence exercized by the reformists through the communal administrations, cooperatives, sport leagues, workers’ singing societies, etc., is very extensive. They came forward as the most zealous agitators for the law which they had themselves demanded with a great vocal display. In order to put an end to the dissatisfaction which arose as a result of the withholding of five percent of the wage by the bosses for the compulsory insurance contribution, the reformist organizations of the North raised the demand for a wage increase of one-fourth of a franc per hour (about 1 cent), that is, they accepted basically the payment of contributions by the workers. The great majority of the workers took up the struggle for one-fourth of a franc “wage increase”. The C.P.F. and the C.G.T.U., in spite of the relatively favorable conditions, did not understand how to establish the united front, and instead they issued the slogan of “one-half of a franc wage increase.” Without any hindrance from the revolutionary trade unions, the reformists had a free hand for their parliamentary horse trade with the bosses and were able after a few weeks of struggle to strangle the strike with impunity. They abandoned the one-fourth of a franc wage increase and accepted a sort of “bonus for steady work”; the workers who have worked in the factory regularly for more than six months, receive the insurance contribution as compensation from the boss each week.

Failure of the Communist Party

Among the workers there were splendid moods for struggle. In sharp contrast to the conduct of the reformist leaders, who constantly pushed for negotiations, they repeatedly effected an energetic resistance in conflicts with the armed forces. At no stage in the struggle did the C.P.F. and the C.G.T.C. succeed, through the realization of the united front, to draw closer to the masses of the fighters and in this manner to win over broad sections of the working class to the Communist slogans. The result was a new ebb of their influence; the revolutionary trade unions lost heavily in membership. A municipal council election in Tourcoing, fourteen days after the end of the strike, showed a substantial decline in the votes given to the party.

During the course of this, the capitalist offensive against the miners in the Northern department, that is, against two-thirds of the union membership, opened up in all fury. The announcement of an impending wage reduction evoked a strong dissatisfaction among the miners. Extremely favorable opportunities for an action were at hand. Here too the reformist influence was appreciable: out of a total of 200,000 miners about 6,000 members fall to the revolutionary and about 50,000 members to the reformist union, the latter being the strongest trade union in France. From the very first day, it should have been the task of the Communists on the basis of the generally raised demand “against any wage reductions” to set up the united front. To propose to the reformist organizations a joint action, a joint struggle – that should have been the first step that the revolutionary union should have taken. The Centrists vacillated back and forth so that the reformist trade union lenders were able to carry out their shameless treachery and consent to a wage reduction without a serious revolt of the workers replying to their crime. The miners had no confidence in the revolutionary union. Finally, the C.G.T.U. found itself compelled – so as not to discredit itself forever in the eyes of its members and sympathizers – to call the strike itself. Only a minority of 25,000 miners followed its call, a vanguard whose struggle was followed with sympathy by the whole proletariat, but which was unable to convert this sympathy into deeds. After a week, the workers had to return to the mines with a smaller wage. As to the relationship of forces between the reformist and revolutionary unions, the strike only contributed unessential changes. Yet there has rarely been a more favorable opportunity to extend the influence of the revolutionary organizations over tens of thousands of workers who had seen the betrayal of the reformists. The impotence of the C.G.T.U., however, did not permit to separate these workers from their old organizations.

In the C.P.F. as well as in the C.G.T.U., the discussion on these strike movements was prevented.

(To Be Continued)



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