Courtesy Reuters

French Labor Goes Left

"THE great popular movement that freed France from the enemy was not only a movement of national liberation, but of social liberation also." So reads the opening statement of one of the most important pieces of social legislation received by France since she recovered her full sovereignty. Quite naturally, the foremost rôle in this "social liberation" of the country was played by French organized labor. During the period of resistance against the invader it was prominently represented in the councils of London and Algiers as well as in the organizations of the interior. The President of the National Council of Resistance, comprising all underground groups, including right-wing organizations, was Louis Saillant, President of the clandestine General Confederation of Labor (C.G.T.)

Two years after the last German was driven from French territory, the C.G.T. today is one of the most important organized forces in France, boasting a record membership of more than 6,000,000, or approximately half of all wage earners in industry, trade and administration. Only once before, during the short heyday of the Popular Front in 1936-7, did it achieve comparable (though somewhat lesser) strength; and then, as often before, its membership receded sharply from its highwater mark. In the past, the French worker has overcome his general abhorrence of joining an organization only in moments of enthusiasm and excitement; he has lost interest as soon as there was a change in political or social climate.

But since the liberation the number of dues-paying members has been remarkably steady both among industrial and agricultural workers. During the last six months of 1946 more than half a million new members were reported, though the country finds itself struggling against symptoms of moral decay and physical maladjustment. The basis of such a surprising stability is a changed attitude toward trade-union membership, entirely new in the 50 years of C.G.T. history. No longer is joining a union considered an act of faith and acceptance into a circle of like-minded confederates.

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