Citroen Action Committee - II

PARIS, June 24, 1968

Also published in Intercontinental Press ( Vol. 6, No. 27 ), July 29, 1968, pp. 683-688.

A: Experience and Perspectives

The Citroën factories employ about 40 thousand workers in Paris and its surroundings. A total of 1500 workers are in unions. Inside the factories, the owners organize repression by means of management agents, a private police and a "free union." About 60 percent of the workers are foreign, and they are employed on the more onerous assembly lines.

On Friday, May 17, work stoppages took place in the workshops of numerous factories. Such an event had not occurred for decades. On that day several workers went to the Censier Center of the University of Paris and described the police repression, the impotence of the union, and the fighting spirit of the workers. The factory workers, they said, were ready to stop work on the coming Monday if pickets were available and if the information were spread through the factories. Together with the Citroën workers, Censier students prepared a leaflet to be distributed the following day at all the Citroën plants.

The following day, Saturday, the CGT ( General Confederation of Labor ) distributed a leaflet calling for a strike on Monday and demanding a minimum wage of 600 NF ( about US $120 ) a month. Numerous factories all over France were already on strike. At Citroën the CGT had a very small membership; was the CGT taking the initiative, it was asked, in order to gain control of a movement which up to this point had been out of its control?

B: The May 20th Strike and the Occupation

Worker-student action committees had been functioning at the Censier Center since May 13. After the first exchange between the Citroën workers and the students, a new committee was formed. The Citroën Action Committee prepared two leaflets for May 20, one addressed to all the workers, the other to the foreign workers at the Citroën factories. The committee's aim was to inform the workers of the student movement which had challenged the capitalist system and all forms of hierarchy. The leaflets did not challenge the union nor the union demands. On the contrary, the leaflets suggested that the union demands challenged the capitalist system the same way the students had challenged it. The leaflets expressed an awareness of the common enemy of the workers and the students, an enemy who could not be destroyed unless the workers controlled the productive forces. The occupation of the factories was seen as the first step towards workers' power.

The first leaflet said :

Millions of workers are on strike.

They are occupying their workshops. This massive, growing movement goes beyond the established Power's ability to react.

In order to destroy the police system which oppresses all of us, we must fight together.

Workers-Students Action Committees have been constituted for this purpose. These committees bring to light all the demands and all the challenges of the ranks of the entire working class. The capitalist regime cannot satisfy these demands.

The second leaflet, printed in four languages, was addressed to foreign workers :

Hundreds of thousands of foreign workers are imported like any other commodity useful to the capitalists, and the government even organises clandestine immigration from Portugal, thus showing itself as a slave driver.

These workers are ferociously exploited by the capitalists. They live in terrible conditions in the slums which surround Paris. Since they are underqualified, they are underpaid. Since they only speak their own language, they remain isolated from the rest of the working population and are not understood. Thus isolated, they accept the most inhuman work in the worst workshops.

ALL THIS BECAUSE THEY HAVE NO CHOICE :

They left their countries because they were starving, because their countries are also under the yoke of capital. Victims in their own countries, they are victims here too.

All that has to end.

Because they are not ENEMIES OF THE FRENCH PROLETARIAT : ON THE CONTRARY, THEY ARE THE SUREST ALLIES. If they are not moving yet, it is because they are aware of the precariousness of their situation. Since they have no rights, the smallest act can lead to their expulsion, which means a return to hunger ( and to jail ).

Through their labor, the foreign workers participate in the creation of the wealth of French society. They must have the same rights as all others.

Thus it is up to revolutionary workers and students to see to it that the foreign workers ENJOY THE TOTALITY OF THEIR POLITICAL AND UNION RIGHTS.

This is the concrete beginning of internationalism.

The foreign workers, who make up an integral part of the working class in France, together with their French comrades, will massively join the radical struggle to destroy capitalism and to create a CLASSLESS SOCIETY such as has NEVER yet been seen.

On May 20, students and workers of the Citroën Committee distributed leaflets and talked to workers at all the entrances to the Citroën factories. The first contacts with delegates of the CGT were negative. The delegates tried to prevent the distribution of the leaflets. The pretext was that the variety of leaflets would destroy the unity of the workers and would create confusion. "It would be better," the delegates said, "if the elements external to the factory went away : they give a provocative pretext to the management."

However, a significant number of the Communist Party and CGT functionaries who had come to give a strong hand to the CGT were external to the factory, namely they did not work in any of the Citroën plants. The CGT officials gave out leaflets which demanded, among other things, a minimum wage of 1,000 NF ( $200 ), namely nearly twice as much as they had sought two days earlier.

In the street, the union delegates communicated with workers through loudspeakers. The students of the Citroën committee, on the other hand, mixed freely with the French and foreign workers. Since the foreign workers were not obeying the CGT calls to occupy the factory, the union officials decided to use the students. Instead of trying to chase away the young "agitators," the officials encouraged the action committee militants to continue to make personal contact with the foreign workers. The result of two hours of direct communication was that the majority of the foreign workers were inside the factory, actively participating in its occupation.

C: The Gates Are Shut By The CGT

The Gates Are Shut By The CGT

On May 21, the second day of the occupation, the action committee militants found all the gates of the factory closed, and union delegates defended the entrances against "provocateurs." Thus the young militants were cut off from the contacts they had had before the occupation. Young workers inside the factory protested vigorously against the threats which were hurled at the "elements external to the factory." The CGT had become the new Boss. The union did all it could to prevent workers from becoming aware of the fact that the occupation of the factory was a first step toward the expropriation of the owners. To struggle against this unexpected new force, the action committee addressed itself to the workers in a new leaflet :

Workers :

You have occupied your factories. You are no longer controlled by the State or by the ex-owners.

Do not allow new masters to control you.

All of you and each of you has the right to speak.

DON'T LET THE LOUDSPEAKERS SPEAK FOR YOU.

If those behind the loudspeakers propose a motion, all other workers, French and foreign, must have the same right to propose other motions.

You, THE WORKERS, have the power. You have the power to decide what to produce, how much end for whom.

You, THE WORKERS, control your factories. Don't let anyone take the control away from you.

If some people limit your contacts with the outside, if some people do not allow you to learn about the profound democratization taking place in France, then these people are not trying to represent you, but to control you.

The occupied factories have to be opened up to all comrades, workers as well as students, in order to enable them to make decisions together.

Workers and students have the same objectives. Despite the government, the universities are already open to all.

If the loudspeakers decide instead of you, if the loudspeakers broadcast the decisions 'we' have made, then the men behind the loudspeakers are not working with you; they're manipulating you.

A second leaflet, prepared by several action committees, was also distributed. This leaflet called for the formation of general assemblies of all the workers which would bypass the union and prevent any small group from speaking in the name of the workers and from negotiating in the name of the working class :

. . . The political and union officials were not the originators of the strike. The decisions were made, and must continue to be made, by the strikers themselves, whether they are unionized or not . . . .

In order to circumvent the CGT and to continue its work of liaison and information, the Citroën committee launched three new projects : actions with foreign workers in the slums and the dormitories; contacts with strikers at the entrances of the factories; liaison between the politicized workers at the different Citroën factories.

D: Contacts At The Factory

At the Balard and Nanterre factories, daily meetings took place between the workers and the action committee. The subject of the meetings was a basic political discussion on the nature of the student movement and its relation to the strike. The factory workers became increasingly conscious that the strike had become transformed more and more into a traditional union strike. They deplored the demobilization and the depolitization of the pickets, which had been accompanied by a massive desertion. At the Balard factory, at night, for example, a small number of young people defended the factory. All the young workers' attempts to organize were sabotaged by the union bureaucracy, either in the form of direct opposition or in the form of seeming to forget problems.

The nonunionized young workers attempted to break out of their isolation. They contacted militants of the CFDT ( French Democratic Confederation of Labor ) who seemed to favor student-worker contacts, but the CFDT's intentions were political rather than revolutionary; the minority union tried to enlist new members, and the popularity of the student movement among the workers made it opportune for the minority union to associate with the student movement. Secondly, the young workers sought contacts with militants who wanted to work within the union by organizing the rank and file against the officials. Thirdly, the young workers contacted the Citroën Action Committee at Censier, and after the last week in May they worked increasingly with the action committee. At the end of May, the young workers no longer felt either sure of themselves or supported by their comrades within the factory. Police forces had taken repressive steps against strikers in other sectors, and the young workers felt isolated and looked for outside support.

In order to respond to this need for rank-and-file organization, the Citroën Committee proposed a series of actions. Peasants were sending food from the countryside to Sorbonne and Censier; contacts had been established between peasants, action committees and workers. The Citroën Committee informed the workers about the possibilities to obtain food and to contact the peasants directly. The problem was to find means of transport, namely at least one Citroën truck which would transport workers and students to the countryside. This suggestion was favorably received by the workers, and its organizational potential was profoundly grasped. But the workers did not want to take on themselves the responsibility of taking a truck which belonged to the owners, and so they looked for union support. The union representatives sent the workers to the union's central committee at Balard. The central committee was willing to contact the peasants, but only on condition that the whole action was centralized, that it was all directed by the union's central committee; these conditions would have sabotaged all attempts at rank-and-file organization.

The second form of action proposed by the Citroën Committee was to establish contacts among the workers of different enterprises. However, such contacts could not take place inside the factory since the factory had become an impregnable bastion guarded by the union bureaucracy, which opposed any rank-and-file contacts among the workers. Thus the problem was to fight for free expression and for the possibility of worker exchanges.

The third form of action proposed by the action committee was to contact the foreign workers at their dormitories. There were two aspects to these contacts : they were a means to radicalize the struggle by including foreign comrades in the strike pickets, and the contacts were a means to do away with the exhausting struggle of the strikers against strike-breakers, who were generally foreign workers manipulated by the management of the factory; the foreign workers were manipulable because they were generally unpoliticized, uninformed; on several occasions the management had called them together to vote to return to work.

E: The Foreign Workers' Dormitories

The dormitories for foreign workers enable the owners to exploit the workers twice, namely during the day and again at night. The living quarters are managed by Citroën agents who do not let anyone enter, even members of the workers' families. For example, at the dormitory at Viliers-le-Bel, thirty miles out of Paris, the workers live in forty-eight apartments with fourteen people in each two-or-three-room apartment. The assignment of workers to apartments is done arbitrarily. Thus Yugoslavs are housed together with Spanish and Portuguese workers. The workers are rarely able to communicate with each other. They work in different shifts and in different workshops. The workers pay 150 NF ( $30 ) per month. From this single dormitory, the factory clears 50,000 NF ( $10,000 ) per month.

Members of the Citroën Committee who spoke the languages of the workers established contacts at the dormitories in order to inform the foreign workers about the action committees, and to establish connections between the strikers and foreign workers. The aim of the committee was to enable the workers to organize themselves into action committees in order to cope with their specific problems : transport to the factories, food, the struggle against the repressive conditions inside the factory, and contacts with French comrades. French language courses were organized in several centers after the workers organized themselves into committees and found classrooms in nearby student-occupied universities or in local culture centers. In the slum and ghetto areas, food supplied by peasants and distributed by action committees was taken to poor workers and their families. On all occasions, the foreign workers were informed of the different forms used by the employers to break the strike by using foreign workers as strike-breakers. Numerous foreign workers were put in contact with strikers, and they took an active part in the occupation of the factory.

The aim of all these actions was to enable, and encourage, rank-and-file organization among the workers.

A small number of workers, isolated in the factory, posed the problem of defending the factory against all forms of aggression. The union had given the order to abandon the factory "in a dignified manner" in case anyone attacked; this order was explained in terms of the "relation of forces." The Citroën Action Committee placed numerous "pickets" outside the factory, and on one occasion the "pickets" defended the factory from an attack by strikebreakers and toughs hired by the owners to chase out the occupying strikers.

F: The Rank and File Committees

An increasing number of workers went to the Censier Center to seek contacts with the action committees, and the workers transformed the character of the Citroën Committee and they opened perspectives for organization and action by the workers themselves inside the factory. Meetings between the Citroën Committee with the Inter-Enterprise Committee and with workers from the Rhône Poulenc chemical plant opened further perspectives.

Rhône Poulenc workers familiarized the workers of other enterprises with the organization of rank-and-file committees which had taken place very successfully inside their factory. The echo was immediate. Citroën workers recognized that the rank-and-file organizations, where the decision-making power over the running of the strike remained with the workers themselves, was the solution to the problems they had faced during the strike. However the period in which the Citroën workers became familiar with the Rhone Poulenc rank-and-file committees no longer permitted the launching of such an organizational project inside Citroën, since this was one of the last factories still on strike, and since the strike had become a traditional union strike.

The Rhone Poulenc workers, who called on comrades in other plants to follow their example, also pointed out that real workers' power could not be realized unless rank-and-file organization was extended to other parts of the capitalist world. And during the time when the Citroën workers were learning of the experiences of the chemicals workers, some members of the Citroën Committee went to Turin to establish contacts with the Worker-Student League grouped around Fiat, the largest enterprise in Europe. In Turin, information was exchanged on the struggles of the workers in Italy, on the similarity of the obstacles posed by the unions in both countries, and on the significance of the action committees. The organization of rank-and-file committees and the problem of worker control opened up perspectives for the comrades in Turin. As a basis for further contacts, the two groups established a regular exchange of information ( leaflets, journals and letters ), exchanges of lists of demands, and direct contacts by workers and students. Italian comrades arrived in Paris from Milan in order to establish similar contacts with the Citroën Committee, and some members of the Citroën Committee itself returned to other countries ( such as England and the United States ) in order to generalize the international contacts.

G: The Strike for Material Demands

On Saturday, June 22, after the CGT reached an agreement with the Citroën management, workers in the Citroën Committee who opposed the return to work sought contact with other organized forces in order to prepare an action for the following Monday. The workers prepared a leaflet which explained that, in terms of the union's material demands, nothing had been received by the workers :

. . .While the CGT union considers itself satisfied with its agreement with the managers, a large majority of the workers, aware that the crumbs received do not correspond to their five weeks of struggle nor to the strike which began as a general strike, are ready to continue this struggle . . .

On Monday morning, three different leaflets opposed to the return to work were distributed. The CGT officials were not able to find workers willing to distribute their leaflets. The union's forces had passed to the opposition; union delegates and officials were booed during the meeting before the vote. Workers expressed themselves physically to allow speeches by workers opposed to the return to work. During the meeting, a union representative who could not speak because of the booing, demanded to be heard in the name of democracy, and then denounced the workers who booed him as "those who want to wave the red flag of the working class higher than the CGT."

H: Perspectives

Dissatisfaction with respect to the material demands, and disillusionment with the union, caused the workers to analyze in depth a problem which had been touched earlier by the Citroën Committee, namely the problem of whether militant action should take place inside the union or outside it. A large number of unorganized workers were trying to concentrate their force by forging new forms of organization. Once the problem of the union was solved, the Citroën Committee would be able to develop and enlarge the perspectives for action which could be drawn from its experience.

For the Citroën workers, the Citroën Action Committee is an organ for liaison and information. Within the context of the committee, the workers are able to coordinate their efforts to organize rank-and-file committees in the factory's workshops. At the weekly meetings with another action committee, the Inter-Enterprise Committee, Citroën workers learn that similar organizational efforts are taking place in other enterprises, and through their contacts abroad they learn about the efforts of automobile workers in other countries. The workers are aware that the revolutionary significance of the rank-and-file committees can only find expression in another period of crisis. The rank-and-file committees are seen as a basis for the massive occupation of the factories, accompanied by an awareness on the part of the workers that they are the only legitimate power inside the plants ( namely that no special group can speak or negotiate for the mass of the workers ). The massive occupation, accompanied by the workers' consciousness of their power as a class, is the condition for the workers to begin appropriating, namely using, the instruments of production as an overt manifestation of their power. The act of overt appropriation of the means of production by the workers will have to be accompanied by organized armed defense of the factories, since the capitalist class will try to regain the factories with its police and with what remains of its army. At this point, in order to abolish the capitalist system and to avoid being crushed by foreign armies, the workers will have to extend their struggle to the principal centers of the world capitalist system. Only at that point would complete worker control over the material conditions of life be a reality, and at that point the building of a society without commodities, without exchange and without classes could begin.

by Members of the Citroën Action Committee
( Roger Gregoire and Fredy Perlman )