1947 strikes in France
The 1947 strikes in France were a series of insurrectionary labor actions against post-war wage stagnation as well as against Western capitalism. They first emerged as a spontaneous wave in late April at the nation's largest Renault factory. When the Communist Party (PCF) joined them it led to the May crisis which saw all Communist officials expelled from the national government.
The peak wave in September was more generalized, more directly associated with the Cominform, and explicitly denounced the Marshall Plan. Soon there were 3 million strikers. 23,371,000 working days were lost to strikes in 1947, against 374,000 in 1946, but the movement stayed less important in Italy, where the Communists were also excluded from the government. In May, the Communist ministers in effect left the government, ending tripartisme, and at the end of the year, the CGT divided into a reformist minority and a pro-Atlantic-creating Workers' Force (FO). Although created in December 1944, the Compagnies Républicaines de Sécurité (CRS) had their first real mission of policing with the strikes of November–December 1947, all under the leadership of Minister of the Interior Jules Moch (SFIO).
The strikes begin on 25 April 1947 at the Renault factory at Boulogne-Billancourt, nationalized in 1946. The day before, the Ramadier cabinet had reduced the daily bread ration from 300 to 250 grams.
The plant employed 30,000 men; the General Confederation of Labour (CGT) claimed 17,000 members. The strike was started, among other things, by the Trotskyist Pierre Bois, an activist of the communist Union and a founder of Workers' Struggle, and anarchists (Gil Devillard of the Anarchist Federation) and International Communist Party members (PCI, Trotskyist). The importance of the intervention of the PCI in this movement was clear in a magazine article (Cavalcades), No. 65 of 26 June 1947, titled "A teacher, an engineer, a journalist, leaders of the Fourth International, tomorrow could paralyze France.". The strike did not, at first, have the support of the French Communist Party (PCF ) and the General Confederation of Labour (CGT). The PCF is indeed in government, as part of tripartisme. Plaisance, a secretary of the CGT, said outside the factory: "This morning, an anarcho-Hitlero-Trotskyists band wanted to blow up the factory." The CGT then excused: "The strike arms the trusts". Despite this communist opposition, the strike quickly brought in more than 10 000 workers. Eugene Hénaff, secretary general of the CGT Metallurgy, was booed at Boulogne-Billancourt.
On 8 May, the government provides 3 francs increase. On 9 May, the CGT voted two-thirds for return to work, but some remained on strike paralyzing the factory. The strike ceased on May 15, the government granted a bonus of 1600 francs and 900 francs an advance for any and all employees.
The strikes spread. With an inflation rate of over 60% and rationing still in force, the black market remained important and living conditions were difficult, particularly since France struggled to meet its energy needs.
On 5 May 1947, the Communist ministers were excluded from government by Paul Ramadier. From that moment, the PCF and CGT supported the social movement, which extended to Citroën, SNCF, banks, department stores, EDF, and Peugeot, Berliet, Michelin, etc. The main reasons for the strikes were demand for higher wages, but in the broader context of the formalization of the Cold War.
In June, a wave of insurrectionist strikes protested against the Marshall Plan.
On 10 November 1947, after the victory of the Rally of the French People (RPF Gaullist) in the municipal election in October, a vast movement of insurrectional strikes that shook the country for several months, started in Marseilles, protesting against tram face increases. Four strikers were charged following the demonstrations . To free them, 4,000 demonstrators entered the courthouse, and then went to City Hall. They insulted and defenestrates lawyer Gaullist Michel Carlini, who had become alderman defeating by one vote the Communist Jean Cristofol. The protesters then attacked at night shady bars near the Opéra. The young communist worker Vincent Voulant was killed by the mafia clan Guerini. At his funeral, on November 14, three out of four employees in Marseilles were on strike.
The strike spread to miners; on 17 November, 10,000 of them stopped work in protest against the dismissal of Leon Delfosse, communist president of the coalminers in the Nord coalfield. The next day, more than 80,000 were on strike. On 19 November the strike resumed at Renault and Citroën, then spread to the National Education, the construction trade, steelworkers, dockworkers, and all the public services. In the department of Seine, the teachers went on strike for two weeks, despite the National Union of Teachers (SNI) refusing to support the movement.
On 29 November, 30,000 striking mining, railroad and textile workers demonstrated in Saint-Étienne. Armed with iron bars, they face the CRS, which was newly created by the Interior Minister, Jules Moch (SFIO), who also appealed to the army and the 11th Parachute Shock Regiment Shock (armed wing of the SDECEE) to break the strikes. The creation of these riot police was to ensure the loyalty of police "relocating" the maintenance of order (it uses of police from across the country, not just in the locations concerned, to quell the riots) . In the North, the military nevertheless ensured that they would intervene in cases of violence, refraining if miners are limited to stopping working.
In Saint-Étienne, protesters took the advantage. They rode on three military vehicles which were armed with machine guns - the officers refused to fire on them - they got hold of weapons from soldiers (they discreetly returned them afterwards) and forced the police to evacuate the station. 100 were injured.
Among the miners, there were 100 sackings, 1000 suspensions and 500 forced displacement of "gueules noires" (miners) from one mine to another. Debates December, legislation and union split.
On the night of 2 to 3 December 1947, activists of the Federation of Pas-de-Calais CGT sabotaged the Paris-Tourcoing rail link by unbolting two rails. This caused a train derailment near Arras at 3 o'clock in the morning, which left 16 people dead and 50 wounded.
The general secretary of the PCF, Maurice Thorez, was concerned about the radicalization of the movement, as shown in the reports of SDECEE. Saboteurs activists believed that the train was carrying CRS to support non-strikers from Arras, supported by the Gaullist militants. The government was secretly negotiating with the PCF, exchanging immunity against four activists supporting the resumption of work.
On 30 June 1953, the Supreme Court delivered a leading case, considering that the train was still responsible because it had, given the social climate, expected this kind of acts.
In March 1954, the case rebounded : former MP René Camphin, formerly "Colonel Baudouin" of the FTP and former leader of the Federation of Pas-de-Calais in 1947, was found dead in Paris. Refusing to criticize before the central committee his superior, Auguste Lecoeur, former deputy secretary of state and responsible for the sabotage, he had committed suicide.
Discussions in December 1947
On 4 December 1947, after extremely violent discussions, the National Assembly voted a law on the "defense of the Republic and the freedom to work." (Three years later, the arrest of Dehaene State Council consecrated the constitutional right to strike.
On 9 December 1947, the central strike committee consisting of the CGT federations ordered return to work. Ten days later, a split divided the CGT, with a majority close to the PCF and led by Benoît Frachon, while the reformist minority, led by Léon Jouhaux, founded the CGT-Workers' Force.
The strike of 1947 at Renault also denounced the repression of the Malagasy Uprising. The PCF had been the only members of the French government to denounce the empire's atrocities in Madagascar, and with their expulsion the other parties authorized an even more ruthless counter-insurgency.
Covert action by the Central Intelligence Agency was later revealed to have been a factor in the strike. CGT-Worker's Force was initiated with the financial support of American unions (including the AFL-CIO), and this funding was coordinated by CIA operative Irving Brown. Even earlier, the CIA began funding and arming the Guerini crime family to assault Communist picket lines and harass union officials in Marseilles. Several murders of striking workers were traced to the Guerinis at this time.
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- Jill Jonnes, Hep-cats, Narcs, and Pipe Dreams: A History of America's Romance with Illegal Drugs (Johns Hopkins University Press, 1996) p.170-171
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- Avril 1947 : La grève Renault enflamme la France, 7 April 2007
- Robert Hirsch, La grève des instituteurs et institutrices de la Seine de 1947 Le Mouvement social, 2005/3 (n°212)