Courtesy Reuters

French Labor Divided

HISTORY repeats itself in the French labor movement with a regularity that is both comforting and discouraging. It is comforting because it is easy to understand. There is no reason to be confused, nor any excuse for a misinterpretation of events that take place. It is discouraging because French labor's short periods of unity and strength are followed by times of disunity, weakness and strife when labor leaders fight labor leaders, unions fight unions, and the people are caught in the middle.

This happens to be one of the lean years. It came about quite logically. The crisis developed slowly, and suddenly on the night of December 19, 1947, France's great labor organization, the General Confederation of Labor (CGT) of 6,000,000 men and women, was split wide open into two labor federations comprising perhaps 4,500,000 between them. The rest joined small autonomous unions or tore up their union cards. What had happened was that the Communists had seized control of the CGT, and the non-Communists, unable to influence CGT actions, had walked out to form their own organization. They called the latter the CGT-Force Ouvrière (Workers' Strength) to distinguish it from the Communist-led CGT. Today the CGT has about 3,-000,000 followers and Force Ouvrière has about 1,500,000.

This was not the first time that the federation had been torn apart. The struggle between Communists and non-Communists had gone on for years; and twice before -- in 1921 and 1940 -- the CGT had been divided because the two could not work together. Nor does the analogy between the events of 1921, 1940 and 1947 end there. In all three cases the reasons for the split were the same, the leaders of the opposing factions were the same, and the results were pretty much the same. The story goes back many years to a dispute between men who believed it was necessary to use organized labor as a political weapon and others who tried to keep it free from political influence. Since the Russian Revolution of 1917 and the growth of

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