Part 4. The strike disintegrates

If the rejection of the Grenelle Protocol provided indisputable evidence of the power of the strike movement, it was no less indicative of its decline, even though more than three weeks would have to pass before all the strikers would return to work. As we just pointed out, the movement was no longer a national movement, and had become a collection of separate strikes at different enterprises or in different industries. This fragmentation of the subsequent negotiations was one of the reasons for the defeat of the strikers.

The bibliography we have relied upon to construct this account is much less informative concerning the end of the strike than about its beginnings. The sources do, however, bring to light numerous focal points of resistance to the return to work, and not just in the metal industry, with the battles of Flins and Sochaux.

From May 27 to Pentecost1 (June 2-3): The Strike Continues

On May 27, enterprises were still joining the strike. This was the case with Batellerie de la Seine. There were also cases where the strikers returned to work, particularly in the provinces. At the same time, negotiations were underway, especially in certain public offices or enterprises. This was the case, for example, at Charbonnages,2 where negotiations were held between May 26 and May 28, culminating in more favorable terms than were offered by the Grenelle Protocol. This made a return to work possible on the 29th, just as some people had desired. The strike, however, according to those who were in favor of a return to work, was extended by the PCF and the CGT, for political reasons; when they tried to go back to work, the workers found the gates bolted and barred.3

There was actually a partial aggravation of the strike, and this was not in contradiction of the generalized movement towards its decline. For the two days after Grenelle were a period of high political tensions, when the left began to believe that it could force DeGaulle to resign, and the right began to fear that the time for his departure had actually arrived. It is not the purpose of this study to once again retrace all the vicissitudes of the subtle political game that unfolded at the time. But some notes are in order.

On Monday, May 27, a rally was held at Charléty.4 It brought together UNEF, the CFDT and the non-communist left and gave a very warm welcome to Mendès-France (who nevertheless refused to address the crowd). We have already discussed his role in this affair. On May 28, François Mitterand proclaimed his candidacy for the presidency of the Republic and proposed Mendès-France for the post of Prime Minister. On May 29, the PCF organized a large demonstration to remind the non-communist left that it was still a force to contend with. On the same day, DeGaulle “disappeared”. Without informing his own government, he went to Baden-Baden, Germany, to see general Massu.5 This unexpected visit may have been for the purpose of testing the army’s loyalty.6 Massu bolstered DeGaulle’s morale, after DeGaulle had some doubts about his fate, but now he felt better, and went to stay at Colombey, his personal residence in the Haute-Marne. From there, he called Pompidou, his prime minister, in order to tell him that he would return to Paris the next day and that he would address the nation over the radio. On May 30, in a radio broadcast, DeGaulle energetically proclaimed the legitimacy of his power, renounced the referendum that he had announced the previous week, dissolved Parliament and announced elections and reforms. At the same time, a right wing demonstration at the Champs-Élysées, which had been planned for quite a long time, was unexpectedly successful, at least in part, with 300,000 people7 covering the avenue in a sea of tricolor.8 On May 31, the electoral campaign began.

We shall now return to the strike movement. As we have seen, in the case of Charbonnages, the hardliners of the CGT had been pushed in the direction of aggravating the strike, in spite of the fact that a favorable agreement had been concluded. On May 27, 28 and 29, it also seemed to other elements that the strike had become more determined, especially in the EDF, where the first interruptions of electric power took place since the movement began. These interruptions were primarily carried out for the purpose of demonstrating the dangerousness of the CGT and the PCF to the supporters of the Mitterrand-Mendès-France project. The strike also became more embittered in the printing industry, and this had the effect of obstructing the printing of the CFDT’s newspapers. On May 29, there was also an interruption in telephone service in the Trudaine sector, the location of the CFDT headquarters. At first, the CGT assured everyone that it was a technical problem, but backed down when the CFDT offered to send a group of technicians to make repairs.9 It will therefore be understood that one must take this alleged resurgence of CGT militance with a grain of salt.

On the other hand, however, with the announcement of the dissolution of Parliament the atmosphere changed. DeGaulle and the right wing clearly reassumed the initiative, and the prospect of elections gave the PCF and the CGT a new pretext: the elections, and no longer the strike and its demands, were the struggle that they now considered to be of paramount importance. It is hard to believe that both of these organizations were unaware of the political analyses that demonstrated that the voters were much more conservative than public opinion in general, due to the over-representation of the provinces and the rural districts, and the under-representation of younger voters. And if they were indeed aware of these analyses, then their position was to more or less preserve the status quo ante, reserving for themselves a central role in an opposition without any significant ability to affect the course of the capitalist modernization of France. The essential point is that the new tendencies that had been manifested during the previous weeks (the explicit challenge to the legitimacy of the PCF, the attack on the trade union bureaucracies by the young workers, the apparently unstoppable resurgence of the non-communist left, and even the rise of leftist militantism, even if it was still quite marginal) would be forgotten thanks to a return to “normal” political life. In the June 4 issue of Le Figaro, Raymond Aron10 commented: the government was right to rely on the support of the Party, since, “within an hour after the President’s address, it defused the bomb and consented to participate in elections that it can hardly hope to win”.11

On May 31, at least two events were indicative of the return to normal and the more moderate positions of the trade unions. It was the Friday before the Pentecost holiday weekend. In the historical accounts we read that this was the day that the government decided that the supply of gasoline to the gas stations would be resumed—as if it was the government that had blocked the distribution of fuel. This decision, of course, meant that it was sending the riot police and the army to “liberate” the stockpiles of gasoline. This decision was made just after DeGaulle’s speech of May 30, at night, in such a way that the gas stations began receiving shipments of gasoline on the morning of May 31. Dansette does not provide any details regarding how the government “managed to get the striking truck drivers to return to work”,12 and the CFDT, in its history of the movement, is content with mentioning the fact that “the riot police dispersed the pickets who were guarding the various stockpiles of gasoline”.13 In short, this effort to reassert control over gasoline shipments generated no resistance on the part of the strikers in this sector, nor did it generate any solidarity actions on the part of the rest of the movement.

Elsewhere, the Ministry of Telecommunications and Postal Services began to evict the strikers from the post offices and telephone exchanges on the night of May 30. The CFDT is just as uninformative with regard to this issue as it is with regard to the matter of the gasoline stockpiles. According to Rioux and Backmann,14 the trade unions advised the strikers not to offer any resistance to the police. At Rennes-Chèques, however, the eviction led to violence.15 At Paris-Chèques, Paris Central and other provincial offices and centers it was the Committees for the Defense of the Republic (CDR)16 that attacked the strikers. In every case, the strike continued.

The fact that gasoline was made available was a political coup. The traffic jams that resulted were evidence of the return to normal. In Telecommunications and Postal Services, it was more of a social coup—on the pretext that the Postal Services are necessary to organize the announced elections, an attempt was made to force a return to work. At the same time, during the Pentecost holiday weekend, various hasty negotiations were begun, underpinned by the idea of a generalized return to work on Tuesday, June 4.

In reality we shall see that the government and the PCF would have much greater difficulties than any they had encountered so far in their attempt to obtain a generalized return to work. The violent evictions at Telecommunications and Postal Services were not as effective as the seizure of the gasoline stockpiles. The postal workers did not go back to work en masse, not during the holiday weekend, and not on Tuesday morning. There were other attempts to force them to go back to work. The case of the SNCF in Alsace is well known, where the Strasbourg station was occupied by the police and some trains ran from the night of Saturday, June 1, to Sunday, June 2. These trains were stopped at Mulhouse, and the Strasbourg station was reoccupied by the strikers.

After Pentecost: the Hard Road Back to Work

It is certainly true that on Tuesday, June 4, the atmosphere was undoubtedly redolent of a return to routine. That morning, the Bank of France reopened for business, and so did the Charbonnages, the EDF and the arsenals. The same was true of numerous small and medium size enterprises where those who earned the minimum inter-professional wage worked—these workers had obtained a substantial raise with the Grenelle protocol. But there were numerous focal points of resistance, against which the trade unions would resort to multiple strategies. These would entail 48 hours of very intense activity, during which time they tried to get the rank and file to accept the results of the negotiations held over the Pentecost holiday weekend. We shall examine a few cases:

Telecommunications and Postal Services: the negotiations between the Ministry and the trade unions would last until the end of the day on Tuesday, June 4. On the night of June 3, however, the leaders (not the militants!) of the trade unions called for a vote to be held on Tuesday morning on the question of returning to work. This led to a tumultuous meeting where, of the 600 workers present, only 25% voted in favor of a return to work. François de Massot notes that those who voted in favor of a return to work were generally members of the PCF. In the Paris region there was a regional strike committee for the Postal Service which, since its inception, had tried to oppose the compartmentalization of the strike by offices and distribution centers. On June 4, at 5:00 p.m., this committee met at the Bourse du Travail.17 Immediately, the trade union leaders announced that this meeting would be the last one—which implied that the workers would have to return to work on the following day. This announcement met with such vehement opposition, including opposition from the trade union militants themselves, that the leaders were obliged to hold another meeting on the following day. This time, they were better prepared, and also benefited from the absence of the militants from the other distribution centers who were opposed to returning to work. These militants had not attended the meeting either out of discouragement or out of fear of unleashing an internal conflict in their trade union. Thus, the vote was in favor of a return to work. On Saturday, June 8, however, the strike resumed, in the post offices in the train stations of the Paris region. The government would then make new concessions on working conditions.18

RATP: the resumption of commuter transportation service in the Paris region was obviously an important step towards a general return to work. We shall recall that the decision by the transportation workers to join the strike had been underpinned by a strong impulse and the consolidation of the work stoppage. Thus, during the Pentecost holiday weekend, the government and the trade unions made as much haste as possible in their negotiations, which culminated in a text that was submitted for the approval of the personnel, on Sunday, June 2, that is, in the middle of the holiday weekend. The agreement was rejected, however, above all because the concessions were insufficient with respect to the question of days off. The personnel wanted a system of rotation of 6/2 (6 days of work, 2 days off). On Monday night, the negotiations had made some progress with regard to the question of wages and work schedules, and the trade unions thought they could present a new text to the personnel. According to J.-F. Naudet,19 the progress was actually minimal (in fact, the 6/2 rotation would not go into effect until 1972, and the same was true of the 40 hour week, another central demand of the strikers of 1968). In any event, the vote on the return to work was held under stormy circumstances. It was held by sections (workshops, offices, depots), and the trade unions, on June 5 near the end of the day, tabulated the results at the Bourse du Travail. Some workers who were mistrustful attended in order to help count the votes and this led to fights with the CGT thugs and so much confusion that the count could not proceed at all.20

In the appendix to this book one may read the account of the events provided by the militants of the RATP action committee. This account makes it clear that the trade unions tried to take advantage of the separation of the different sections, and that they spread the rumor, for example, that 80% of the strikers at the Lebrun depot voted to return to work, when it was actually the case that 80% of them had voted to continue the strike (Lebrun was a depot where the strike was particularly active). It was necessary, in all the sections, for the bureaucrats to do everything in their power to assure a resumption of work on Thursday, June 6. Nonetheless, the return to work was so incompletely complied with that the trade unions broadcast an order to return to work on Thursday afternoon that was disseminated throughout the transport network thanks to the management’s communications system. As Caprenet, a leader of the CGT, admits, with reference to the metro stations 2 and 6 on the Nation line, “I generously let them boo and hiss. I was even on the verge of getting a punch in the nose, but nonetheless they returned to work on the next day”.21 And he was visibly proud of this fact. It was, however, necessary to resort to the riot police in order to evict the strikers from the offices of that line during the night of June 6-7. We may also read in the testimony of the RATP action committee, how the scandalous conditions of the return to work had led certain militants to consider that it was possible to form a rank and file committee in RATP.22 This attempt failed, however, after the general assembly of June 10 failed to approve a proposal to resume the strike. Thus, on Thursday, June 10, commuter transportation was reestablished.

SNCF: rail transport was another central point of the generalized resumption of work. As was the case with other public services, the Pentecost holiday weekend was devoted to non-stop negotiations. On Sunday, June 2, the Minister of Transportation offered a package of 1,200 million francs, as opposed to an estimated trade union demand for 2,000 million. Two meetings were held to attempt to reach a compromise on Monday, June 3. In an unofficial conversation with the CGT, the assistant director of personnel asked: “How much more do you need to go back to work?” The CGT responded that it needed 200 million francs, as a bluff. According to the confession of the federal secretary himself, he could just as well have asked for 50 or 500 million. After consultations with the government, the management offered 200 million, and the subsequent negotiations were held mainly between the different affected trade unions for the partition of the 1,400 million among their various demands.23 An agreement was finally concluded on the morning of Tuesday, June 4. It was not signed by the central committees of the trade unions, but an intersyndical communiqué was issued that called for an immediate return to work, which triggered heated opposition from the rank and file. For its part, the CGT called for a return to work starting on the night of June 4. Compared to the gains achieved by the workers in other industries, the results were very favorable. The railroad workers obtained a 10% wage increase, two extra days of paid vacation, and a one and a half hour reduction in the workweek.

Throughout the day of June 5, debates continued among the rank and file. In the strongholds of the CGT, the return to work proceeded without any problems. Thus, in Achères, where Massabiaux himself (the federal secretary) testified: “There were no problems, we marched behind the red flag, which we lowered from the water tower”. But in his examination of the official account provided by the CFDT of the various workplaces, G. Ribeill concluded that most of the personnel were opposed to the return to work.24 According to him, opposition was particularly focused on the question of being paid for the days they were on strike. And this opposition was powerful enough to cause the trade unions to attempt to obtain assurances from the management on this question. What kind of assurances is unknown. But at the end of the day on June 5 they gave the order to return to work, concluding that, “the railroad workers have democratically decided, in the majority of the rail centers, to return to work”. The results of the votes by the work centers were announced by telex in each center as soon as they were certified. But sometimes the referendums were held again after the first result was negative, as at Le Mans, Vierzon and Orleans. In Lyon, on June 5, a rally was held by the trade unions to celebrate the end of the strike. The PCF was greeted with boos and catcalls and cries of “betrayal”.25 On June 6, however, rail traffic was operating more or less normally.

Social Security: the CGT and the CFDT presented a rough draft of the agreement26 to the personnel on June 4. Of the 16,000 who cast votes (a 42% rate of participation) less than 25% were in favor of returning to work. On June 6, the two trade union federations issued the “official” order to return to work. But the strike continued in certain locations until June 11. According to François de Massot, this made it possible to obtain improvements over the original agreement, particularly with respect to larger wage increases for the non-supervisory sectors of the workforce.

Education: a meeting between the trade unions and the Ministry was held on June 4. The negotiations were concluded on June 5. The general secretary of the FEN declared that he was “relatively satisfied”, but the strike continued until June 7 in the secondary schools. High school teachers in the Paris region carried a majority vote in favor of continuing the movement. In the elementary schools, the SNI27 ordered a return to work. There were protests (in the North, in Vancluse and other departments), but there was a clear tendency for the teachers to heed the call of the trade union and return to work.

Many EGB and secondary school teachers—often members of the Emancipated School current of the FEN—were not satisfied with their trade union representatives. In the Paris region, they compelled them to hold an explanatory meeting on Saturday, June 8, at the Bourse du Travail. 1,500 teachers attended, but no trade union representatives were present. The teachers, once they realized no trade union representatives would attend the meeting, marched to Rue Solferino to the headquarters of the FEN, which they discovered to be vacant. They temporarily occupied the headquarters and published a pamphlet calling for the teachers to stay on strike and announcing an assembly for Monday, June 10. Although several thousand teachers attended this assembly, they were unable to prevent the return to work.28

Miscellaneous: other cases are known where it was not easy to get the workers to go back to work, especially in the major department stores. In Paris there were confrontations and the strikers used fire extinguishers in the Galeries Lafayette in an attempt to prevent the supervisors and executives from returning to work. In this sector, the CGT issued the order to go back to work on June 4, but the trade union sections in the Paris region voted to continue the strike. There were certainly many other similar situations, but it was in the metallurgical sector where the greatest difficulties were encountered in the attempt to get the workers to return to work.

We can thus see that the return to work did not take place automatically. Certain authors, however, such as François de Massot, exaggerate the significance of the resistance. They seize upon the existence of this resistance in order to accuse the trade unions of having betrayed a possible revolution. It is true that the irregularities with regard to the voting procedures, the rumors that were spread intentionally and manipulations of every kind were numerous. But their effectiveness was only matched by the resignation and exhaustion of the mass of the strikers. In the public and nationalized sectors, at least the government had made a certain number of concessions in order to facilitate the return to work. In this case the return to work was expected to take place on Tuesday, June 4, but it would not be until Thursday or Friday when the return to work was more or less total. It was not these few days that made the movement of May-June ’68 a revolution that was betrayed by the bureaucrats—if that idea makes any sense at all.

Renault-Flins

In metallurgy, the employers adopted a hard line attitude and refused to negotiate any demands not set forth on the Grenelle Protocol. Is this why the government did not try to enforce a return to work at Renault-Flins?

During the Pentecost holiday weekend, the executives, managers and foremen at Flins made personal visits to the homes of the workers in order to encourage them to assert their “right to work”. And on Tuesday, June 4, the management of Flins held a vote that the trade unions only made the weakest attempts to obstruct, although up to this time they had proclaimed that they were categorically opposed to any attempt on the part of the employers to separately consult the workers. Only an attack by the “leftists”, who seized the ballot boxes and burned the ballots, prevented this vote from being successfully held. The trade unions did not proclaim their support for the continuation of the strike until after these events took place. But on the night of June 5-6, the police demolished the fence around the factory, evicted the occupiers and took control of the plant. This factory was chosen due to its rural location. Jacques Baynac points out that, “the factory was occupied from the very first hours of the strike by workers who were often not members of the trade unions, or else they were members of the CFDT, but rarely members of the CGT”.29 This may be another reason why this plant was chosen. The CFDT thought so.30 In any event, if the employers’ organization, the UIMM (Union of Metallurgical and Mining Industries) was steadfast in its refusal to negotiate, this was also for the purpose of forcing the government to do its job of repression and thus secure a return to work without any further concessions. We shall see below that, since this repression did not have the hoped-for effectiveness, the government would turn against the employers of this sector in order to force them to make concessions that would allow work to resume.

The workers having been evicted, the factory opened under the protection of the police. Even the executives, the middle managers and the immigrant workers (over whom the threat of deportation always loomed) refused to return to work.

On that same morning of June 6, a rally was held, attended by between 2,000 and 3,000 people, with speakers such as the communist deputy for the electoral district and the socialist Mayor of Les Mureaux (the city just to the east of Flins). That same evening, another rally was held, this one attended by 5,000 people, but it did not result in any clear proposals. It concluded in an atmosphere of confusion and discouragement. On the night of June 6-7, despite police surveillance, several hundred students arrived from Paris. On the morning of June 7 they participated in the meeting that had been initially intended by the trade unions to be held in Les Mureaux, but was later transferred to the Place de l’Etoile de Elisabethville (a city bordered by the Renault factories on the west), because it was in the latter city where most of the workers resided. It should be mentioned that Geismar attended this meeting, the former general secretary of SNESup, now a Maoist militant, although the sat quietly in the audience. The CGT denounced the presence of the students and warned the workers against provocations. On the previous day, the CGT had issued a communiqué making its “complete disagreement” with the intention of the students and professors to march to Flins perfectly clear.31 But the crowd did not agree and finally succeeded in having Geismar address the meeting.32 Geismar very modestly made a short speech on the topic of “serving the people”, which apparently convinced the workers. When the meeting came to an end, and when some groups approached the factory defended by the riot police, the latter attacked them without any warning. This was the first of a series of extremely violent confrontations.

For several days, the police would impose a state of emergency on the entire region. The repression was deliberately indiscriminate. The cops attacked ambulances and pursued the strikers and the students through the parks and the fields, with the support of helicopters. It was enough to be a student in order to get a beating. It was enough to have a car with a license plate from outside the Department to have your tires punctured. The objective was to terrorize the population, which for the most part did not cooperate with the police and sometimes gave refuge to fugitives and concealed them from the police. On June 10, a unit of special mobile policemen33 located several young people sleeping on the banks of the Seine, on a small island near the bridge between Meulan and Les Mureaux. The police attack was deliberately carried out by surprise and was well planned, and the young people had no other choice but to jump into the water. One of them, Gilles Tautin, 17 years old, a militant of the UJCML, drowned. Only the account of Christian Charrière points out that three policemen stripped off their uniforms and jumped into the water to try to save him.34 The incident took place shortly before nightfall. During the night, the police units withdrew from the area.

On Monday, June 10, the management at Flins called upon the workers to return to work. Only a few showed up. The trade unions had no problem convincing them not to enter the factory. But on the following day, Tuesday, June 11, work was partially resumed. Among those who returned to work were some members of the “Proletarian CGT”, allies of the Maoists. As they entered the plant, they renewed the occupation and raised the red flag. According to the trade union reports of what happened that day, the trade unions did not arrive at the factory until the evening. The CFDT sought to convince the strikers to evacuate the factory. The CGT did not commit itself either way. To prevent the other workers from joining the strikers, the management declared a lockout. The police surrounded the factory where, at the end of the day, there were no more than a “hundred determined comrades”. It is assumed that they evacuated the factory during the night.

On Wednesday, June 12, negotiations began at the level of the RNUR (Régie nationale des usines Renault)35 as a whole. They ended on the 15th, and the results were presented to the workers. FO published a negative analysis, for the entire bargaining unit. The CFDT entitle its pamphlet, “Not Good Enough”. The Proletarian CGT of Flins was also opposed.

These reactions are understandable if one compares the two charts that we shall set forth below. The first shows the demands presented to the workers of Billancourt by A. Halbeher on the morning of May 27, prior to the arrival of Séguy, and in defense of which he called upon the workers to vote in favor of prolonging the strike. The second is the one that Halbeher presented when he called upon the workers to return to work on June 17.36

[Chart would not reproduce in this format--Translator's Note]

Demands of May 27 Conquests of June 17
Payment for all days on strike Payment for 50% of strike days
Across the board wage increase Wage increase of 10% in 1968
No wage less than 1,000 francs/month
40 hours work for 48 hours pay Reduction of the work week by one and a half hours
Retirement at 60 Nothing about retirement
Monthly paycheck for wage workers Monthly paycheck for wage workers over the age of 55
Guarantee of trade union rights in the workshop “Extended and greater” trade union rights
Suppression of the anti-strike clauses in the payment of bonuses Quarterly bonuses; partial abolition of the anti-strike clause
Suppression of temporary contracts for immigrants

We may add that the agreement made no reference at all to the reduction and limitation of wage differentials. The Proletarian CGT of Flins emphasized this in a pamphlet that compared “what we demanded” and what “the employer is proposing to give us”.37

The CGT of Flins, of course, considered the results to be satisfactory and called for a return to work “tomorrow”. At the same time, however, it called for the workers to “hold discussions in each workshop of the list of demands, focused in particular on the work rates and the working conditions”.38 This indicates that even after the strike and the negotiations there were issues that remained unresolved. At Flins, the vote held on June 17 showed that only a slim majority of 58% of the workers was in favor of a return to work. This means that there were, out of 8,300 votes cast, approximately 3,500 that were still not satisfied.39 It is therefore not surprising that on the 19th, the first day of the return to work, a work stoppage took place. Various foreign workers had been fired for having gone on strike, and the work rate had been increased from 32 to 36 cars per hour.40 This episode is emblematic of the causes of the strike and of the problems that would still not be resolved for many years.

Peugeot-Sochaux

The resistance to the return to work was even more violent at Sochaux than it was at Flins. The negotiations between the trade unions and the management began on May 31. They did not obtain any results that day. On the following day, the management made some slightly more favorable offers. In vain. On June 4, the management held a vote. The strike committee called for a boycott of the voting. 42% of the workers participated in the vote and 77% of those who voted wanted to return to work. The trade unions considered the vote to be null and void and did not respect its results.41 They held another vote on June 8. 5,279 workers participated in the voting this time (a 20% rate of participation) and the proposal to go back to work won by 49 votes.42 The three trade unions agreed to consider this vote to be binding. They put an end to the occupation and evacuated the factory during the course of the evening.43 On the morning of Monday, June 10, the company buses began to circulate through the area to pick up the workers and work resumed in the factory; it must be said, however, that this work was conducted in a very lethargic manner. The workers abandoned their work stations to hold discussions, and two rumors rapidly made the rounds: that the work rates would be increased and that the management would force the workers to work 17 Saturdays in order to make up for the time lost to the strike. At ten in the morning the strike broke out in the body shop section of the plant. There were CFDT militants involved in the beginning of this strike, which spread like wildfire. At three in the afternoon, 10,000 workers voted to go on strike and to occupy the factory. Several hundred of them organized to spend the night in the plant.

The order to evacuate the factory came immediately from Paris. For its part, the management of the plant made it known by radio that work had resumed on Monday, and that the company buses were running and would continue to operate. At three in the morning, the riot police appeared at the gates of the factory and ordered the workers to evacuate the premises. Meanwhile, other riot police had climbed over the fences on the other side of the plant and invaded the factory, which they unceremoniously cleared, with seemingly deliberate violence. By the morning, the riot police had occupied the factory compound, while the workers had gathered on Avenue Helvétie, which divides the factory compound in two. They built barricades and began to reconquer the factory buildings by throwing bricks at the riot police who were inside the buildings. The riot police left the buildings and engaged in bitter fighting with the strikers until the end of the day. Strikers and non-striking workers who were arriving in the company buses to go to work joined in the battle. Workers from other enterprises also joined the fight. Other factories in the region also went on strike. The battle claimed two fatalities: Henri Blanchet, who was thrown off a bridge by the blast of a tear gas grenade and died from a skull fracture, and Pierre Beylot, who died as a result of three shots fired at him by a policeman. The police went berserk and committed terrible outrages. They were evacuated from the region around nine in the evening, and while leaving continued to puncture the tires of cars and fire tear gas grenades indiscriminately and at random. After their departure, the workers invaded the building that had served as the police headquarters, the Peugeot club-hotel, where the factory directors and executives customarily met and where the management held receptions for VIPs. The place was ransacked.44

On Wednesday, June 12, the factory was still closed. And it would remain closed until June 21, the date set for the return to work. For a week, the management and the trade unions were unable to reach an agreement. Finally, on June 19, and after government intervention, a representative of the Paris headquarters of Peugeot arrived at Sochaux with new proposals. In a few hours, an agreement was concluded.

The last metal workers return to work

The government put the same kind of pressure on Citroën. Like the management of Peugeot, the management of Citroën was betting on the collapse of the strike and thought that the Grenelle Accords were more than sufficient. An agreement was finally concluded, and the leaders of the CGT appeared before the personnel at Javel to defend the agreement. This took place on June 21. But they were opposed in the assembly by a strong contingent of young workers, who brandished placards advocating prolonging the strike, and this led the CGT leaders to decide that there was not a sufficient quorum present at the assembly and that it would be preferable to postpone the vote. This took place on the 24th, that is, after the first round of the elections; the return to work was set for the 25th.

The employers in the metallurgical sector displayed the same attitude as those at Peugeot and Citroën. This is why it was this sector that was the last to go back to work. The trade unions did everything they could, but the workers resisted. We possess the testimony of the dissident communists of Hispano-Suiza.45 During the second week of June, the CGT first managed to get the workers to accept the principle of the secret ballot. Then, it held a vote in which it made the entire personnel vote, including those who had not actively participated in the strike or the occupation. But this divide-and-conquer tactic was not enough: the majority was in favor of continuing the strike. The trade unions then proposed that the issue of the return to work should be discussed again in the respective trade union sections. Immediately, the CGT organized an assembly of all its members (the first such assembly held during the strike). The meeting was tumultuous, and the leaders had to hold several votes before obtaining a majority in favor of a return to work. On Monday, June 17, at a general assembly of all the personnel, the CGT spoke of going back to work, but only if certain conditions were met by management—a position it would abandon the next day. On Tuesday, June 18, during the last meeting of the strike, the leader of the CGT considered the return to work to be a fait accompli, and folded up the red flag solemnly, declaring that it would fly again some day. Then he called upon the workers to go back to their work stations. No one moved. A moment of great confusion ensued. Some entered the factory, but only to resume their activities as part of the occupation. Most remained in the square in front of the factory. The CGT caused the factory siren to sound in order to get those who had entered the factory to leave. As the factory was evacuated, the doors were closed on a plant that was vacant, except for the CGT leader who continued to speak on the factory public address system, asking the workers to trust him. Some of the workers wept. Work in the factory would resume on June 19.

Saviem46 went back to work on Friday the 21st, but Usinor did not resume work until the 26th. At Caterpillar in Grenoble, Paris-Rhône in Lyon and at Bourgoin (Isère), the return to work would take place even later.

  • 1. Pentecost is the feast day that is celebrated fifty days after Easter, and commemorates the descent of the Holy Spirit and the beginning of the activity of the Church. In the Catholic liturgy it is the most important feast day after Easter and Christmas. The Monday after Pentecost is a holiday in France.
  • 2. Charbonnages de France, Coal France, an enterprise created in 1946 after the nationalization of the private mining companies.
  • 3. O. Kourchid, E. Eckert, “Les mineurs des houllieres en grève: l’insertion dans un mouvement national” (“The miners of the coal basin on strike: their insertion into a national movement”), in 1968: Exploration du Mai français, p. 105.
  • 4. A rally convoked by UNEF, PSU and the CFDT that was attended by between 30,000 and 50,000 people.
  • 5. Jacques-Émile Massu (1908-2002) was the French general in command of the paratroopers who were sent to fight against the FLN in the Algerian War that culminated with Algerian independence. Born into a family with a long history of military service, he served in Africa during the Second World War with the Free French Forces. In September 1945 he was sent to Saigon, where he participated in the reconquest of the city and of southern Indochina. A brigadier general in 1955, he commanded the 10th Parachute Division, which he used to “win” the Battle of Algiers by using the most brutal methods, including, among others, systematic torture. He participated in the Algiers coup d’état of May 13, 1958, whose goal was to discredit the socialist government, which was considered to be too soft, and to ensure that Algeria remained in French hands. This coup also ensured the return of general DeGaulle to the center of the political stage. In 1960, after having criticized the policies of president DeGaulle, he was dismissed from his position as commander of the army in Algeria. His departure led to the outbreak of fighting and barricades in Algiers for a week. In 1966 he was appointed as commander in chief of the French military in Germany.
  • 6. P. Viansson-Ponté has expressed his doubts about this explanation for DeGaulle’s trip to Baden-Baden. According to him, the trip was a “purely cold-blooded, tactical and long-planned” bluff. See Histoire de la République gaullienne, Paris, 1971, Vol. II, p. 552.
  • 7. This figure was provided by the police. The figure that is commonly cited is one million. See Viansson-Ponté, op. cit., pp. 310-311.
  • 8. This refers to the colors of the French flag.
  • 9. See Dansette, op. cit., pp. 310-311.
  • 10. Raymond Aron (1905-1983), French philosopher, sociologist and political commentator. In the words of Edward Shils, Aron abandoned socialism during his youth in order to become “the most persistent, most severe and the most well informed critic of Marxism and the socialist social order—or more precisely communist—of the 20th century”.
  • 11. Quoted by Massot, op. cit., p. 228.
  • 12. Ibid., p. 327.
  • 13. L. Salini, of the PCF, in Le Mai des prolétaires, does not mention this fact.
  • 14. Op. cit., p. 471.
  • 15. Massot, op. cit., p. 245.
  • 16. CDR: created after the televised address of May 24 by general DeGaulle, by Charles Pasqua and Pierre Lefranc, these “committees” of thugs appeared in organized formations at the big demonstration of May 30 at the Champs-Élysées.
  • 17. The Bourses du Travail are local trade union centers of a typically French character, a legacy of the first structures of working class mutual aid and the foundations of French trade unionism. Sometimes owned by the municipality—all the major French cities had one, financed in part by the municipality—sometimes owned by the trade unions, today they are public buildings where the trade unions can hold their activities: meetings, information, cultural events, etc. But they are not properly speaking the headquarters of any trade unions. They are currently used by social movements as well.
  • 18. According to Massot, op. cit., p. 263.
  • 19. In Mouriaux et al., op. cit., p. 115.
  • 20. The manipulations of the CGT were so blatant that the CFDT immediately protested, without challenging the results of the vote count.
  • 21. Quoted by Naudet, in Mouriaux…, op. cit., p. 116.
  • 22. Concerning the rank and file committees and their role in criticizing the trade unions, see the account of the Italian case in the appendix.
  • 23. According to G. Ribeill, in Mouriaux et al., p. 133, and Massot, op. cit., p. 252.
  • 24. Ibid., p. 135.
  • 25. Massot, op. cit., p. 252.
  • 26. The FO in this sector was under the control of the OCI and rejected the agreement. See Massot, op. cit., p. 263.
  • 27. SNI: National Syndicate of teachers of EGB.
  • 28. Massot, op. cit., p. 266.
  • 29. Baynac, op. cit., p. 238.
  • 30. Talbo, op. cit., p. 27.
  • 31. On June 7, the CGT of the Paris region published another denunciation of the student initiatives which disrupted “the consultations being held prior to the return to work” of the metallurgy sector (see Talbo, op. cit., p. 42).
  • 32. On the following day, June 8, during the course of a meeting in Les Mureaux, the CGT disconnected the sound system when the pressure from the crowd forced it to yield the podium to the students. This provoked an irate protest against the CGT, until a rank and file trade union member went to find a sound system to replace the one disabled by the CGT. Then an unofficial meeting was held, after the official one had finally come to an end.
  • 33. The equivalent of the National Guard.
  • 34. Charrière, op. cit., p. 378.
  • 35. National corporate center of the Renault factories.
  • 36. According to Frémontier, op. cit., pp. 368 and 373.
  • 37. Quoted by Talbo, op. cit., p. 86.
  • 38. Pamphlet distributed on Sunday, June 16, quoted by Talbo, op. cit., p. 95.
  • 39. Billancourt voted 78% to 22% to go back to work, Cléon 75% to 25%, Le Mans 79% to 21%, while at Sandouville the vote was almost unanimous in favor of a return to work. Data provided by Rioux and Backmann, op. cit., p. 589.
  • 40. J.-Ph. Talbo, op. cit., pp. 96-97.
  • 41. Hatzfeld, in Mouriaux et al., p. 54.
  • 42. Figures cited by Massot, op. cit., p. 279.
  • 43. Likewise, at Berliet on June 18, a return to work was favored by 50% vs. 49% of the votes; the majority was not decisive, and the trade unions withdrew from the factory without issuing any directives or instructions whatsoever.
  • 44. Rioux and Backmann, op. cit., p. 573 et seq.
  • 45. Ouvriers…, op. cit., p. 197 et seq.
  • 46. Saviem: Société Anonyme de Véhicules Industriels et d’Equipements Mécaniques (Industrial Vehicle and Mechanical Equipment Corporation).