Revolutionary Syndicalism and French Labor: a Cause without Rebels

By Peter N. Stearns | Go to book overview
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Realization of syndicalism's insignificance in France is vital for an understanding of the impact of labor protest before 1914. This is another advantage in cutting through the rhetoric of protest. French society at the turn of the century must be rated unusually stable because it was not wildly misled by flaming speeches and congress resolutions.

As we have seen, innumerable French workers were so shocked by syndicalist pronouncements that they rejected the labor movement altogether. Syndicalist slogans played a role in antagonizing public opinion, though the same antagonism developed in other industrial countries where syndicalism was not involved. Employers found it easy to use syndicalism as an argument against the labor movement. A member of the Lille Chamber of Commerce, speaking in 1909, expressed a common argument: "Today work ceases abruptly, without reason; it is not resumed even if the employers grant the formulated demands. One feels the secret intervention of a foreign will which pursues a strategic goal by mobilizing its troops, by preparing them to obey any surprise order."1 The government also was clearly offended by syndicalism. Radical republicans in parliament turned against working-class protest in large part because of the syndicalists' verbal insurrectionism.2 It is possible that parliamentary efforts at social reform, seemingly prepared by the Radicals' program and their co-operation with socialists before 1905, were stalled in the crucial years 1906-1909 because of the fear roused by syndicalists' agitation and the socialists' insistence on defending the syndicalists at the expense of collaboration with the Radicals.3 This interruption of social legislation, which contrasts with developments in other industrial countries, may have been the most important result of syndicalism in France. In sum, syndicalism helped produce a reaction to direct labor


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