Gordon Archive   |   Trotskyist Writers Index  |   ETOL Main Page

Paul G. Stevens

In the World of Labor

(1 December 1939)

From Socialist Appeal, Vol. II No. 91, 1 December 1939, p. 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

How the French Workers Are Mulcted for the War

Last week this column gave some general indications of the fact that the French workers are bearing the brunt of the war economy on their shoulders and that they are in a state of incipient rebellion as a result. This week we are in a position to give our readers more concrete information on this score, as gleaned from illegal organs that have reached us since then.

The 60-hour week has been established as a minimum, although in the more important war industries a work week of as much as 72 hours is in force. Of the minimum 60 hours, 45 hours work is required for the pay of 40 hours established by an old decree. Taking 10 francs as an average hourly rate, a worker receives 400 francs for 45 hours work. The 15 hours supplementary which now make up the 60 hour week are supposed to be paid at the regular rate, that is, 10 francs for the average worker. Thus, a worker should get 550 francs for his 60 hours of work.

In actuality, however, here is what happens. One decree, established since the beginning of the war, levies a 25 per cent tax on “overtime” or supplementary hours beyond the 45 originally set. Thus, the average worker gets only 112½ francs “overtime” pay instead of 150. Then 4 per cent of the remaining total salary goes to “social insurance,” and 2 per cent goes to the government under the Reynaud emergency decree established before the war, leaving him a total of 482 francs out of the 550 francs he is supposed to get for 60 hours of work.

But even these 482 francs was deemed too much to give a worker for the 60 hours he is now required to work. So the war government of Daladier decided to slap another 15 percent war tax on his wage, reducing the average worker’s pay to some 409 francs. Thus he is really required to work 60 hours for the same pay as he previously received for 40 hours work, at the same time that the cost of living keeps constantly mounting.

This last tax, however, may prove to be the straw that breaks the camel’s back. For, although the 15 per cent has already been officially decreed, resentment is so widespread that the government has up to the present refrained from enforcing it.

... And How the Prolos Answer in Action

At the Lorraine-Dietrich works in Argenteuil, the whole personnel carried on a strike for several hours, shouting revolutionary slogans and singing the International. They went back to work only when the management assured them that the 15 per cent tax would not be applied there.

At the “Compteurs de Montrouge” department store, 300 women workers demonstrated for 20 minutes with the same object in view. Their demonstration met with a similar success.

In the C.A.P.R.A. factory at Courneuve, the bosses announced the government decree would be effective with the next pay envelope. The night-shift went on strike. As a result the 15 per cent was not deducted from their wages. At the “Petites Voitures” factory in Aubervilliers, the workers quit one hour earlier, carrying out a strike action along identical lines. Same result here too.

From the looks of things, the French prolos are not going to take the war deal there lying down.

Need of the Hour: A Revolutionary Party

Conditions at the front are not any better for the French bourgeoisie then they are at the rear. Every bit of information coming from France is testimony to the fact that a tremendous ferment is making itself felt in the population as a whole.

When you keep in mind the recent revolts in Czechoslovakia and the reported disturbances in the Reich you have here a more than ample explanation as to why “all’s quiet on the Western Front.”

The situation just isn’t set for an enthusiastic war. It is much more ripe for revolutionary action. What is lacking most is the existence of a firmly-knit revolutionary party.

Here too, however, the trend is becoming more favorable. We learn from reliable sources that the groups adhering to the Fourth International in France, which were hitherto divided over tactics with regard to work inside the Workers’ and Peasants’ Socialist Party (P.S.O.P.), have recently reunited and are carrying on common activity.

The P.S.O.P. itself has undergone a considerable change. At the outbreak of the war, the party seemed to have disappeared. Late in October, however, it began to show signs of life again. Its paper, Jilin 36, has reappeared as a legal organ. An illegal edition, mimeographed, is also making the rounds of the Parisian working class quarters. The leadership of the party has passed over to elements designated as “left-centrists”. The freemasons have been expelled from the organization. It is rumored that included among those expelled, is Marceau Pivert, former leader of the party.

The Stalinists, who regained a measure of the workers’ confidence by their new fake “turn”, are still paralyzed, and in spite of their tremendous apparatus and the aid of the G.P.U., display hardly more activity than the small revolutionary groups. Of late, there has been a steady trend of more advanced militants from their ranks going over to the P.S.O.P.

A Note on the Work of Our Belgian Comrades

The circumstances surrounding the government’s persecution of our leading Belgian comrades are only now coming to light. It seems that, at the outbreak of war, a certain Vereecken, the leader of an ultra-left group which split from our Revolutionary Socialist Party (PSR) about a year ago, took it upon himself to “prepare” the revolutionary vanguard for illegality ... This was done by means of a mimeographed circular containing detailed instructions which was mailed, among others, to a list of our comrades which he had purloined from the PSR when he split.

Naturally, the government, which was looking for just such a pretext, was greatly relieved of its trouble by this piece of stupidity. The result was that every leading militant in the country was instantly picked up. Confronted with the evidence, some of the comrades arrested found it hard to deny the identity of the perpetrator before the investigation judges. After being held for weeks, all the militants arrested, including Vereecken, were finally released.

Upon his release, Vereecken attempted to provoke a split in the ranks of the PSR because of the repudiation of his “document” by some of the comrades arrested. This attempt fortunately has failed. At a recent congress held by our Belgian party under the most difficult conditions, this matter among others was settled definitively. The “illegal circular” of Vereecken was condemned unanimously. The action of those comrades who identified the circular as hailing from Vereecken was censured. The party swung into action after the congress, resuming publication of its weekly organ, the Lutte Ouvrière, and beginning a vigorous anti-war campaign in the mining fields and in the industrial cities. In spite of the initial crisis, brought about by the government action which has resulted from the stupidity of the ultra-lefts, the party has remained intact. As a matter of fact, the reports to the congress even showed a substantial gain in membership, coming mainly from the ranks of the Stalinists in such centers as Brussels and Liege.

Gordon Archive   |   Trotskyist Writers Index   |   ETOL Main Page

Last updated: 27 June 2016