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Henry Judd

World Politics

The Division of French Labor

(5 January 1948)

From Labor Action, Vol. 12 No. 1, 5 January 1948, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The defeat administered to the French working class has already had a major consequence that will affect the development of French labor for many years. By the deliberate action of its right-wing leaders, who openly played a strike-breaking, role during the recent strikes, the GGT (General Confederation of Labor) has been split wide open and a new trade union center established. The leader of the new center is the notorious Leon Jouhaux, long an organizer of disasters for the French working class. Along with him in this plot to split the ranks of French labor are involved various syndicalists, Socialist Party trade unionists, conservatives and open reactionaries of various types.

It must be recognized, of course, that this split could not have occurred without the basis for it having been laid by the Stalinist leaders of the CGT. The atmosphere of hostility and profound disgust with the Stalinist misadventurist leadership could not be channelized by the socialist and revolutionary wing of the CGT due to the latter’s weakness in size and influence. Instead, much of this has flowed into the reformist path opened up for it by Jouhaux and his associates. The Stalinists led the workers of France to a resounding defeat, but they were concerned first and foremost with accomplishing their pro-Russian political aims in the strike. The ruling class of France is now trying to rub home this defeat and, thanks to the aid provided by its supporters in the new trade union center, has succeeded in splitting the labor movement. Where unity was essential to ward off the aggressive attacks of the government of Schumann, where a common front was vital for the defense of the workers, there is now a deep split. From the point of view of French capitalism, what could have been more desirable?

Jouhaux Worked with Stalinists

This split, in itself constituting an adventure since it plays so lightly with the real needs and interests of French labor, was organized by men who until a few weeks ago worked hand in glove with the Stalinists. Since the end of the war, Jouhaux has been joint ruler of the CGT together with the well known Stalinist leader, Frachon. These people never opposed nor organized an anti-Stalinist movement. When Stalinism was riding high and could compromise with these small-minded bureaucrats, they followed humbly along and were silent about Stalinism’s crimes. When Stalinism plunged into its wild adventure and met inevitable defeat, these Stalinist labor Quislings of yesterday hastened to desert and joint the strike-breaking government forces. Instead of remaining within the CGT and combatting the Stalinists openly, organizing a united force to drive the Stalinists out of union leadership, they fled to the comforting embrace of the government, thus adding confusion and dismay to a situation already overburdened with this. The hesitation of Jouhaux to split indicates the doubts of this hardened old bureaucrat about the wisdom of the maneuver and his realization of its adventuristic character. There is plenty of reason to view the future of the new federation with skepticism.

What is the situation of French labor now? Clearly. there is the utmost of confusion and demoralization. The CGT has hitherto claimed six million members. The new federation claims between one and one and a half million members (no doubt exaggerated), but more significant than numbers is the type of unions it claims. Government employees, teachers, printers and other craft trades, railway workers, etc. That is, with the exception of the railway workers, those sections of the working class not belonging to the heavy or basic industries. At the present writing, it appears that the coal miners, iron and steel workers, metal trades, dockers, etc., are remaining with the old CGT. There are, of course, hundreds of thousands of workers who will, for the moment, drop out entirely from trade union membership. But, and here is the important point, when they inevitably return to trade union membership and activity, will they return to the conservative, government-sponsored and strike-breaking unions of Jouhaux, or to that union center still holding the majority of the militant workers of the heavy industries, the center with the class struggle tradition? Unless in the interim there will have been a tremendous shift away from the CGT to the new center, the answer is self-evident.

Today the French workers are split into roughly three categories: Those who stick with the CGT in its hour of defeat, despite the Stalinist leadership; those who, out of conservatism and legitimate disgust and disillusionment, have gone to the new center; and those who, having quit entirely, are watching and waiting to see what will happen. This is the unfortunate fruit of defeat, for which the Stalinists and the splitting reformists, each in their own way, are equally responsible. Nothing is more revealing of the true character of this split than the haste with which it is now trying to merge with the notoriously reactionary Catholic Trade Unions of France, composed of the country’s most backward workers.

Which Path Toward Reunification?

Lacking detailed information and facts, it is impossible to comment upon what would be the best course for a revolutionary movement to adopt in these circumstances. We are against the split, and we should oppose any and all efforts to make it worse by splitting unions not yet affected. We should start immediately the long and difficult work, among rank and file workers who always suffer the most from such situations, of educational and propaganda work for reunification of the labor movement. Once before, for a long period, French labor suffered the consequences of a divided labor movement. The breach must be healed as quickly and effectively as possible, and only the masses of workers in BOTH centers can do this.

In this respect, we must fight against both the Stalinist leaders of the CGT, the originators and prime criminals in the split and who, for their own political reasons, will only accept a reunification that keeps them in power; and against the pro-government union bureaucrats who have set up their rival federation on the basis of support to the government and social peace, and who, in turn, will oppose any reunification that would mean democratic unions, EQUALLY independent of pro-Russian Stalinist influence and pro-government “union sacrée” influence; unions, in a word, that pursue a class struggle policy in the interests of French labor. The problem of what to do. in various unions and industries is a difficult problem that only those on the scene and able to judge in which direction the best interests of the workers lie, can decide. It is largely a matter of which federation the masses of workers in the particular union or industry will support. There we must be, to work for the essential reunification.

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