Courtesy Reuters

The Front Populaire in Difficulties

THE "Front Populaire" Government of Léon Blum will be a year old by the time these words appear in print -- which is already a respectable lifetime for any government of the Third Republic. And what a year! It came into office on June 4, 1936, a day when about a million workers were on strike, most of them "occupying" their places of work -- factories, workshops, department stores. It was the greatest labor upheaval that France had ever known. The movement, which had been spreading like an epidemic since May 26, was partly revolutionary in character, but the economic motives behind it were more important still. The French working class had suffered severely from four years of economic depression, marked by falling wages, increasingly arbitrary labor conditions, and (despite the repatriation of several hundred thousand foreign workers) growing unemployment. In June 1936 came what amounted to a bloodless revolution. Not only were wages increased, but the whole economic and legal status of the French working class was profoundly modified. A further result was the establishment of a powerful trade union organization, which ever since has been playing, for better or for worse, an increasingly important rôle in French public life. The C.G.T. (Confédération Générale du Travail), which combined the old C.G.T. and the Communist C.G.T.U. (Confédération Générale du Travail Unitaire), had scarcely a million and a half members in May 1936. Soon after the great strikes the figure rose to nearly 5 millions. Thus, almost at a stroke, the French trade unions had to absorb some three and a half million new and undisciplined members, many of whom -- for example those in the building trades -- were extremists. Such a tremendous influx naturally created a shortage of trained union officials. The deficiency can be remedied only gradually as new leaders emerge and acquire experience.

The principal gains of the French working class were embodied in: (1) the "Matignon Agreement"

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