Revolutionary Syndicalism and French Labor: a Cause without Rebels

By Peter N. Stearns | Go to book overview

3
The Failure of Syndicalism

"One cannot regulate a strike, because it is born of a specific fact and almost always spontaneously."3 Union leaders constantly complained of the carefree attitude of many workers, particularly new union members and nonmembers, who had no sense of the opportuneness of a strike or the need to draw up demands to serve as a basis for agitation. Syndicalist campaigns of course encouraged this immoderate zeal for combat. Many workers who struck for the first time in the 1906 movement for an eight- hour day, for example, were supremely confident that they could gain victory within three days. But campaigns by socialist or even bread-andbutter unions led to great excitement also and spurred many spontaneous strikes. The belief in sudden, unorganized strikes had little to do with syndicalism. German workers were more given to spontaneity than French. Roubaix textile workers, not at all syndicalist, gave their leaders far more trouble with spontaneous strikes than did workers under syndicalist influence.2

Syndicalist leaders had to combat spontaneous strikes as other labor organizers did and for the same reasons. The spontaneous strike threatened labor organization. The issues involved seldom roused more than a few dozen workers. In 1907 a construction foreman was dismissed at Grazac. The fifty workers under him, highly indignant, walked out; but their colleagues under other foremen ignored them or, intimidated, went home for a day with every intention of returning on the morrow. The issue involved had no meaning for them and they thought, quite correctly, that the timing (in midwinter) was poorly chosen.3 Strikes of this sort easily failed because of their poor planning and small size, and any organization involved with them, even involuntarily, could suffer from the defeat. Strikers might split between a minority of excited zealots and

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