Marc Blondel was the first FO General Secretary to publicly shake hands with the Communist-supported CGT on 28 November 1995, helping kick off a decade-long mini-strike wave in France.
Working in a post office sorting centre in 1956, as one of the short-term jobs he did while beginning to study law, Bondel joined the Force ouvrière (CGT-FO) trade union that was particularly strongly implanted among government, local government and social security workers. It had been formed in 1948 with the support of the American CIA and AFL-CIO as an anti-Communist trade union pole.
Shortly afterwards Blondel became a freemason, joining the ‘Avant-garde maçonnique‘ lodge, linked to the influential Grand Orient de France. He then met many other leftists who were anti-clerical masons.
Whether as a result of these connections or not, on March 24 1960 he began to work for the government’s new Unemployment agency, the ASSEDIC. He quickly set up an FO branch in the office where he worked and created a trade union liaison committee of ASSDEIC offices across Paris. Later that year he became Paris regional secretary of FO branches across the government’s partly independent social security system.
Within a year he had secured full-time status with 100% relief from his ASSEDIC job to act as an FO official. In this period he also became close to Pierre Lambert‘s trotskyist Parti Communiste Internationaliste (which counted Lionel Jospin among its members in the 1960s), allowing it to use his FO office for its meetings.
By 1965 he had become the Paris regional secretary of the FO’s federation of white collar workers and managers. Nine years later he was elected General Secretary of the national federation and then, in 1980, the FO national congress elected him to the leading FO Confederation Committee.
By then Blondel was a member of the Socialist Party and in 1989 he was narrowly elected General Secretary with 54% of the membership vote after he received the support of the Lambertist Parti des Travailleurs. He had stood for a policy of ‘challenge trade unionism’ that he contrasted with ‘partnership trade unionism’.
Re-elected massively in 1992, 1996 and 2000 he was one of the principal leaders of the successful campaign against the government’s attempt to reform Social Security. During the 1995-1996 campaign his misogyny came to the fore in his attack on Nicole Notat, the CFDT’s general secretary, when he argued ‘His job was not to sleep with prime ministers’.
Marc Blondel died in March 2014 at the Val du Grace military hospital in the Rue St Jacques.
Living in the 18th arrondissement, she was Deputy General Secretary of the CGT’s post office trade union federation in 1931 and 1932, and then treasurer of the union in 1938.
A member of the executive of the French League for the rights of women, she is quoted as saying:
To be a trade unionist is a good thing, but to be both a trade unionist and a feminist is better, because feminism gives a shot in the arm to the trade unionist in danger of keeping to general facts and forgetting that a woman worker has twice as much to complain about because she is exploited twice: as a woman, and as a worker’.
A rural primary school teacher and revolutionary syndicalist, she refused to support the war in 1914 and in August 1921 she was elected General Secretary of the Federation of Secular Teachers Unions, which affiliated to the anarchist/communist dominated CGT Unitaire. In 1924 she returned to teach in a rural school.
Elected General Secretary of the CGT in 1909 as a revolutioniary syndicalist, he held the post until 1947. He opposed strike action against the First World War and led the opposition to the Communists in 1921 and in 1948 created the CGT-FO trade union of which he became president.
Brought up a practising Catholic it was normal for Maire to initially join the Christian trade unionCFTC, Committed Catholics were all asked by the Catholic Church to affiliate to the Confédération française des travailleurs chrétiens (CFTC) that had been set up in 1919 to counter the menace of Bolshevism.
Maire, however, became an agnostic and was influenced by Mendes-France and he joined the ‘new left’ PSU in 1960 and continued to support workers’ control until the mid- 1970s.
He also was very active in the formation of the (non-religious) CFDT in 1964 and became its General Secretary in 1971.
The formation of what by the 2010s is France’s largest membership trade union, the CFDT (Confédération française démocratique du travail), was a key development. It emerged in 1964 taking with it nearly 90 percent of the then CFTC membership.
Responding to growing social tensions stimulated by De Gaulle’s tough incomes policy in a period of labour shortages and that eventually exploded in the strikes and occupations of May-June 1968, the overwhelming majority of CFTC members wanted a trade union centre that was both independent of the Catholic Church and more committed to the construction of a democratically structured economy and society. The 1964 report drafted by Maire motivating the change in name and statutes adopted by the founding congress described the new union’s common humanistic values:
Putting man before the machine, a man without money, trade union struggles are dominated by the demands of people at work, in society and in the world. It is by remaining faithful to the purpose of man, to the dignity of the individual – free, responsible, united – that it has always opposed totalitarianism of both right and left.
Quoted by Pierre Cours-Salies (1988: 83).
The new confederation retained many of the CFTC’s holistic values, but it also revisited the pre-1914 emphasis on trade union independence from outside influences – in its case from the Catholic Church.
The change to a secularised union resulted from the convergence of several trends. The new post-Second World War generation of CFTC activists and members were both younger and more likely to be manual workers than the older, generally white-collar workers. Their experiences in the Resistance had given them a stronger sense of working class solidarity than the earlier generation. There was also a new politics in the air.
The CFTC’s impatience with the French employers’ reluctance to permit any form of participation in the 1930s and 1940s had gradually led it to embrace a larger state role in the management of the economy and in arbitrating industrial relations. In the 1950s it attracted men like the young Jacques Delors, who ran its research centre between 1957 and 1961 and who was then appointed to work on the Fourth National Plan.
The new aim of ‘democratic planning’ the CFTC had embraced in 1959 further encouraged the revival of ideas of workers’ self-management and discussion of a ‘third way’ for advancing workers’ interests that lay somewhere between Catholicism and Communism. After 1968 it was this greater openness of the CFDT to ideas that encouraged the more dynamic Trotskyist groups to concentrate their members in that confederation rather than in FO.
The growing radicalism of the CFDT led it naturally towards a greater involvement in a perspective of struggle against the ‘blocked’ French society of the mid-1960s. Its values shifted towards a toleration of a societal form of bottom-up class struggle. While this was quite distinct from the top-down, structured and controlled, class struggle philosophy of the CGT, there nonetheless was a logic for the two confederations to come together and sign a joint action agreement in 1966.
At its 1970 Congress the CFDT embraced workers’ control, planning and collective ownership of the means of production. In many ways the CFDT had become more radical than the heavily bureaucratic CGT, still tied closely to the political line of the Communist Party.
However, with the PCF’s 1977 decision to end its left unity agreement with the Socialist Party, the growing economic crisis and the end of trade union growth, the 1978 CFDT Congress announced the beginning of a shift back to its traditional values of societal integration and away from those of class struggle.
Edmond Maire, CFDT general secretary from 1971 to 1988, then successfully ‘re-centred’ the CFDT on a more ‘moderate’ strategy of distancing itself from major struggles, such as the 1986 railway workers’ and student strike waves, and of associating itself as closely as possible with the concept of social partnership with the employers.
Maire also increasingly supported the employers’ argument that what was needed was more ‘social dialogue’ at firm-level – precisely the level at which French unions were weakest – and questioned the need for further legislative support for the trade unions, criticising the Socialist government’s ‘dirigiste and archaic conception of industrial relations’, and denouncing an ‘authoritarian left that puts a Jacobin state into the saddle’.
A highly influential figure in French revolutionary syndicalism from 1905 to 1925, Monatte was an opponent of the First World War from the start. In the 1920s he joined the Communist Party briefly but was expelled after opposing its shift towards Stalinism. He remained a principled socialist throughout his life.
Why was the 32-year-old proof-reader, red-haired Pierre Monatte, against the war from the start?
Monatte had become a leftist while reading Les Misérables by Victor Hugo at school at the age of 13. In 1902 after working as a teaching assistant for two years, he moved to Paris. He was just 20. The Dreyfus Affair was sharpening left-right political divisions across France. Working for various left papers as a proof-reader he then joined the proof-readers’ trade union, where his latent libertarianism shifted towards revolutionary syndicalism.
In 1905 he walked alongside socialists and anarchists in the funeral procession of Louise Michel from the Gare de Lyon, where the Communard’s body arrived on a train from Marseille. Another demonstrator suggested he take up a temporary post editing the 5,000-circulation paper, L’Action syndicale. The four-page weekly focusing on miners’ problems was based in Lens, in France’s northern coalfields.
On March 10 1906 Europe’s biggest ever-mining disaster took place at the Courrières company pits at Lens. 1,099 miners were killed. Then, 17 days after the company had stopped trying to rescue surviving miners and started trying to save its mines, first 13 miners emerged alive and then another three days later, another man emerged unaided.
Cries of ‘Assassins’ greeted the company directors at the
funerals. The shock and the scandal unleashed a wave of strikes by 60,000 miners.
Within days Monatte and 40 others were arrested and charged with plotting
against the Republic.
Released after a month in jail Monatte attended the Amiens
Congress of the CGT (Confédération Générale du Travail) in October 1906. He was
one of the 840 (to 8) delegates who voted for the independence of the trade
union from the political parties and the sects. He was now less an anarchist
and much more a revolutionary syndicalist, believing, through the amazing
miners’ actions following Courrières, that social transformation could occur
In 1907 he developed his analysis of revolutionary syndicalism at the Amsterdam conference of the Anarchist International.
In 1908 Monatte, then living in Rue Daubenton narrowly escaped arrest with the other main leaders of the CGT for organizing a huge demonstration for the 8-hour day, where four demonstrators were killed by the army. He went into exile disguised as a clergyman and changed train stations in Lyon thanks to the secretary of the taxi trade union. He lived under a pseudonym in Switzerland until the failure of the case against the other CGT leaders allowed him to travel back to Paris.
In 1909 he married. The same year he founded the fortnightly CGT paper, la Vie ouvrière (Worker’s Life), editing it from his flat in Rue Dauphine. The numbers of its subscriptions rose from 500 in 1909 to 2000 in 1914 before it was banned. It expanded from 64 to 80 pages. It was read widely among the most active and leading trade unionists.
In November 1914 Trotsky and Julius Martov met Pierre Monatte, Alfred Rosmer and a handful of French socialists who opposed the First World War from the very start at the anarchist Librarie du Travail bookshop on the Quai de Jemmapes.
In December 1914 Monatte became the first trade unionist to resign publicly from the Federal Committee of the CGT, in protest against the French union’s refusal to support a meeting of the Socialist international being organized by Swedish socialists. His close friend and collaborator, Alphonse Merrheim, signed the anti-war Zimmerwald Manifesto in 1915.
‘Irrespective of the truth as to the direct responsibility for the outbreak of the war, one thing is certain. The war which has produced this chaos is the outcome of imperialism, of the attempt on the part of the capitalist classes of each nation, to foster their greed for profit by the exploitation of human labor and of the natural treasures of the entire globe.’
1915 Zimmerwald declaration
Lenin, Zinoviev, Radek, Warski and Trotksy were among the 42 delegates from 11 countries who unanimously passed a resolution of sympathy for the victims of the war and of persecution by the belligerent governments. This mentioned the fate of the Poles, Belgians, Armenians and Jewish peoples, the exiled Duma members, Karl Liebknecht, Klara Zetkin, Rosa Luxemburg and Pierre Monatte. In January 1915 Monatte had been conscripted in the 252nd Regiment, and would shortly spend two years at the front.
Demobilised in March 1919, Monatte quickly re-launched La Vie Ouvrière, this time as a weekly. He also organised and then led the left minority at the CGT Congress in September 1919, criticising the Federal Executive for its ‘holy union’ wartime policy and its weak support for the Russian Revolution. In 1920 he was elected Secretary of the Revolutionary syndicalist committees, launched by the left minority, which decided to affiliate to the Communist (Third) International.
Monatte became a leading figure of the workers’ left after the war, challenging both the anarchists and the shift towards Stalinism. He resigned from the CGT’s La Vie Ouvrière and in March 1922 became the labour correspondent for l’Humanité, that had become the new Communist Party’s daily paper. Two years later, having constantly been attacked as a left supporter of Trotksy by Albert Treint, Monatte first resigned from the paper and was then expelled from the PCF in November 1924.
Robert Louzon (1882-1976), who had helped produce the first Arabic language Communist daily paper in Tunisia in 1921, resigned from the PCF when his friends Monatte and Rosmer were expelled. In 1936, aged over fifty, Louzon fought at the front with Republican forces in Spain. And in 1960 with Rosmer, he signed the Manifesto of 121.
In January 1925 Monatte responded with a second (equally unsuccessful) appeal signed by him and Alfred Rosmer to Communist Party members to challenge the growing Stalinisation of the PCF. This revolutionary syndicalist journal ran until 1939 and is still in existence today after Monatte relaunched it in 1947 (although he ceased to play an active part in 1951 when he objected to its occasional pro-American positions).
From 1925 to 1952 Monatte worked as a proof reader, but through his RP articles, contacts and correspondence he continued to be a voice on the left attacking both the reformist CGT and the descent into Stalinism. He was one of the few French anti-colonialism campaigners.
the German occupation Monatte believed it was necessary to struggle against the
occupiers, but to guard against nationalism and the idea of a ‘holy alliance’.
The Maitron, France’s national labour dictionary, ends its biography of Pierre Monatte like this:
‘Few who got close to him were not influenced by his personality. He remained resolutely optimistic about the future of the working class, believing that while the revolutionary flame could dim, it would not go out’.
A leader of the small group of revolutionary syndicalists who opposed the First World War, in 1922 he became General Secretary of the minority CGTU trade union that affiliated to the Communist International. Elected a Communist deputy in 1936 he tried to get a law passed to provide national unemployment pay.
A journalist who became General secretary of the Labour Exchange movement (Bourses du travail) from 1895 a leading revolutionary syndicalist and advocate of using a general strike to expropriate the capitalist class.
Born in Paris at 81 Rue de Courcelles with a father who had wanted to be a journalist but had become a post office manager and an ardent republican grandfather, Fernand lived there initially until he was 13. The family then moved to Nantes.
In 1893 Fernand Pelloutier moved back to Paris, living with his younger brother (and later biographer) Maurice and Maurice’s wife, Berthe, in a flat at 32, Rue Levert. he then began a relationship with Berthe’s sister, Maria Ridel, that lasted until Pelloutier’s early death in 1901. In 1899 when Pelloutier was already seriously ill, the two couples moved 10 kilometers out of Paris to Sevres, then in the country, in the hope he might recover.
A leading revolutionary syndicalist, organiser and advocate of the general strike. Jailed with Louise Michel in 1883 he later became an influential journalist and propagandist for worker resistance, in particular for the general strike and direct action.
Pouget was, however, also anti-semitic, calling Dreyfus a ‘rich yid’.
In 1889 Pouget founded the anarchist weekly, LePère Peinard. This was effective in denouncing contemporary capitalism, the military and the clergy. It advocated direct action to change the system. It became one of the principle targets of the 1893 lois scélérates, a series of laws making it illegal to support ‘propaganda by the deed‘ in the press and encouraging spies to inform on the activities of anarchist groups.
A leading left activist, Robert Louzon said that after finding Pouget’s paper at a newspaper kiosk he found LePère Peinard ideas matched his own. In 1906, then an engineer with a good income, he loaned the CGT enough money to buy its headquarters in the Rue de la Grange-aux-Belles. When his employer, the Paris Gas company found out, Louzon was sacked on the spot.
In 1924 Louzon worked with Monatte to found the Révolution prolétarienne. Later in life, Louzon launched the first daily Communist paper in the Arabic language.
Aged 7 Alfred Griot returned with his family from Patterson, New York, where his father was a barber. Alfred spoke good English, a facility that helped shape his revolutionary life as an internationalist. Griot’s father was a Dreyfusard and Alfred Griot attended revolutionary socialist and anarchist meetings as a teenager.
He became a trade unionist in 1899, joining the municipal workers’ union. In 1910 he was asked by his then anarchist friend Amédée Dunois to act as an interpreter for Pierre Monatte, founder of La Vie ouvrièreat its office at 42 Rue Dauphine in a meeting with an American IWW member, William Z Foster.
Griot was a keen theatre-goer and in 1911-12 took his pseudonym Rosmer from an Ibsen character, and used this when he replaced Dunois as editor of the daily CGT trade union newspaper, La Bataille syndicaliste, printed at the Union Printworks at 40 Boulevard Arago.
Classified as ‘auxiliary service’ rather than conscripted during the First World War he was one ot the handful of trade unionists most present in Paris. He spent many of his Sundays at Trotsky‘s changing addresses. Trotsky and Martov, regularly attended the continuing La Vie ouvrière meetings that took place even after they stopped publishing it, at 96 Quai de Jemmapes, whose ‘Labour’ bookshop had been closed by the CGT that supported the war effort and the ‘holy union’..
Having begun work as a clerk in the Paris-Orléans railway company, Thévenet’s experience there, and subsequently working for a Protestant holiday camp organisation (colonies de vacances) led her to become an expert at smuggling subversive literature and revolutionary activists across frontiers.
Thévenet first met revolutionary syndicalists when her childhood friend, Léontine Valette, met and married Pierre Monatte in 1909. When Monatte resigned from the leadership of the CGT she wrote strongly congratulating him. Member of the Rue Foudary pacificist group she met Rosmer at a meeting reporting on Zimmerwald in March 1916.
Still in France, Thévenet may have helped organise the illegal presence of Clara Zetkin at the Party’s founding congress in 1920.
Rosmer was back in France in 1921-22 where he joined the PCF but did not support the idea of trade unions affiliating to a single Communist international. Back in Moscow in May 1923 he became increasingly disquiet at the direction of the political infighting there, and after circulating Lenin’s Testament in France he, Monatte and others were expelled from the Communist Party.
Rosmer did support the idea of producing a journal to keep the militants together and informed, and he became the editor of the weekly Trotskyist paper The Truth first published by on 15 August 1929 at 23 rue des Vinaigriers. The editorial office of the weekly Trotskyist paper The Truth published by the Communist League on 15 August 1929. In April 1930 it led to the creation of the Communist League with which the Rosmers were involved along with Pierre Frank, Pierre Naville and Marthe Bigot.
Within nine months, however, Rosmer resigned from the editorial committee of The Truth. He had supported the idea of carrying out trade union work without party interference, a view Trotsky considered ‘rightist’ and detested the bullying of the League’s leader, Raymond Molinier. Trotsky then broke all contact with the Rosmers, even when he was in Paris for nearly two years in 1932-33.
The Rosmers survived on Marguerite’s work organising children’s holiday camps, and Alfred’s job as a proof-reader. Alfred was active in exposing the fraudulent nature of the Moscow trials, and working with the Dewey commission in 1937 in the US.
After the murder of his eldest son, Léon Sedov, in Paris in February 1938 Trotsky asked the Rosmers to find his grandson Sieva and bring him to Mexico to join him and Natalia. It took them a year of legal and police action (opposed by Sedov’s partner) before they succeeded – in a trip paid for by the royalties of the sale of the French edition of Trotsky’s book Stalin.
After the declaration of war the Rosmers decided to leave Coyoacan for New York, where Marguerite gave French lessons and Alfred resumed work as a proof-reader (initially on the bible thanks to work passed his way by Max Eastman).
They returned to France in the summer of 1946 and in 1947 resumed writing and supporting La Révolution prolétarienne, struggling for socialism against Stalinism without falling into the American camp.
In 1946 Natalia Trotsky gave the Alfred Rosmer authority to publish Trotsky’s works and he carried out this extremely difficult task for the rest of his life.
Maurice Nadeau (1911-2013), who had helped to organise an International Federation of Independent Revolutionary Artists in the 1930s with the support of André Breton and Diego Rivera gave Rosmer a great deal of support in publishing Trotsky. In 1960 he played a key role in organising the Manifesto of the 121 unequivocally supporting those who refused to fight against Algerian independence.
The Manifesto was signed, naturally, by Rosmer, but also by De Beauvoir, Sartre, Breton and Guerin featured in Left in Paris. His office at Les Lettres nouvellesat 3 Rue Malebranche was searched as a result and Nadeau questioned by the police.
It became easier after the Khruschev revelations of 1956, and the royalties he sent to Natalia became larger. Natalia and Marguerite died a week apart in 1962, and Alfred two years later after a fall in which be broke his femur.
One of 12 leading trade unionists who publicly opposed the dissolution of the trade unions in November 1940 and then joined the resistance, where he helped reunite the divided CGT. He represented the CGT on the National Resistance Council. In 1946 he became General Secretary of the World Federation of Trade Unions, and kept the post until 1968 – an extraordinary feat for a non-Communist.
One of the less Stalinist CGT leaders of the post-war period, Georges Séguy, died aged 89 in 2016.
Among his experience as a life-long PCF member was attending the 1956 Russian Communist Party conference where Khruschev outlined Stalin’s crimes.
In 1968, as General Secretary of France’s then biggest trade union, the Communist-dominated CGT, he participated in the famous Grenelle negotiations in May 1968 whose agreements created an amazing advance in working class lives in France. But in failing to lead on to a revolution, his participation and not calling for a General Strike, made Séguy the object of much (unfair in my view) criticism from French Maoists and Trotskyists alike (and, to be fair, from many ordinary workers who believed still more could have been won).
Séguy’s father had been a founder member of the French Communist Party, and Georges was arrested as a member of the CP-led French Free Fighters and Partisan (FTPF) resistance at 17 years old in 1944 and deported to Mauthhausen in Austria. When he returned to France he identified the person who had denounced him, who was then tried and shot.
In 1978 he attempted to win over the CGT to form a united front with the formerly Catholic, then radical, CFDT union, but failed in the face of French CP opposition. He resigned aged 55 (the retirement age of the railwaymen he had been since 1946).
A young, left republican lawyer, he became Interior Minister in 1882, and was largely responsible for the 1884 law legalising trade unions in France. In 1899 he became Prime Minister and in 1901 passed the law giving associations legal status.