Introduction

The aim of this work is the same as many others taken on by our group: to try to understand what was really a social movement constitutive of the last forty years of class struggle in this country, going beyond the unrestrained and uncritical enthusiasms and the unfounded critical rejections. To clear away the myths and the facile enthusiasms and to expose the facts to criticism, this is our method. And the movement of May-June 1968 is a choice cut: the biggest general strike that the country has ever known. But how do we situate this general strike? What were its actors? How was the strike concretely organised? What was the participation of the strikers in the strike itself and other actions? And, for us more particularly, what were the traces of workers’ autonomy, the attempts at self-organisation by the strikers, and the balance of forces with the unions, principally the CGT?

Taking account of the small number of firsthand accounts from participants on the one side, and the panegyrics1 which were published immediately after May-June and up to ten years after the events on the other, we have to say that the analysis of the balance of forces is difficult without a painstaking work that it is not possible for us to undertake. The accounts of two comrades that we have included are valuable enough in themselves to justify the publication of the text.

Nevertheless, some major themes can be identified. To allow some discussion on the subject the text includes:

· A brief view of the situation before May 68,
· A commented chronological description from May and June from the point of view of workers’ struggles,
· The two first hand accounts,
· An attempt at a conclusion.

So as to limit the text to what seems most interesting to us we will concentrate on:

· The first week of the workers’ strike (from 14 to 21 May),
· The return to work (starting on 4 June) and attempts at opposing it,
· And, above all, the elements of workers’ autonomy.

Also, this text is not the work of a historian; it cannot include accounts or analyses on everything which happened. We therefore don’t want to say that the struggles which are not mentioned are not important or have less importance, but that we have made choices.

Amongst various sources, we have used the following works:

· “La France de 68”, A. Delale et G. Ragache, Seuil, Paris, 1978,
· “Mai retrouvé”, J. Baynac, Robert Laffont, Paris, 1978,
· “The Imaginary Revolution. Parisian Students and Workers in 1968”, M. Seidman, Berghan Books, New York, 2004,
· “Worker-Student Action Committees, France May ‘68”, R. Gregoire & F. Perlman, Black & Red Books, Kalamazoo, 1969,
· And the text “Les grèves en Mai 68” on the site http://www.mondialisme.org/spip.php?article243

  • 1. Such as those about “workers’” violence which exaggerate the examples of Renault Flins and Peugeot Sochaux, or those about self-organisation which exalt the “central strike committees” etc. But today, forty years later, there remains nothing about workers’ strikes in recent publications.