Worker-Student Action Committees France May '68
Gregoire, R.; Perlman, F.http://libcom.org/library/worker-student-action-committees-france-1968-perlman-gregoire
Publisher: Black & Red, Detroit, USA
Year Published: 1969
Resource Type: Book
Cx Number: CX7751
An account of the May-June 1968 events in Paris. The authors state that "our intention is not to 'clarify' the sequence of events which took place in France in order to make possible a ritual repetition of these events, but rather to contrast the limited views we had of the events at the time we were engaged in them, with the views we have gained from further action in different contexts."
Table of Contents
The Second French Revolution
Workers Occupy Their Factories
Citroen Action Committee- I
From Student Revolt to General Strike: A Frustrated Revolution
Citroen Action Committee- II
The May 20th Strike and the Occupation
The Gates are Shut by the CGT
Contacts at the Factory
The Foreign Workers' Dormitories
The Rank and File Committees
The Strike for Material Demands
Liberated Censier: A Revolutionary Base
Exemplary Character of the University Occupation
Revolutionary Consciousness of Social Power
The Unveiling of Repression and Propaganda
Evaluation and Critique
Limits of the Escalation
Self-Organization in General Assemblies
Self-Organization in Action Committees
Critique of Actions
Partial Liberation of the Militants
Partial Character of the Revolutionary Theory
In order to understand the present clash of the Communist union with the movement for direct democracy, it must be noted that a "union" is not the unified community of workers of a factory or a region, and it does not express the will of all the workers. The "union" is in fact a particular group of people who "represent" the workers, who speak for the workers, who make decisions for the workers. This means that a movement of revolutionary democracy which seeks new political forms for the expression of the will of all the workers ( for example, through a general assembly of all the workers ), threatens the very existence of the present day "union." The movement for revolutionary democratization, initiated by students, affirms the principle that the union of workers, namely the entire collectivity, is the only body which can speak for, and make decisions for the workers. In this conception the official union ( and the French Communist Party ) would be reduced to a service organization and a pressure group with no decision-making power. This is the reason the C.G.T. ( and the Communist Party as a whole ) has consistently maligned, insulted, and tried to put an end to the student movement, and the reason why union functionaries have tried to prevent any form of contact between workers and students. In this struggle with the revolutionary movement, the Communist Party, viewed by American liberals as the epitome of evil, has fought for goals and has employed techniques long familiar to American liberals.
The first workers to be influenced by the student movement for autonomy and direct self-government were workers who had much in common with the students, namely young, educated and highly politicized workers. The factory revolutionaries are neither the old party stalwarts nor the uneducated and superexploited foreign workers, but rather relatively privileged young French workers. It is these young workers who take part in the continuous discussions of direct democracy and the overthrow of capitalism and statism which take place continuously at the University of Paris. And it is these workers who are the first to call for strikes in a factory, and who define the goals of the strike as a substitution of capitalism and statism by a system of direct, socialist, workers' democracy.
Once the revolutionary stirring in the factory begins, the union functionaries behave like American liberals in a period of crisis. The union functionaries place themselves at the "head" of what they call the "reform" movement, and instead of speaking of a radical transformation of the socio-economic system, they speak of negotiating with the factory owners ( who have de facto been expropriated ) for higher wages. And in order to constitute themselves the only legitimate spokesmen for the workers, union functionaries employ a liberal-type "consensus politics" which consists of a maximal exploitation of the conflicts between the interests among the varied levels of workers in the factory.
Union functionaries frighten older, conservative French workers with a threat of the unimaginably violent repression which "anarchist adventurism" will lead to. This threat is given force by the fact that, during the growth and radicalization of the movement, the Communist Party has increasingly cooperated with the state power ( which still holds the force of the army in reserve ), and by the fact that the Communist Party has not been France's greatest critic of police repression or even of colonial exploitation. In fact, the policies of the Gaullist regime coincided with the policies of the Communist Party more frequently than not.
And union functionaries try to isolate the revolutionary young workers by making one of their rare appeals for the support of foreign workers. The morning of the factory occupation is one of the rare occasions when a great effort is made to translate union leaflets into all the languages of the foreign workers. And in these leaflets, and through the loudspeakers, the union spokesmen, in characteristically liberal fashion, tell the foreign workers that "our" demands are for higher wages and longer vacations. The use of the first person plural is artificial, since except for the words spoken over the loudspeaker, there is very little contact between the union functionaries and the foreign workers, and the one-way speaker system obviously annihilates the very possibility of a two-way discussion which enables the workers to define what "our" demands actually are.
Although students and revolutionary workers are the dynamic forces behind the occupation of the factories, once all the workers have been convinced to move inside the factory and "occupy" it, union officials close the factory gates on the students standing outside, and they isolate the revolutionary workers on the inside. The union functionaries isolate the young workers from the old by painting the young workers as extremist adventurists who will bring the police running into the factory, and from the foreign workers by insinuating that only the union is fighting for the improvement of wages of the foreign workers, and if the union fails, then the foreign workers might lose their hard-won jobs and be forced by the police to return to their countries.
Thus after the factory is occupied by all its workers, the union becomes the only spokesman for the workers. In other words, while the workers as a whole have decided to take over their own factories and to expropriate the owners, the workers have not yet developed political forms through which to discuss and execute their subsequent decisions. In this vacuum, the union makes the decisions instead of the workers, and broadcasts its decisions to the workers through loudspeakers.