French Communist Party 1933

What is the State of the Unemployed Movement?

by [Charles] Tillon

Source: cahiers du Bolchevisme, 10th year, No. 4, February 15, 1933;
Translated: for by Mitch Abidor;
CopyLeft: Creative Commons (Attribute & ShareAlike) 2005.

Millions of workers look upon the immediate future under the threat of layoffs, salary cuts, or their possible replacement by unemployed workers who don’t receive assistance and who, tired of going hungry, will perhaps accept work under any conditions.

Unemployed workers who receive no allocation and are not registered, when delivered over to the dangers of Socialist and Radical demagogy, can play a considerable role in the struggles in which the proletariat is searching for it path and its class solutions.

Our Party and the CGTU can no longer allow the perpetuation of our weaknesses in the organization of the unemployed and in the realization of their widest possible unity in action. And yet, despite the will of the jobless to fight, the organized movement of the unemployed is relatively very weak throughout the country.

The Unemployed Committees of the Paris region groups 50,000 out of 500,000, or 10%. But outside the Paris region this proportion is often less.

A tendency has appeared which seeks to transform Unemployed Committees into “Closed Unions of the Unemployed,” that is to say, a small minority of partisans. The anarcho-syndicalist concept of an acting minority has appeared in certain Unemployed Committees.

What happens when an action is proposed for the realization of an immediate demand? They say: “We'll mobilize our guys,” and 150 or 200 guys, an tiny minority in the mass of registered and unregistered in the territory of the Unemployed Committee, demonstrate and quickly lose their momentum without making any connection with the mass of those without jobs.

The lack of understanding of the primordial interest of immediate demands is the greatest weakness. A committee gathers 250 unemployed who demonstrate in support of their delegates at town hall. They obtain milk for the children, coal, a meeting hall. A communist comrade signals the demonstration to l'Humanité without talking about the results obtained. What counts for him is the demonstration, while the unemployed wait for the least advantage that can lighten their misery.

We risk maintaining the unemployed movement in its narrowness if we don’t keep in sight the fight for the immediate demands that are in accord with their immediate needs and which constitute the essential basis for a mobilization of the masses.

Since the elections, where the bourgeoisie maneuvered to set the unemployed up against the Communist Party, we have done but little to regain their confidence. We must remember how we acted in regard to the electoral soup kitchens when the Committees should have responded to the municipalities: “Stew for the unemployed — yes we want one a week during, but also after the elections, and we will obtain this through our mass committees.”

How to use demands

The bourgeoisie is refining its tactics with regard to the unemployed and knows how to cause troubles even in the ranks of those that lead the committees. For example, the City of Paris voted a credit of two million for unemployed tenants and two million for the distribution of coal.

What should have been the attitude of the committees before this measure?

The correct slogan is: not a sou for the rent. Yet the press invited the unemployed to register in order to receive the rent indemnity, whose distribution, in order to facilitate all imaginable maneuvers, is in any event left to the good will of the public powers.

At a conference a delegate of the CGTU, invited to speak, explained that with or without us the unemployed would have registered en masse in order to receive the rent allocation. The two million that were allocated were done so under the pressure of the jobless. All the unemployed should have been called on to register without distinction. That action should have been tied to that for the immediate and general delivery of two million worth of coal. For it was clear that advising committee members against receiving the rent allocation would have meant allowing them to do so despite us and inviting them to desert our committees.

Even so, it was a hardened militant who declared that the representative of the CGTU “betrayed” his watchword: “Not a sou for the rent on the part of the unemployed.”

The same sectarian spirit can be found in the way slogans are thrown out without careful study of how to have them put into practice. To say: not a sou for the rent before the beginning of the month to the unemployed, who consider as the greatest hardship, the worst failure the fact of being evicted from a lodging, or even a hovel, is nothing but empty talk if nothing is done to prevent the evictions, i.e., if the unemployed aren’t alerted and put in contact, by street, by neighborhood, by house, and if conditions aren’t thus realized for a mass resistance to evictions.

The same can be said for the non-payment of taxes, even if we could gather thousands of tax forms from un-registered unemployed and establish a practical action.

These examples show how we should study all the demands of the unemployed with care and keeping in sight the steps to be immediately taken if we want to cease being a narrow movement that touches but a small part of the registered unemployed.

It’s not by constantly repeating threats or radical phrases that we will win over the unemployed. The experiences of December prove this in Paris. December 9, 25,000 jobless demonstrated in two points of the suburbs because they were conscious of being mobilized for their demands and because their demonstration was methodically prepared.

On December 25 only a few hundred clashed with a massive police force in Montmartre. To be sure, the mass of unemployed were indignant against the bourgeois gluttons, and weren’t opposed to demonstrating their anger, but they would have wanted this to bring them a little bit of supplementary bread. The action of the British unemployed in Kent, who were able to obtain supplementary aid for Christmas though street actions shows the path that a Christmas demonstration can take in all cities.

“Plunge into the mass of Unemployed”

Let us end here these examples that demonstrate how we find, in relation to our comrades in the jobless movement, the same sectarian mistakes, the same errors that still often hinder the development of our mass work. And yet, the more the unemployed, left to themselves, suffer from the direst poverty, the easier it is for the bosses and the state to impose salary reductions and to use them in case of a strike.

The situation of the unemployed demands the creation of a powerful independent movement, animated by a class spirit, where we must learn to provide our tactic of the United Front its immense possibilities.

Work among the unemployed has, for Communists, an importance that has often been stressed. The resolutions of the October meeting of the Central Committee and of the XIIth Executive also point out that we must plunge into the unemployed movement and show ourselves to be the best fighters for their demands.

We are for mass independent committees where all the unemployed, whether union members or not, discuss their demands and their actions. We bring to this our suggestions and our solutions, after having discussed them in the group of unitary union members and in the Communist unemployed fraction, which have the task of studying how best to realize the policies of the unitary union in the unemployed movement.

We must deliberately break with those narrow committees where the unemployed mainly find speeches in a vocabulary they don’t understand. The propaganda of the committees must carry the day wherever the jobless are found, in soup kitchens, etc. Proletarian democracy must preside over the actions of unemployed committees, in the designation of leaders, and in the discussions at assemblies.

We must know how to determine those needs that allow for the seeking out at their homes of those not registered. For example, such and such local or neighborhood committee takes the initiative to sign up all the unemployed to demand shoes, coal, milk, or for assistance particular to those unemployed struck down by the flu or other illnesses. This is the chance for a team of the committee to visit an entire neighborhood and to find all those who are without assistance, or who need to be registered and assisted, in order to bring them over to the committee.

This necessitates the formation of work commissions within the committee, which one or another initiative will assist in setting up, and around which will be grouped a phalanx of the active unemployed, constituting a reserve force of leaders, palliating the instability of the leadership teams of the unemployed.

Meetings halls for the unemployed, where the latter will find all the information needed for their defense, for social assistance, rent, aid, etc, should be regularly established and their location clearly indicated.

The committee of the 10th arrondissement has such a meeting hall with a reading room, hairdresser, shoemaker, but it would help if the unemployed could find it! Where are the daily posted flyers that show the worker who has lost his job the place he will be defended as a member of the unemployed?

Solidarity funds for the immediate assistance for those most in need can be created.

Bases for unity in action

The bourgeoisie, the leaders of the principal confederated and autonomous unions, Socialist elected officials, all seek to use the unemployed movement for policies aimed at rescuing the bourgeoisie.

Nevertheless, the movement for unity that is currently preparing the proletariat for resistance to the capitalist attack also exists among the unemployed. Millions of workers voted for unemployment insurance at the last elections. The Socialist Party and [its newspaper] Le Populaire every day declare themselves partisans of this insurance which they stood up against when the Communists proposed it in the chamber. Unemployment insurance is very much a demand capable of bringing about the bloc of the unemployed of all tendencies and preparing Socialist and Christian workers for common action for a precise goal, beginning with the registration of all unemployed without distinction, and the immediate increase of the allocation levels, which are a step on the road to the unemployment insurance which is to be imposed.

Thus, from a general demand to the work of day-to-day defense the, Unemployed Committee must impose itself on the jobless as its elementary, indispensable organization.

The Role of Unitary Unions

The CGTU delivered 25,000 membership cards for the unemployed in 1932, of which 9,000 were in the building trades, 8,000 for steelworkers, and 3,5000 in the textile trade. The lack of hurry shown by the federations and unions in recruiting among the unemployed is regrettable.

One can hear in the unions that the unemployed cost the unions and overload the union budgets. This reformist attitude creates difficulties for the unemployed who want to join but who never claim their cards.

In the Paris region union members complain of sometimes having to pay six francs in carfare in order to get a six franc stamp. The unemployed will be even less willing to travel in order to pay 0 francs 50 for a stamp if the union doesn’t come to them in the Inter-Union Committee and the Unemployed Committee.

Can’t the Inter-Union Committees or the militants receive membership cards from the unions which would allow, at the end of a few days, the delivery of union cards in exchange for a receipt, without any bureaucratic formalities?

The unions should ensure the creation of groups in their industries and study the demands particular to them, establish liaisons with the factories and with the partially unemployed, and not want to lead the movement by placing only the unionized at the head of committees and allowing only them to speak at meetings.

Finally, it is up to those in unitary unions, in liaison with the movement of those fully unemployed, to take the initiative in factories, to have petitions signed, to organize the demand for assistance for the partially unemployed. The question of the partially unemployed must be further studied.

The Role of the Communists

The different problems raised here are not new, nor are the means of attacking them. The XIth and XIIth Executives and the Prague Conference of 1931 already laid out in detail the tasks of the Communists, just as the last CCN specified the tasks of unitary union members.

The Prague Resolution, inspired by the international experience of the unemployed movement, gives us a capital indication. It isn’t enough to elaborate correct slogans; rather we must organize, support, give a forward push to the daily struggles of the jobless. There is no other way we can ensure the development of our influence than by carrying out a systematic fight for their interests and leading their partial struggles.

The more we assist in constituting a wide movement of the jobless, the greater the more important the work of the Communist fractions will become. This elementary work has been neglected up till now, and it is thus that the line laid out by our Central Committee does not penetrate the ranks of Communist unemployed for the improvement of their actions around immediate demands.

The preparation of a mass congress of the unemployed in the Paris Region will allow for the improvement of our work methods and for an understanding, by remedying it, why those decisions taken a year ago were so little followed.

Because of the importance of the role of the jobless in class battles and the resistance of the masses to the capitalist offensive, in all countries the unemployed movement merits the attention of revolutionary movements, and in the first place that of the Communists.