“Social Peace” in France

Another example of the harmony existing in the present social order is provided by the recent disturbances in and around Paris. In spite of statements to the contrary, and wilful blinking of the facts, the Socialists’ contention that there exists in society a class struggle—a state of war between capitalists and workers—is borne out daily by our own experience as wage workers, and by passing events recorded (or suppressed) by the newspapers.

In and around Paris on the first of May, 1906, strikes were declared in many industries : the eight hour work-day being the principal demand. These resulted mostly in victory for the masters. However, the workers in the building trades, particularly the labourers, the masons and bricklayers, did not lose heart, but have kept up an unremitting battle for better conditions by means of other methods than big strike movements. They practised a continual harassing of the contractors, striking in detail without notice, practising “Sabotage” until, indeed, they have gained, piecemeal, some useful concessions.

This “sabotage” is worthy of some attention. Many French workers, finding the carefully prepared strike so often a failure, and the matching of Labour’s centimes against Capital’s gold louis such a long and painful process, have taken to this form of “passive resistance.” For instance, the masons and labourers would strike a certain yard or building and be quickly replaced by a fresh gang of their comrades, who would proceed to “make mistakes” in the measurements of the work, or would develop a tired feeling so that the work would not get finished, and generally “raise Cain,” thus proving very expensive strike breakers, get discharged, be replaced by yet another set of “hands,” who would “help” the employer in the same way. This would go on until the latter found it would pay him best to concede the men’s demands. Of course it is very unkind of the saboteurs, but it seems more intelligent than starving on strike for three or six months. The contractors, becoming vexed at these attentions, played a little card of their own, and in April declared a lockout, which, had it continued would quickly have involved 200,000 men. However, the employers found it more paying to open the yards again after a few days, and until recently things jogged along in much the old style.

Now we gather that a strike has been on for some time in the sand-pit district of Draveil, some eight miles from Paris, and that there have been some encounters between the police and military and the strikers—begun, doubtless, in the usual way, either by a striker punching a strike-breaker or vice versa, or, as is often the case, by some act of police provocation.

The Building Trades Federation now declared a 24 hours general strike as a protest against the repressive measures of the Government, and a large body (five to ten thousand it is reported) of strikers went out to the strike district to demonstrate in favour of their comrades, the sandpit labourers. The forces of wholesale slaughter were let loose upon the demonstrating workmen, with the result that many were injured upon both sides and several of our fellow workers were killed.

The English papers, as usual, served their masters well by reporting the affair in such manner as to prejudice, as much as possible, British workmen against their French brothers. Divide and rule is the masters’ motto, and indeed, in the Press they have a powerful means of keeping the workers fighting one another instead of uniting to fight the common enemy —the masters.

The Government’s next step was to arrest eight prominent members of the General Confederation of Labour (C.G.T.), this being followed by the declaration of a 24 hours general strike, which, owing to the numerically weak membership of the C.G.T., was rather an exhibition of weakness, although several newspapers could not be brought out and others were published under great difficulties. When later, the electrical workers struck for a short while, the military engineers were quickly at hand to replace them.

Now these stirring events arise directly from the efforts of working men to improve their lot and the endeavours of the masters to retain their privileges. Further, such events are not confined to Paris or to France, for this country has its Peterloo, Featherstone, and Belfast, America has its Colorado arid Homestead, and so on throughout the capitalist world.

The game of profits versus wages is seen to break out into barricades and sabring and shooting; the class struggle cries aloud for recognition. It is irrepressible because the workers are robbed, and are beginning to know it. Here then is generated the energy essential to the overthrow of King Capital. Here his undesirability is perceived by the worker, and the desire to get rid of him is bred.

As to the French workers, recent events show that they as well as other workers need to get control of the armed forces in order that these may no longer be used against them : the road to this control lies through Parliament. The workers must get behind the guns: to march up to their muzzles—the practical outcome of the “direct action” favoured by so many French workers and trade unionists—is simply suicide.

J.H. Halls

Leave a Reply