Root & Branch pamphlets

Links to our archive of pamphlets published by US libertarian socialist group, Root & Branch.

Submitted by Steven. on December 5, 2021

No class today, no ruling class tomorrow. Lessons of the student strike - Root & Branch

This is an analysis of the 1970 US-wide, spontaneous student strike by council communist group Root and Branch, which makes suggestions for most effective ways to take the struggle forwards.

Submitted by OliverTwister on March 4, 2010

The student upheaval of May, 1970 marks a decisive change in the development of American social forces. It is essential to understand what happened, so that when the movement opens up again, tens of thousands of people will know how to push it still further.

The May movement was no mere protest against the invasion of Cambodia. The Cambodian action was the pre-text for action because it embodies everything that the students have learned to hate: the making of life-and-death decisions by a handful of men at the top; deceit; imperialism; racism; violence. The students' instinctive reaction was to seize the only locus of power available to them, their universities, and to fight -- with force if necessary -- against the police, National Guard, and other instruments of state violence which tried to break them.

In the midst of the strike, a U.S. Congressman said that there must be a conspiracy behind the student actions, for how else could hundreds of thousands of students conduct the same kinds of struggle around the same basic demands on hundreds of different campuses?

Of course, everyone who participated in the May movement knows there was no conspiracy behind it, not even a centralized leadership; rather, the strike was a spontaneous and elemental response to contemporary American life, as embodied in the war (the Cambodian invasion) and oppression (the Panther trials). Yet the nature of the student strike will be difficult to understand, not only for those in power who believe that when the masses act there must be a conspiracy behind them, but also by those on the left who believe that only a centralized organization can lead mass struggles.

Who were the real leaders of the May strike? They were the Yale students who struck and occupied their campuses for several weeks before the strike became national. They were the Kent State students who out-fought the police, and then out-fought the National Guard until the latter resorted to murder. They were the tens of thousands of students on hundreds of campuses who took the initiative and struck, in response to the invasion of Cambodia, the Panther trial, and the killings at Kent State. Their leadership created a movement a hundred times more significant than anything that could have been done by a vanguard party or by those who put themselves forward as leaders and spokesmen.

The student strike represents a type of struggle which has not been seen in the US for more than thirty years. The most important thing about it was that it was out of control; there were no leaders who controlled -- which is to say, the people who acted themselves controlled the strike. Of course, the school administrations, self-appointed spokesmen, and the like come eventually to re-establish control of the students, but for virtually a week the students collectively controlled their own activity and their own campuses.

Virtually all organizations that existed before May proved irrelevant to the strike at best, and often were actually retarding and disorganizing forces. At New Haven, some energy was fruitlessly put into pressuring the Trotskyist-controlled Student Mobilization Committee to stop refusing to call a student strike. (This tiny example shows how the assumption that masses must wait for organized vanguard groups to lead them serves to retard mass initiative.) Fortunately, the students at New Haven realized that they could act on their own, and proceded to create and spread the strike call. The SMC tried to recoup by calling a meeting in Washington to coordinate the strike nationally. The meeting collapsed from a combination of contentiousness and irrelevance to the struggle, though the organization has continued to attempt to exploit the strike for its own ends.

The National Student Association immediately put itself forward as spokesman for the student strike, and was accepted as such by much of the press. They played down what was most significant in the strike, and portrayed it as a sort of super-moratorium protest. Meanwhile, they tried to channel it back to relevance to the political system, with such harebrained programs as the demand that Congressmen be forced to stay in Washington until they did something about the war -- at the very point when the death of Congress as a political force was most apparent.

The New Mobe called for a march on Washington in response to the Cambodian invasion before the student strike was under way. The original intention was to march near the White House without permission, thus presumably forcing mass arrests. Nixon foxed the New Mobe by granting permission at the last minute, hiding troops away inside of buildings, and giving strict instructions to the police to avoid provoking the crowd until nightfall. The march was thus transformed into a super-picnic, and formed an important conduit for the reintegration of the strike movement into protest politics. Most Mobe leaders had sincerely hoped for a more militant challenge, but the legal and martial apparatus, combined with the expectation of the crowd that the word on militant action would come down from above prevented such action from occuring. It is clear that from here on in the New Mobe can only be a drag on the level of struggle.

The main issue here is not so much the specific limitations of the New Mobe, as the unsuitability for development of radical activity inherent in a mass movement in which the connection between the individuals making up the mass exists only through their shared relation to a central direction. The important contrast is not that between bad and good (liberal and radical) central leadership, but that between a movement organized and assigned actions and targets by a central group, and a movement which creates forms of organization necessary to collectively taking decisions and carrying them out. In the first case, the center is not even really a center (of an organic whole) but an apparatus external to the movement itself. In the second -- realized to some extent in the student strike -- the organizational principle is not the concentration of decision-making but the fostering of the development of initiative throughout the totality of the people involved.

The two main issue orientations within the left that preceeded the strike also proved to be disorganizing forces. One of them -- expounded by Trotskyists and liberals -- is that peace in Vietnam is the only issue around which a majority can potentially be mobilized, and therefore other issues should not be raised. This argument is used -- in the name of unity -- to try to split off the radical leftwing of the movement. On the other hand, there is an important segment of the left which has tried to make support of the Black Panther Party the primary issue for the left. Again in the name of unity (this time with the blacks), they aim to split off the right wing of the movement by demanding priority for the Panther issue. Although both groups fought out this issue everywhere, large numbers of the strikers supported all three demands from the beginning, and understood that they are closely related. As political consciousness spread, more and more people moved in this direction. The objective of radicals should have been to broaden the goals of the strike to reflect the interests of even wider groups (especially white workers), not to try to narrow them.

If the old organizations and forms proved irrelevant, what forms of organization emerged from the strike itself?

The strike call came out of an informally-called meeting at the New Haven rally, to which about 1,000 people came. They drew up the demands, then broke up into regional groupings to fan out and spread word of the strike around the country. The strike idea was approved by the cheers of the New Haven crowd.

Here already we see the most important principle of the strike: people taking responsibility for executing action that they realize is necessary. This taking of responsibility likewise marked the spread of the strike. Strike committees formed spontaneously on hundreds of campuses and simply began organizing the strike, in response to Cambodia, the New Haven strike call, and the action of students elsewhere. Their principle was not to wait for a majority before calling a strike, but through action to win a majority for the strike.

As the strike took shape, elected strike committees began to replace the original ones. This process was not completed generally, however, and in this lay a serious limitation of the strike. As often in such phenomena, the radical content of the action was far in advance of the students' understanding of what they were doing. This in turn limited the full realization of perspectives which had been opened up. For instance, students who had in effect gone beyond dependence on authorities to take direct control of their own workplaces spent their time urging people to pressure political authorities or canvassing for peace politicians. (In some leaflets distributed to workers in Cambridge, Mass. the contradiction was developed to a surrealistic height, with the coupling of a call for a general strike with appeals for telegrams to congressmen!) In the same way, students allowed the reproduction within the strike of the very forms of social organization of which the strike was a negation, in the emergence (in the shape of strike committees) of a special body of administrators. Nonetheless, at the same time, thousands of students began to take responsibility for the various tasks required by the strike -- provisioning, canvassing the community, picket lines, dorm committees, liaison, and the like.

Worth noting was the relationship to the strike of groups engaged in strictly illegal activities. They kept in touch with the strike steering committees, but did their work privately and on their own responsibility. This provides an experience and a model that will be useful if and when the movement is forced to develop illegal and underground forms of organization.

The students did not turn to the old organizational networks -- N.S.A., Y.S.A., P.L., etc. -- for coordination. Brandeis students created a strike communications center whose legitimacy was accepted everywhere -- except by certain sectarian groups -- because it took the non-sectarian principle of spreading the strike as its objective, and communicated all information pertaining to that goal. Any communications operation based on a narrower principle would have been ignored and considered illegitimate by the strikers. City-wide and regional coordinating committees developed spontaneously. The strike became better coordinated as information flowed so that exemplary action in one place was quickly learned of and applied elsewhere. It is this real coordination in action which counts, not formal organization.

Of course, the students by themselves could not maintain a sustained break with the legal and orderly processes of everyday life. As long as business-as-usual continued for the rest of society, the pressures to get credit for the year's schoolwork, to avoid arrests and jail sentences, not to mention injury and death at the hands of state power -- these pressures were bound to be irresistable for the majority of students.

It is at this point -- when the strike disintegrates -- that the leftwing sects and the liberals move in to compete for the remainder. The sects now appear again as vanguards, since the masses formerly ahead of them are disappearing. Discouragement with the limitations of the strike leads particularly to a return to liberal protest -- electoral campaigns and the rest. Liberal college administrations do everything possible to encourage this route.

Tactically, radicals should aim to make the holding of university turf -- even when this is unacceptable to public officials -- a part of the program for student protest during the period of ebbing radicalism. But we should keep in mind that only the exercise of real social power by students and workers can seriously shake the system, and this can only occur when the crisis reopens. That recurrence, however, is now inevitable.

The political and military stability of the Saigon regime will again become doubtful if more and more US troops are withdrawn. Pressures for a final solution in Vietnam mount -- making resumption of the bombing of North Vietnam, use of tactical nuclear weapons, and provocation of war with China ever more likely. The economy will continue to decline at home, turning more and more sectors of the population against Nixon, the war, and the status quo. And Nixon's political isolation -- already comparable to Lyndon Johnson's in 1968 -- will continue to grow. The Cambodian invasion has undermined public faith that Nixon is ending the war. The massive protest against it destroys Nixon's claim to be reestablishing national unity. Given his constantly narrowing base of social support, Nixon will be forced more and more into military and police solutions at home. When the crisis reopens, people everywhere must take responsibility and act.

Can the strike spread? The press seized with glee upon an incident in New York City, where about 400 construction workers broke through police lines at City Hall and attacked student militants. They were not so vocal about the two unidentified men in business suits who led the attackers, nor about the fact that the workers' hostility was directed as much toward Mayor Lindsey's regime as toward the students. The press attempted to make this attack appear the typical working-class response to the student strike, without indicating either that the construction trades have been a relatively privileged fraction of the working class, or that this position is now in great danger of being undermined, a situation which if anything has reinforced their traditional bigotedness.

In fact, reports from around the country indicate that the May events marked a sea-change in the attitudes of American workers, especially young workers. Student canvassers were well received at the factory gates in the Cambridge, Mass. area, despite traditional town-gown resentment, and the same seems to have been the case elsewhere. The toughness of the student action, far from arousing law-and-order sentiment among workers, seems to have made the students credible as something more than spoiled brats. In Washington, D.C., V-signs, clenched fists, smiles, and words of encouragement were given to strikers repeatedly by truck and taxi drivers, parking lot attendants, and the like. Many more white and blue-collar workers took part in local marches around the country than ever before.

Reports came from all over of workers who wanted to go out in support of the strike. A group of auto workers in Framingham, Mass. called for a sick-out against the war, and similar attempts were widespread. A number of wildcats were reported from Long Island, N.Y. and Providence, Mass. Before May, even the idea that workers would come out in support of a student action would have seemed ridiculous; what is surprising is not that they failed to do so this time, but that in so many places they even talked about doing so. A ferment has been started which will continue to deepen as long as the present crisis continues.

The strike has also created a much better basis for student support of workers -- if the students will use it. It is disturbing, for instance, that there has been little support evident for the wildcat teamster and postal strikes. Now, however, students should be able to understand the importance of supporting such actions. It would be of great value if informal student task forces were formed in each university or city to aid local striking workers, including both mobilizing student support and, when useful, engaging in direct action of various kinds. In addition, the contacts between students and workers that have emerged from the strike should be kept up through discussions, personal contacts, opening campus housing to young workers, etc.

There are several levels on which the student movement and developments among workers will tend to converge.

1. The immediate economic burden of the war on the working class grows heavier and heavier. Real wages have been declining since the escalation of the war in 1965. Now unemployment zooms while prices continue to soar. The fact that war spending now hurts rather than helps the economy undermines the working class's integration into the military system. In the past, workers like businessmen have happily supported rising war orders as an antidote to rising unemployment; now war production is clearly no solution. As the economy continues to decline, workers will find their immediate economic interests uniting them with the students in opposition to the war.
Unemployment will especially affect youth. Older workers with seniority will have considerable job security unless a real depression develops, while younger workers will be laid off and unable to find jobs. Unemployment may also radicalize the hippie communities, which are dependent for support on marginal jobs for which competition will increase as they become more scarce. Even students leaving college with advanced degrees are having a hard time getting jobs this Spring.
2. The labor movement as a whole is breaking out of its conservative integration into the American status quo and becoming more militant. Meanwhile the trade unions' protected position is under attack -- even a liberal business publication like Business Week is calling for repeal of the Wagner Act, with its protection of collective bargaining. 1970 may be shaping up as the greatest strike wave since 1946.
3. There are many signs that general fed-upness and rebelliousness is spreading beyond the campus, particularly to working class youth. The most striking indication of this is the series of high school revolts which have swept around the country over the past year, culminating in many high school strikes in May. Another is the widespread impatience of young workers with orderly collective bargaining reported by trade union leaders, and the rising wave of wildcats sparked by young workers. Actions like the May student strike help surface and crystallize this spirit; rebellion is infectious.
4. The student strike and the independent actions of the workers share the same rejection of bureaucratic leaders and express the same idea of keeping control of the struggle in the hands of the strikers themselves. Only this kind of struggle can overcome the cynical view that everybody is just out for himself, that political struggle is useless because it will just install new corrupt leaders in place of the old ones.
5. As long as the student movement remained on the level of protest politics, it could make no sense to the great majority of working-class Americans who understand without the help of any radical organizers that the real decisions are made by the big men, and that attempts to influence them by ordinary people are pointless. The student strike, on the other hand, represents an effort to us students' real social power -- just the way workers do when they strike. For that reason, it gives an example to workers of the form their action can take when they are ready to intervene in political affairs.

The movement will continue, at some level, through the Summer and into the reopening of the schools in the Fall. When it will open up again on the scale of May cannot be foretold. That it will, seems certain. The problem is not to have an organization prepared for action at that point -- the strikers will have to create their own organizations when they are ready to move, and they will be able to do so just as they did in May. What is needed is an understanding among all of those who will compose the movement of what is necessary, of what they want to happen. The following points are offered as a basis for discussion by all looking towards future action:

1. Bases of operations such as universities, schools, public buildings, TV and radio stations, factories, and offices must be occupied at the start of the movement and defended through mass action and control of hostage equipment.
2. The slogan should be, This time everybody is going to strike. Only a general strike has the power to stop the war and oppression machine. Student strikes should not be seen simply as an end in themselves, but as a way of creating a basis for others to act. We must argue that Everybody knows that the war and the madmen in Washington must be stopped. People cannot let the students stand up and get shot down unaided for taking up a responsibility everyone should share.
3. Control of the action should be kept in the hands of the strikers themselves. Issues of the strike should be debated and decided by all the strikers. Groups engaged in various activities should meet regularly for collective discussion of their work and its political basis. Mass meetings, so long used either as forums for competing sects or for exercises in an empty parliamentary democracy, should be used for reports to all the strikers of the work of the smaller groups (including traditional political groups as well as task-oriented action committees), political discussion of the strike, invitations to participate in specific actions, etc.
Strike coordinating committees for colleges, schools, factories, offices, etc. should be elected by the various groups of strikers, subject to instant recall by them, with new elections every few days as long as the strike continues, to keep them representative of current sentiment. City or regional coordinating councils should represent these elected strike committees for purposes of information exchange over a broader area. Only such a structure will prohibit the emergence of a strike bureaucracy. This is an evil not simply in itself, but because it destroys the collective taking of responsibility and control which is the heart and energy-source of the strike.
4. On the campus, and as far beyond as the strike spreads, the strikers and their organs should act consciously as legitimate authority in conflict with the authority-system of the politicians and administrators who will oppose them. The strike derives its legitimacy not from recognition by representatives of the old order, but from the participation of the strikers in the creation of a new order.
5. The goals and demands of the strike should be universalized. That is to say, different groups should be encouraged to join the strike in order to press their own demands. The seeds of this process could already been seen in May; for example, Women's Liberation in Washington, D.C. put out a call for working women to strike against the constant indignities of their daily work, as well as in support of the students' demands.

The three demands of the May strike reflected the now obvious interrelatedness between the issues of the war, campus war-work, and repression of dissenters. As the deepening crisis widens the basis of the movement, the extent to which all major issues affecting different sectors of the population are related, as facets of the same system, will become clearer. It is exactly this grasping of the total nature of the change that is necessary that will bring this change about. As the demands of the strike become wider, the impossibility of achieving them within the existing framework of society becomes more evident -- and the possibility of achieving them through the united action of broader and broader masses of people becomes apparent.


The mass strike in France May-June 1968 - ICO


Text on the mass strike in France in 1968 written by Informations et Correspondance Ouvrieres (ICO) and published in English as Root & Branch Pamphlet 3.

Submitted by libcom on July 22, 2005


The pamphlet which follows is an analysis of events which happened in France two years ago. What is the point of publishing today yet another work on this subject? The Mass Strike in France is unique among the mass of print devoted to its subject. It is neither a chronology of events, nor a record of the "leadership" role of one or another political sect, nor yet the discovery of some fashionable new dynamic of revolt in "neo-" or even "post-capitalism". Instead, it looks at the activities of the workers and students in May and June 1968 to discover in what way they were a response to the conditions of capitalist life today; what were their strengths and limitations and in what way they point to the possibilities of a new kind of society.

French capitalism is of course different from the American version. The old fashioned nature of the French university system is just one aspect of a general backwardness. Yet the May-June strike holds lessons for us as well as for our comrades in France. Capitalism today, despite national rivalries and unevenness of development, is more of a world system than ever before. This is true not only on the level of economic ties - the dollar-dominated money system, the world market, the multinational corporations - but in the necessity for each national economy to develop the most modern forms and structures of social and economic organization in order to compete with the advanced sectors of the global economy. It is for this reason that the central phenomena discernible in the French "events" are to be found operating in the US, as well as in all other capitalist nations.

The most celebrated of these is the student revolt, which can bespoken of as the politically most developed part of a general opposition of youth. Young people today are subjected to special stress, as their increased number comes up against an economy less able to provide satisfying jobs, in an economy whose basic irrationality and unpleasantness is more and more visible. Young people necessarily have had less time than their elders to habituate themselves to the kind of life capitalism imposes on them. They are therefore quicker to respond to possibilities of change that suggest themselves in a period of social flux or crisis. It is also easier for them to challenge the institutions which seek to control and contain their rebellion, like the trade unions or political sects.

The student movement must be understood within this context. The university is as central a part of modern capitalism as it is due to the fact that students have become for the most part workers-in-training. It is to a great extent against the ideological rather than the technical aspect of their training that students rebel. Their rebellion, however, does not stay on the plane of ideas. It acquires form (occupation of campuses) and content (disruption of the training process) by reference to the university's function as a point of production of labor-power.

One of the serious limitations of the American student movement has been its failure to deal with the source of its radical energies in the oppression of students. Instead, radicalism has meant devotion to redressing the wrongs of others. The result is that student radicals appear as outsiders in other people's struggles, rather than as members of a group whose own interests require joint activity with other groups.

In this regard the French students present a valuable example. The students who wrote the leaflet reprinted in the text consciously rebelled against their utilization by capital in the exploitation of labor, a role in which they themselves were to be exploited. As The Mass Strike shows, students and workers acted together not to meet the demands of a radical political program but because the development of students' and workers' struggles in the schools and in the shops led to a point where "all the productive workers found themselves up against the same problems, with identical perspectives of action." Indeed the active union of workers and students turns out to be a special case - one today of the greatest importance - of that necessity for any important working class movement: class solidarity. Thus the first real student worker conjuncture (soon followed by similar experiences in Italy) was echoed in a hitherto unexperienced degree of solidarity between French workers and the many foreigners working in France who are usually, like American blacks, both super-exploited and denied participation in trade union struggles.

Secondly, the French events only illustrate in a spectacular fashion what is visible as well in every workers' struggle: the reactionary role of the trade unions at the present time. Here the work which follows is correct to point out the uselessness of an analysis of this role in terms of "treason" and "misleadership". It is foolish to imagine that such organs, whose function is the negotiation of the terms at which wage-labor sells itself to capital, can serve as a means to the overthrow of the wages system.

It must not be forgotten, however, that the unions' confinement of workers' activities within the confines of bourgeois class relations depends on the fact that it is through these structures that the workers extract real benefits from the employers. Not only is the "integrative" nature of the trade unions not due to "misleadership". The unions must he analysed not as structures imposed on the working class from outside, but as a form of working class organization in a period in which the class is not yet ready to overthrow bourgeois society.

This puts the accent of analysis and practice alike where it ought to be: on the problems and progress of the self-organisation of the proletariat through organs of struggle deriving directly from the concrete antagonism of capital and labor at the workplace and in the community (strike committees, action committees, workers' councils, neighborhood councils). As long as the economic and social situation is reasonably stable, the workers allow control of their struggles to pass into into hands of permanent organizations with officials to handle the workers' affairs. When they are striking, on the other hand, particularly when their strike goes outside regular channels, there is no one else to do their thinking and their acting for them.

The spread of the wildcat strike as the form of militant struggle in the workplace throughout the capitalist world, indicating the obsolescence of the trade union, is the sign of a period in which capital is less able to make the concessions which sustained the labor unions in the past. The dream of the "militant" trade union is thus, hopefully, an empty one, not just because of the historically determined characteristics of this form of organisation, but because of its growing uselessness for the working class even from the point of view of purely ameliorative demands at the present time.

Similar considerations apply to the mass "left" parties, like the CP, whose behaviour in May 1968 should have surprised no one. The CP has no interest in seriously rocking a boat which gives its officials a place among the major domos of capital; a parliamentary and trade union-oriented organisation is hardly likely to support a movement struggling to break out of all bourgeois channels. But the problem is not one of "revisionism" and lack of revolutionary purity. The May-June strike allows us to funk, along with the "revolutionary trade union", the rubbish about the revolutionary Marxist-Leninist vanguard party. The real question is; why do such groups - unlike the mass parties, which are part of the state apparatus - play no significant roles at all in political events of this magnitude? Organisations - like the Marxist-Leninist sects - who see the whole point of social revolution in terms of their accession to positions of power, obviously fall out of the picture when large numbers of people discover their capacity to run their own affairs.

The error of the sects is made as well by those comrades who, while not Leninists, ascribe the "failure of the revolution" to lack of initiative on the part of the militants, or even their failure to occupy government ministries.[1] The general point is not to deny the importance of decisive and imaginative action by "militant minorities" in the triggering of mass action, but only to recognize that the limits and general character of a social movement are set by the spirit of the masses and not by that of revolutionary groups. From this it follows that such groups can contribute to the deepening and revolutionary definition of an upheaval not by attempting to take control of it but by taking as their main task the fostering of initiative and self-organization by the mass of people involved.

The meaning of events like the 1968 mass strike is to be looked for not in the continuing existence either of permanent leftist parties or of forms of organization based in and tied to a period of active struggle (like the comités d'action). Evidence of the importance of May-June in the development of the French workers' movement appears rather in the rise in the number of wildcats in the last two years, in an increasing militancy and imagination with which students and workers have been confronting the powers that be.

The question of the role of violence - in the sense of street fighting, terrorism, sabotage - in the process of radicalisation has recently come to the fore within the radical movement here as in France. Much has been made of the effect of the barricaded streetfighting against the police in setting off the French mass strike. As the comrades of ICO point out, power lies not in the streets but in the workplaces where workers have, if they wish to exercise it, the power to decide what is to be produced, how, and for whom. The strength of the students' battles with the cops lay not in their violence per se - necessary as that was - but in the exhibition of a determination to fight for control of their workplace, the Sorbonne. It was this character of the fighting which linked the solidarity of students and young workers at the Latin Quarter barricades to the united front of students and workers against the cops for control of the factory at Flins.

The heart of revolutionary violence, indeed, lies not in battling the protectors or symbols of the bourgeois order but in battling that order itself: in the refusal to submit to the definition of man as capitalist or worker through the seizure of control over the points of production - factory, office, school - which are the centers of social power. As long as capitalism exists, this seizure of social decision-making power can in general only consist in the exercise of direct control over the class struggle itself, in opposition to the claims of parties, trade unions, or press-appointed spokesmen.[2] With the social revolution that will grow out of this struggle the problem will be posed at a new level, that of the organization and direction of production by the producers. One of the virtues of this pamphlet is that it makes intelligible the dynamic link between the struggle as it exists and its imaginable extension into revolution. This link is what the authors discovered in the French workers and students as "the will to assume responsibilities", the felt need, imposed upon us by the capitalist system itself, to take control of our existence into our own hands. I believe that the present work is mistaken in placing the idea of social labor-time, as a measure of production and consumption, at the center of communist economic calculation. For one thing, individuals' needs are not directly related to their contribution to production - young children and old people are obvious examples - and indeed the concept of "average social labor-time" may be appropriate only to a society geared to value-production.

For another, the problem may well be obsolete; given the immense productive power of modern technology, the realization of the slogan "From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs" seems closer to a practical possibility than to a distant goal.

This is, however, a question which can be resolved theoretically only by a wide-ranging and serious discussion which must be carried on; and practically, only in the process of revolution itself.[3] The great virtue of The Mass Strike in France is to show how such a discussion is meaningful by locating through an analysis of the events of 1968 those characteristics of the class struggle at the present time that point to the emerging reality of its revolutionary goal.

L.K.R. July 1970

[1]See D. and G. Cohn-Bendit, Obsolete Communism, The Leftwing Alternative {McGraw Hill, 1970), and F. Perlman and R. Gregoire, Student Worker Action Committees (Black and Red, Detroit).

[2]See P. Mattick, "Workers Control" in P. Long, ed., The New Left (Porter Sargeant, Boston, 1969).

[3]The study of these questions on which the comrades of ICO base their thinking has recently been republished: Grundprinzipien kommunistischer Produktion und Verteilung (Institut fur Praxis und Theorie des Ratekommunismus, Rudiger Blauvertz Verlag, Berlin: 1970)


I Il S'est Passe Quelque Chose

What was the situation in Prance as 1968 began?
At this time, as for a very long time now, the class struggle consisted in more or less short lived and scattered actions. Now and then sudden outbreaks of resistance, tough but quickly broken by order of the union bigshots. made it possible to think that other forms of struggle could appear-then would collapse back again into apathy.

The chiefs and chieflings of the parties and the trade unions loudly deplored this apathy, without permitting anyone to inquire in public whether this apathy was not itself at once the basis of their position as bureaucrats and the consequence of their dirty work - legal, patriotic, electoral, and so forth. And then there were the little political groups, the groupuscules, preaching in the desert conceptions a half-century old and more Their isolation engendered the idea that modern capitalism was able to manipulate the workers, as producers and as consumers, as it pleased. And solemn sociologists went on and on about a working class stupefied with cheap cars and TVs, bourgeoisified, they said, as if they were talking about a sick man. indifferent to revolt and passive before the iniquity of his condition.

In the face of all that, it was necessary first of all to discover other words, other ideas.

If something had to change, it had to be first of all in men's minds. If something changed a little, it was above all among the young. They were blousons noirs, yes-yes, chevoux longs - hoods, rock'n'rollers, long hairs - one didn't really know what, nothing very precise but yet enough to plunge the bourgeois into fear and incomprehension. The young could no longer be completely controlled; they lived differently, had no longer the old feeling for property, work, and the family. People generally tried to reassure themselves with formulas like "Youth will have its fling!" But it didn't turn out like that.

For, in the end, the weakest link of French capitalism is the youth and the problems it raises for itself and for ruling classes incapable even of perceiving them, imprisoned as they are in a style of politics in which promises take the place of acts and immobility and respect for the moneyed powers that be are decked out with dynamic formulas. These classes are caught up almost relentlessly in rigid and sclerotic institutions like the University, a prey to insurmountable contradictions between the interests of the old teachers and administrators (not always a question of physiological age) preserved in obsolete conceptions and out of date relations of domination as well as in pontificating stupidity, and the interests of an industry which needs technicians at the lowest possible cost of production. Contradictions of this type, setting the old against the (at least relatively) new, are to be found in every level of the society of the Fifth Republic.

Even greedier, more limited, and more self-satisfied than the others, the French employers as a class - and their lieutenants in the parties and labor unions made in their own image - yield only to great popular movements, in the colonies as well as at home.

There is no need to dwell here on the sequence of events, on the repression effected by police and by ideology which made the action of the young people - students and workers together - a detonator setting off an immense and spontaneous movement, without an apparent goal but of a breadth not experienced in France since the Commune and, moreover, spreading this time over the whole country. "We did not suspect the importance of the unorganised...There was a climate of apathy in the unions. They had been built in the image of the power of the bosses in the enterprise." This declaration of a CFDT bureaucrat, after fifteen days of general strike, is most significant.[1]

Not a train or a subway on the rails, not a letter or a telegram carried, not a car or a ton of coal moving - and everywhere, from the smallest enterprise to the biggest, occupation, following that of the universities, of the factories, the offices, the schools, all the cells of economic and social life. One even saw (indicating the depth of the movement), soccer footballers occupying the seat of their Federation, managerial staff occupying the headquarters of an employers' federation and schoolteachers that of their union. Only the organs of political life were ignored, as on that day when 40,000 students passed by the National Assembly, where the deputies were in session, without according it even a hostile cry. The unions, the parties, all the frameworks within which the workers we organized were overflowed and emptied of all real power.

On the surface, the only force still at the disposal of the State was that of the police and the army. But, it must be said, at no moment was this force obliged to intervene with all its means. The police were brutal, but they did not shoot. As for the army, it served at the very most as a dissuasive force, an implicit threat. A ruling class which feels the situation getting out of its control doesn't use teargas grenades: in May-June 1968 there was not a truly revolutionary situation in France.

However, just as the strike arose spontaneously, in the wake of the student revolt, without precise demands, new forms of workplace organisation were considered nearly everywhere. Impassioned and utterly novel discussions took place; people asked themselves about forms of society in which it would no longer be necessary to put things off forever. Now it was possible to talk about everything with everyone; in thousands and thousands of production units, for the first time, people started to put their heads together, on the job, about their condition-about the problems of real life. All of this went on, not in opposition to but outside of the old organisations (like the State) and, for the same reason, the latter more or less sat out the game. Consciously or not, they acted as though they were fully aware that the strikers were not able, from one day to the next, to coordinate their action without going through the old network, and they waited for the movement to , putting their shoulders to the wheel and pushing in this direction with all their still considerable strength. And nevertheless the strikers, if they didn't succeed in setting up even the embryonic form of a new organisation of society, thought no longer of joining up again en masse with political organisations just like the old ones. Thus, when the "militants" - trotskyites, maoists, or other - tried to recruit a vanguard within the student movement, it turned out that the overwhelming majority of the unorganised intended to stay that way, without there being in that intent for a single minute a sign of apathy.

Whether It was a matter of the Grenelle agreements or of shop agreements, of "popular government" or of "revolutionary party", the largest number of the producers in struggle tell that this was not the right response, that something else was necessary, even if this something else was indistinct, in appearance and unformulated. Here is how this feeling was expressed in brief by a worker who spoke during a meeting of a strike committee in answer to the union leaders and the managerial staff of his place of work. The latter controlled the committee and were astonished to see that after fifteen days a gulf had opened between the workers on strike, who came each day to get the good word at the general assembly, and the strike committee, who took it upon itself to hand it out to them.

It was not the unions who started the strike. It was people who violently wanted something. The unions afterwards took the strike in hand and proposed the usual demands. They broke a working mechanism, and that explains the chasm which separates the strike committee from the employees on strike.

"Il s'est passe quelque chose" - something real happened, even if one could at no time speak of revolution. Everyone felt that this was not 1936, but something else again. What burst into the concrete universe of the worker, something which was formally at best only literature for groupuscule, or ritual formula, was the explicit will for responsibilities in production, for exercise of control of production, the birth in the struggle of a feeling of lived interdependence, of fraternity even, between the different categories of producers in word, the rough sketch of a response of workers and students to a sudden crisis of society.

Without doubt, there are few real and particularly significant examples - at least so far as we know - of factories started up again by the strikers themselves. But everything depends on this. It is true that in certain cases, for instance, at Nantes, the unions tried to take care of provisioning; elsewhere, students sought to get agricultural products to factories, to establish with the truckers a liaison between peasants and striking workers. In other cases, going by the letter of the CFDT's slogans, workers demanded management of the factories by themselves. Yet elsewhere, there was only discussion, the words - radical at first - becoming more and more timorous as the return to work progressed and the traditional power-relationships were reestablished.

The great mass of the workers entered into struggle under the impulsive desire to somehow change the system exploiting them. But at the same time, the ideas and concepts born of all the attempts to integrate them into the system remained: the great majority of workers did not believe that it was possible for them to run their workplaces and the society themselves. This is why the various attempts which got underway in this direction remained vague and isolated; and this is also why the traditional organisations could get the movement back into their hands. In what follows, we will try to take inventory and discuss these attempts, though they remained isolated and could not succeed in really taking shape and becoming general.

But it is useful also to go beyond this. As soon as a mass strike clears the way for the organisation of production by the producers, the problem of who has power at the level of the enterprise, of the state, of the whole world, is posed. Social power lies in the hands of the workers when they are in control of their own activity on the job; but the survival of organs of political power disposing of an apparatus of repression (police, union marshals, political parties, etc.) sooner or later provokes a conflict. It is not by chance that the directors of the economy and of politics, the CRS, the unions, do the same work, each in his own way. They have the same vocation of dominating and repressing the workers in a State in which they hold political power or which they make their servant. In the same way, on the international scale, no capitalist state (of either the Western or the Eastern branch) can tolerate the development - even in the universities - of workers' control of the enterprises and of society.

These problems are not new. The dictatorship of Capital, leninism, stalinism, and fascisms of all types, the Second World War - all these have succeeded in wiping out even the memory of everything which in the Russia of 1917, the Germany of 1918-1921, the Spain of 1936-37, the Hungary of 1956. could attest to the existence of a continuing movement for emancipation which looked to the organization of production and consumption by the producers themselves. Beyond the problem of power, this new society - which we now know to be wholly other than a comforting myth - will have to resolve economic problems, those of communist production and distribution. We have tried to sketch these problems in the light of this past, and publish as an appendix the "theses" of a council communist thinker on the struggle of the working class against the capitalist system.

II Capitalist Society
Modern capitalist society is characterised by a technical development without precedent. At least in the advanced countries, the means of production have attained a fantastic level. At the same time, the system has become quite complicated and appears almost incomprehensible to all observers. This complexity has brought with it a erection of barriers between men.

All this is not the effect of chance but results rather from the capitalist system's need to continually realise more profits. Pushed by the very dynamic of its development, this system could no longer remain that of laisser-faire which reigned in the 19lh century, with its corresponding organisation of society based on a large number of individual small capitalists fighting each other through the intermediary of the market. Its continued existence necessitated raising the productivity of labor, since it is from labor that its profits are drawn. Every worker, every employee knows perfectly well that his employer tries continually to raise the rate and the output of work, a tendency which, moreover, every worker continually fights. To raise productivity, capitalism has employed machines increasingly complex and increasingly numerous, and has made increasing use of scientific discoveries to improve the system of production.

Capital has concentrated and continues to concentrate. Small businesses disappear, and the formation of great monopolies has been realized in the course of the last decades.

The fundamental reason for this concentration lies in the fact that, to augment productivity, in a given sector it is necessary to utilise larger and larger masses of capital to set up the necessary technology. To obtain these masses of capital, it is necessary to set greater and greater masses of laborers to work to extract from them greater and greater masses of profit.

This development of the system makes necessary organs of coordination more structured than before. Every large enterprise has developed an enormous managerial corps in order to make it work. Of necessity, the State itself has been forced to interfere more massively in the economy. It has taken charge of entire sectors, indispensable to the working of the system, but of which the private capitalists, even at the level of highly concentrated trusts, are no longer able or willing to take charge - no longer willing, because these sectors are no longer directly profitable; no longer able, because running them requires too great masses of capital. The State, through the medium of taxes, can distribute these enormous investments (e.g., in France, electricity, transports) among the population as a whole.

In societies of the Western type a mixed capitalist economy has developed, in which a "private" and a "public" sector coexist, permanently reacting on each other in a state of often unstable equilibrium.

In societies of the Eastern type (USSR, China, Cuba, the Eastern European countries) the State has entirely taken charge of the economy, putting into effect a state capitalism in which a new exploiting class decides for everyone the orientation and the volume of production and extracts benefits from it in the form of high salaries and social advantages.

To maintain a high level of profit for part of capital, the capitalist system does not hesitate to destroy the rest of capital, that is to say, to engage in activities not productive of wealth. This is the role, for example, of advertising, scientific research (which to a great extent is pointless: for instance, space research), armaments production, etc. Here again, the whole population, through the intermediary of taxes or the market, bears the cost of the achievement of objectives not attainable by individual capitalists.

Concurrently with this transformation of capitalism's economic structure, a corresponding transformation of social classes has come about. Far from having ended up as sharply contrasting division between a handful of exploiters and a large mass of exploited, the complexity of the capitalist system has brought about a pyramidal social structure, in principle based on criteria of technical competence, which rises without discontinuity from the worker to the PDG (President Directeur General, or Chairman of the Board). The old bourgeois class has been transformed. Doubtless, in the West, there are some bourgeois who live exclusively on their private means, but the most general case is one of integration into the system of production and managerial control from which they profit by high salaries and all sorts of advantages.

This hierarchical structure presents the advantage of opening up possibilities for integration of all strata of society into the system. In principle, access to different levels of the social system depends on the education and abilities of the individual. Official propaganda doesn't fail to stress this point. It tries to create a real cult of the educated man, of the Nobel prize-winner for example, which ranks with the love affairs of princesses and the infidelities of pop-singers. "Culture" is extolled as the means of moving from the position of controlled to that of controller.

The population as a whole falls for this propaganda. It does not question the idea of a society hierarchized on the basis of knowledge and aptitudes, a hierarchy expressed in terms of wage differentials.

That the social pyramid rises on the criteria - true or false - of education and ability, and that there is a continuity linking the base with the summit doesn't at all change the exploitative character of modern Capital, the existence of a ruling class. There exists in fact such a class, which (individually or collectively) owns the means of production, which determines the orientation and the volume of production, which finally reaps the benefits of the exploitation of lower levels.

Since the end of the last war, western capitalism has known a new era of prosperity. Thanks to this, it has been able to furnish generally higher wages to the population as a whole. It could do this for two main reasons: first, as a result of the rapid growth of productivity; second, because a certain number of unskilled jobs, in which productivity could not be increased, have been left to certain strata like the blacks in the United Slates or the North Africans and foreign workers in Europe, systematically excluded from the process of enrichment.

This rise in the general standard of living is expressed by an increased consumption - cars, refrigerators, television, etc.- which has bound the various strata yet more closely to the status quo. This rise in the standard of living can be seen again in social benefits, like social security, paid vacations, etc., which are further means of integration into the system. Another consequence of this rise is the possibility for larger sections of society of having their children accepted into the educational system which had until then been closed to them. This is especially true of the middle classes which consist of the lower level managers, highly skilled workers, and petty tradesmen of all sorts. For them, sending their children to the University is a luxury which they can now afford, just like the purchase of a color television.

In doing this the middle classes are responding to two attractions. To begin with, they dream that their children may escape the mediocrity of their condition: either disappearing, like the small businessman, or else imprisoned in a cretinising system, without hope of a way out, as subordinate managers and employees, always submitting to the moods of an office head.

Further, these middle classes see possibilities for their children of entering a higher level in society, which as a result of the accelerated development of the system, has need of more and more cadres - decision-making personnel: managerial and technical staff - of every sort.

The influx of young people into the University is thus one of the by-products of the period of post war capitalist prosperity.

For several years, however, the system has shown signs of being out of breath. There is no longer as great a need of managerial staff as before. Even technicians no longer enjoy the same job security. There are often changes in methods of production and accumulated knowledge is no help in adapting to new techniques. Technological unemployment has appeared. It is a matter not only, (as it stilt was yesterday), of shutting down certain non-profitable enterprises and transferring the staff to employment elsewhere, leaving the workers to find new jobs themselves as best they can (thus creating a permanent unemployment which keeps wages down), but of effecting in numerous areas important transformations which require new knowledge, inaccessible to the old staff. The classical openings for students become constricted, on the one hand by the recession in capitalist development, and on the other by the existence of unemployed cadres competing on the market.

In this lies the profound economic reason for the student "malaise" apparent throughout the world. Students question a system which can no longer offer them their traditional opportunities. They discover on this occasion the existence of unemployment and the idiocy of the system of production.

Without a real economic crisis in capitalism, which at present halts its progress at most only temporarily, there exist premonitory symptoms of a social crisis which in favorable cases - that is to say, if it occurs together with possibilities of crises in the world of labor - can provoke an explosion.

In this respect, France in 1968 has furnished a good example. This strongly traditional, chauvinist country has experienced profound and rapid transformations during the last few decades. Formerly - since the revolution of 1789 France was the land of petty property in both the industrial and the agricultural domains. Following the Second World War, the reconstruction of French capital, which permitted it to renter the concert of nations, was effected in a way which led to an ever more accentuated concentration. The Marshall Plan and the resulting importation of American production techniques have turned the conservative capitalism of pre-war France upside down. This did not occur without conflicts and risks. Those bound to the old system have resisted and continue to resist. The struggle was carried on for a long time on the terrain of the colonial Empire, one of the pillars of the earlier regime but one about which the new capitalists cared little, or rather, to which they preferred another type of exploitation. Finally, monopoly capital, "modern" capital, had to prevail and, with this victory, to reduce to impotence the old system's supporters, of which the army is a striking example.

The concentration of capital here as everywhere is accompanied by a transformation of social classes, in particular by a great reduction of the peasantry. Concentration proceeds also in the agricultural domain, because mechanisation is profitable only for sufficiently large properties. The peasant population of France has fallen from 30% to 10% since the end of the war and the decrease continues. The peasants thus "liberated" have gone to enlarge the masses of workers, putting greater strain on the labor market, a tension being all the more serious as France has had to accept, since 1962, 1,500,000 Pieds-Noirs, colonists dispossessed by the Algerian revolution.

At the same time industrial development, while it permitted and required the creation of new types of manpower, had to take place within a society little ready to accommodate it, the French bourgeoisie being one of the most conservative and obtuse in the world. Until the last few years, the training of industrial managers was accomplished through the channel of the grandes ecoles, a sclerotic system, entered through a very difficult competitive exam; little professional skill was taught but one obtained the degree necessary to enter the higher social strata. On the other hand, the University remained a medieval island within the modern world, desiring only to reproduce itself. In contrast to the grandes ecoles, one enters the University upon obtaining the baccalaureat degree which marks the end of secondary school. This system worked smoothly as long as only the most fortunate sections of the bourgeoisie could pay for the studies of their children. With the rise in the standard of living and the demographic pressure of the post-war period, the University has been invaded by a whole younger generation. These young people prefer the mediocrity of student life, which offers a semblance of freedom and which permits them to put off for a while their entrance into the detestable world of production, even if they know that in all probability they will fail their exams and not get the really privileged jobs. With this influx, the University was condemned to death. There has been no lack of well-intentioned men to propose reforms for it. All of these tend towards adaptation to the outside world, that is to say, to the laws of the capitalist market. Their ultimate expression is to be found both in the recommendations of the Caen colloquium and in the Fouchet reform. In both these cases, it was a matter of organising a system of selection among the students to direct them towards a carefully graded hierarchy of channels permitting the formation of more or less specialised technicians.

This policy in the long run was bound to run up against two oppositions. On the one hand, that of the faculty, the majority of whom remained ferocious partisans of the mandarinate; on the other hand, that of the students, who did not wish to enter the selection system, it was almost inevitable that violent cleavages would appear inside the world of the University.

The liquidation of the old French capitalism and its evolution towards a concentrated capitalism necessitated a transformation of methods of government, The bonapartist regime installed by the gaullists fills This need. As in all countries, an almost total effacement of parliament is experienced. Parliament used to serve, in effect, us a place for discussion between different interest groups, as a process of compromise by which the policy of the ruling class was decided. It no longer has this raison d'etre in a more concentrated economy in which the State has a more essential role to play.

Authoritarian decisions have to be made to accelerate the process of concentration and the transformation of the country, especially when they express the necessity of adaptation to a vaster economy on the European scale. The qaullists have not wronged themselves in stressing the authoritarian and arbitrary character of their regime, all the more easily accomplished as the evolution of the system required that entire strata of the middle classes (little enterprises, little businesses, etc.} be transformed, causing the traditional left to lose much of its social power. However, if the gaullist regime answers well to a necessity of "modern" capitalism, it presents a character of rigidity, which it has inherited without doubt from its leader, but which results also from the conditions of the struggle against the Algerian revolution and the O.A.S. For ten years, the gaullist government has ignored those capitalist groups which could not adapt themselves to the evolution in progress, except to shut them up brutally. It has found itself in a delicate position for resolving the university problem because it would have been necessary to attack directly the old University and because it considered other questions more urgent. Its attitude has been to let the situation putrify, hoping that in five years a generation smaller in numbers would furnish an automatic solution to the problem.

However, problems are not solved by denying their existence, or by treating them with scorn. They become aggravated and lead to situations which can be overcome only with brutality. Faced with student movements like the 22 March, the government was caught defenseless. At first the government left it alone, sure of its rapid extinction. After that, it tried to render the Movement's "leaders" harmless, for from the bureaucratic viewpoint of the ruling class all action is necessarily directed by an apparat. The police action at the Sorbonne on May 4th had probably no other aim than the decapitation of the movement by getting the names of and arresting its leaders, unknown till then.

But the Movement was precisely not one of leaders, and the attempt made by the bourgeois press to transform Danny Cohn-Bendit into a leader and an idol failed completely. What characterized the Movement was precisely that a larger number than was believed felt themselves directly implicated both as individuals and as a group, that it first set itself to question the university structures and then, progressively, as a result of the streetfighting against the police, came to question bourgeois society as a whole.

This attitude set a double example, first because it showed that direct action can pay, that it can force opposing power to retreat (only for a moment, doubtless, in this case), but especially because it showed that in action consciousness of the problems posed grows rapidly.

This example was not lost on the masses of workers. They were profoundly struck by it. They saw something completely different from the routine of union struggles for almost automatic amelioration of the standard of living. Without doubt, the latter are not without interest in the Common Market country with the lowest wages except for Italy, but, confusedly, the masses put forward other types of demands which, timidly, called into question the very form of society. Here also the role of the young was particularly important. Not yet caught up in the system of modern life, feeling solidarity with other young people of neighboring social strata, not having known the war or the "victories of 1936", more than most workers threatened by unemployment, they felt themselves less inclined to obey blindly the union's commands, to which their elders have become accustomed, and often joined the students in their combats in the street and in their desires for selfdetermination and for responsibility.

Something new, which quite proves that the movement of May, 1968 went far beyond simple wage demands: the cadres participated and, in certain cases, even set it off, demanding non-hierarchised wages or calling into question the direction of the enterprise by insisting themselves that all social strata must have responsibility. Once can no doubt maintain that the participation of cadres in the movement was in fact only an attempt at its bureaucratic or technocratic recapture. But that is to see only one side of this activity. Every attempt at self-management, every selfdetermined movement which does not end in total overthrow of the bourgeois order of things is always recapturable by bureaucrats or technocrats. But attempts at self-management - and it is these which we are trying to distinguish, analyse, and criticise in this pamphlet - contain something else: the promise of a society in which, finally, the exploitation of man by man will come to an end.

III The Student Movement
One cannot overemphasize the role of crucible played, with respect to the general action, by the student demonstrations which the young workers came to join in ever increasing numbers; and with respect to thought, by that extraordinary marketplace of ideas, experiences, and contacts that was the Sorbonne, become the symbol itself of the movement, and after it the other faculties. This was so because all productive workers found themselves up against the same problems, with identical perspectives of action. Similarly, it was in the faculties that the idea of self-management, which flowed naturally from the occupation of the university centers, necessarily came into general circulation, though its significance there was not the same as in the factories or offices.

Starting from the Nanterre campus, the student movement very quickly won the other centers. It is evidently impossible to examine here everything that was done and said. We give only four examples: the Nanterre movement and its extensions on the ground of political organization, the Faculty of Sciences, the establishment of liaisons with the workers and with the peasants.

1 The Movement at Nanterre

In the first trimester a strike launched outside of traditional political or union organizations united 10,000 of the 12,000 students on the campus around problems of improving working conditions. The result: the establishment of commissions drawing members equally from each department, which very quickly showed their sterility.

This was followed in the second trimester by a series of sporadic incidents, expressing a diffused malaise: a demonstration of solidarity with a student threatened with expulsion ended in a scuffle with the cops called by the Dean; some courses were disrupted, and so on. Incidentally, the activity of Cite Universitaire (University housing) residents in February provided the University with an excuse for the abrogation of internally set rules.

At the end of March a new phase took shape:

- psychology students boycotted their ppreliminary exams;
- four students distributed a paper queestioning the teaching and uses of sociology ("Why sociologists?");
- On Friday, March 22, following the arrrest of six anti-imperialist militants, a protest meeting was organized which ended by voting for the occupation of the administration building that very evening. 150 students, gathered in the faculty-council room, debated numerous political problems until 2 A.M. A day
of unrestricted political debates on various themes was set for Friday, March 29.

The university authorities were upset by this turn of events (intensive preparation for the 29th: leaflets, speeches, inscriptions on the campus walls, and a poster campaign) and drew up the personnel to oppose the students with closure of the library and a strike of classroom attendants. On Thursday the 28th, Dean Grappin ordered the suspension of classes and lab sessions until the following Monday. A meeting of 300 students decided to continue the previous day's action but as a day of preparation for the political discussions, which were postponed until April 2.

On Friday The 29th, while a large force of police surrounded the campus, 500 students participated in an opening meeting held in a commonroom of the Cite, and constituted themselves as a commission to discuss the themes set for debate.

Monday, April 1, a majority of second year sociology students decided to boycott their exams. They then voted to endorse a text denouncing sociology as ideology. Meanwhile, among the professors, dissensions appeared between the liberal departments (human sciences and letters), favorable to granting premises for the next day's meeting, and the reactionaries (history), who demanded the arrest of the "ringleaders."

Tuesday, April 2, was a success: the administration did not succeed in preventing the occupation of a lecture hall by 1,500 people for a preliminary meeting, nor were the corporatists (adherents of a "pure", "nonpolitical" university) and fascists able to stop commissions from meeting in another building. The final plenary assembly, attended by 800 students and some lecturers, decided to continue the movement.

The Nature of the Movement

The Nanterre movement was clearly political. Unlike the November strike, which was "corporatist" in spirit, it stressed non-union issues such as "Down with police repression", "Critical university", 'The right of political expression and action on campus." At the same time it revealed its minority character and its consciousness of this fact: several orators denounced the illusion of the slogan, "Defence of the common interests of all students." At Nanterre it is clear that many students accepted higher education as an initiation into the management of bourgeois business. One thus saw the disengagement of a core of 300 "extremists" capable of mobilizing 1,000 of the Faculty's 12,000 students.

The actions carried out accelerated the emergence of consciousness in some people: it was a matter not so much of "provocations" as of obliging latent authoritarianism to manifest itself (such as the truckloads of CRS ready to interfere) by showing the true face of the proposed "dialogues" between students and administration. As soon as certain problems appeared, dialogue gave place to clubbing. The result was political consciousness, but also active participation on the part of all those who had until then been paralyzed by the inefficacy of the groupuscules and the routine of traditional demands by means of petitions and silent marches. Finally, students and professors had to drop their traditional political labels when the apparatus of repression got going. With interest we saw the UEC call for the proper functioning of a bourgeois university or certain "leftist" or even "Marxist" professors terrified to see their status questioned.

We must insist on the novelty of the movement set in motion, novelty at least in the French context. First of all, work had been done in common transcending the oppositions between groupuscules: it's a matter not of decreeing the inanity of these groups because we feel like it, but of a process in the course of which divergences rose out of theoretic and practical confrontation with reality rather than out of verbal quarrels between sects. Terminological peculiarities were questioned as rigid and unchanged perceptions of reality which groupuscules use to distinguish themselves from each other and not as instruments of scientific analysis. On the other hand, we resolved not to fall under the control of particular political groups or of the administration and the liberal teachers, adepts of "dialogue" and of confrontation in closed rooms.

New problems arose, in particular those of more direct and effective rejection of the class university, of a denunciation of the concept of neutral and objective knowledge as well as of its specialization, of an inquiry on the place which we are destined to occupy in the current division of labor, of joining the workers in struggle, etc.

Simultaneously, original forms of action were developed: meetings improvised on campus, occupation of classrooms to hold our debates, interruptions of lectures, boycotts of exams, posting of bulletins and posters in the halls, taking possession of the microphone monopolized by the administration, etc.

The Problems of the University
It appeared to the March 22 Movement (M22M) that the problems of the university had to be settled rapidly in order that the students might devote themselves to studying the basic problems.

With respect to exams, the Movement wished to see to it, on the one hand, that the student revolt and the many problems which it raised would not be stifled by the mass of good boys and girls looking out for their immediate personal interests: to pass their exams (which excluded simply postponing them); on the other hand, that the most disadvantaged students would not suffer from the decisions taken (which excluded a pure and simple boycott). This is why we proposed a transitional solution, pending the elaboration of a new mode of control of knowledge, which must lead to a practice of teaching renovated in its content as much as in its methods. This examination of a particular type would be given three weeks after the acceptance of the movement's conditions, the granting of amnesty for all the demonstrators and the obtaining of information on those students who had "disappeared".[2]

All those wounded in demonstrations, wage-earning students, scholarship students, and those on term leave were to be automatically passed.

All the students whose university records for 1967-1968 were satisfactory were to be passed. The others were to go before a commission representing both students and faculty which would judge them on a subject freely chosen by themselves. The exam would be written or oral, given individually or to a group.

Profiting from the current situation and from our position of power we will use whatever structure is set up to impose: o the opening of the dormitories and university restaurants to young apprentices, unemployed, and workers. o the opening of the campus to workers of Hauts-de-Seine, the area northwest of Paris within which lies Nanterre.

Regarding the autonomy of the Faculties and the universities, the M22M is conscious that an island of socialism cannot exist in a society which continues the capitalist profit system. When the State controls the funds and the bosses corral the students as they leave the campus, simple university autonomy is a Utopian notion and a reformist illusion. The M22M, opposed anyway to the university authorities' attempts to coopt the student movement, would therefore come out against this idea, if we did not see in it a means of achieving our ultimate objectives. In fact, if the realization of autonomy was accompanied by the institution of student power in the university, with right of veto over every decision taken and if the students utilized this power not to do the work of management that we don't accept but to continue to act in confrontation, then autonomy would appear desirable to us.

All these rearrangements of the established order within the university structure are not justified in the eyes of M22M unless they are elements of a revolutionary process seeking to transform capitalist society into a classless society. This transformation of society cannot be realized by the students alone, who find natural allies in the workers: we refuse to be the watchdogs, they, to be the servants of the bourgeoisie. Alliance with the working class has always been one of our objectives.

Joining with the Working Class
We occupy the Faculties, you occupy the factories. Are we fighting for the same thing?

Workers' sons make up only 10% of the students in higher education. Are we fighting for there to be more, for a democratic reform of the university? That would be an improvement, but it isn't what is most important. These workers' sons will become students like the others. That a worker's son can become a Director is not our program. We want to suppress the separation between workers and directors.

There are students who on leaving the university cannot find work. Are we fighting for there to be work for them to find? For a just employment policy for graduates? That would be an improvement but it isn't the essential point. These graduates in psychology or sociology will become career planners, personnel directors, psycho-technicians who will try to arrange your working conditions; graduates in mathematics will become the engineers who put into operation machines more productive and more unsupportable for you. Why do we, students deriving from the bourgeoisie, criticize capitalist society? For a worker's son to become a student is to leave his class. For a bourgeois' son it can be the occasion of his getting to know the true nature of his class, of questioning himself on the social function for which he is destined, on the organization of society, on the place you occupy in it.

We refuse to be scholars cut off from social reality.

We refuse to be used for the profit of the ruling class.

We wish to abolish the distinction between the labor of production and the labor of thinking and organization. We wish to construct a classless society; we struggle in the same direction.

You demand a minimum wage of 1,000 F. in the Parisian region, retirement at sixty, a 40 hour week with 48 hours pay. These are honorable and venerable demands. They appear, however, to be unrelated to our objectives, but in fact you occupy the factories, you take the bosses as hostages, you are striking without warning. These forms of struggle have been made possible by long actions carried out with perseverance in the enterprises and also thanks to the recent fight of the students.

These struggles are more radical than our legitimate demands, because they not only seek an improvement of the workers' condition in the capitalist system, but imply the destruction of that system. They are political in the true sense of the word; you fight not for a new prime minister but for an end to the boss's power in the shop and in society. The form of your struggle offers to us, students, the model of a truly socialist activity; the appropriation of the means of production and of decision-making power by the workers.

Your struggle and ours converge. We must destroy everything which isolates us from each other (habits, newspapers, etc.). There must be a joining together of the occupied shops and Faculties.

The Organization of the March 22 Movement
The Movement is composed of base groups of ten people:

- who discuss all the political problemms with which we are confronted.
- who delegate someone to report their discussions to each of the special commissions dealing with various political problems: autonomy, exams and action on campus, action towards the working class, anti-imperialist struggle, self-defense, etc.
- who delegate one person to report theeir discussions, participate in emergency meetings of the coordinating committee which will also contain a delegate from each special commission.
- who take charge of the distribution oof leaflets, discussions, and, in general, of dealings with several factories and with a specific geographic sector.
- who take charge of their own securityy in propaganda work and their self-defence in general.
who take charge of their transportation: each group is supposed to have at least one car available to them.
It is not necessary that a group's delegates to the different commissions be fixed from the time the group delegates someone to a given meeting.

On the other hand, to the extent that we are joined by new militants, new groups will be formed so that each group has no more than 12 members.

The special commissions serve to make syntheses of the group discussions on various themes. One is created each time a new political problem appears, they coordinate the actions and the activity of the neighborhood committees and each delegate someone to the coordinating committee. They take charge of the concrete application of political decisions and make sure to be close to the technical applications committee.

The Coordinating Committee includes the delegates from base groups and committee delegates, It is the structure responsible for decisions and the organization of movement activity in normal times. However, in case of conflict between delegates from a base group and a commission on some problem, a general assembly will be called to settle it.

A certain number of executive commissions depend directly on the coordinating committee:

- collection of money from personalitiees and synthesis of various purchases,
- relations with the outside: sending mmilitants to explain our activity wherever we are asked - answering journalists' interviews, etc.
- coordination with the rest of the movvement (other then M22M) that is to say, CAL, May 3rd Action Committee, student-worker committees at Censier, Halte-aux-Vins. UNEF, and SNESup, the union central bureaus, and eventually other structures.
- editorial committees; coordination off work on pamphlets and stuff people want to write about (like Action, etc.) - press review
- propaganda, printing tracts, posters,, etc.
- health: medicine, advice, etc.
- legal counsel in case of arrest, legaal defence, etc.
- foreigners, because of special legal problems; and everything else subsequently thought useful.
A newsletter for information and discussion is written by the militants. All write in it under any form at all: three lines of information, ten lines of political poetry, theoretical sketch, analysis, etc. In it the commissions circulate their reports, and the communiques of the movement are published. When a piece of work is carried out somewhere, when information arrives from the provinces, a text is written.

Principles of Action

A certain number of principles inspire our actions:

- the recognition of the plurality and diversity of tendencies in the revolutionary movement.
- the revocability of representatives aand the effective power of the collectives.
- the permanent circulation of ideas annd the struggle against the monopolizing of information and understanding.
- the struggle against hierarchization..
- the abolition in practice of the diviision of labor (to fight the barriers between manual and intellectual work).
- the rejection of the mystifications the motions for censure, referendum, electoral coalitions, round tables delegated power.
- refusal of dialogue with the bosses.<
- destruction of the myth of the State as arbiter, in the service of the general interest.
- the direction by the workers themselvves of their shops, a form of action which can for the moment only be spontaneous but which we must advocate as one of the revolutionary possibilities.

Activities - Four axes:

- information
- provisioning
- self defense
organization of demonstrations

Information has a double aim:

-to fight against the poison campaign oof the bosses and the government which gives false information on the work places.
-to institute direct links between the different strike committees and between the inhabitants of a neighborhood. Neighborhood meetings, attended by workers in various enterprises have, in fact, taken place.

For that, daily bulletins are put out using information given by the strikers (on the Parisian level and for certain neighborhoods). These bulletins are put together in liaison with the different action committees.

On The other hand, leaflets produced by the strikers are mimeographed and distributed. In the neighborhoods, meetings for political agitation and information are held in the street.

Provisioning: Collections of money and food are organized every day. Contacts are established between striking workers and peasants. Workers make their trucks available for looking for supplies in the provinces. Stocks of food are centralized in the workplaces which offer their space. It is in this way possible to distribute tons of food.

Self-defence: groups of militants are at the disposition of the workers for reinforcement of strike pickets, and resistance to the attacks of UNR commandos, fascists, the cops.

Demonstrations: Demonstrations of support - physical and political - for the workers are organized in the neighborhoods of Paris, in the suburbs, at Flins. After May 10, numerous demonstrations were proposed to the UNEF and the SNESup, notably that of Friday the 10th, first night of the barricades.

2 Faculty of Sciences, University of Paris at Halle-aux-Vins
Unlike Nanterre, the Faculty of Sciences had not experienced important protest movements before the disorders in the Latin Quarter. But, there was here as everywhere a latent uneasiness among the students (35,000 enrolled) about Dean Zamansky's projects of setting up a selective system and the Fouchet reform whose realization must involve an increase in the students' problems. The Students' reactions were at that time limited to purely reformist demands: accelerated construction of the new campus at Villetaneuse and creation of new teaching jobs. These demands were taken up by the lecturers who saw there a means of penetrating the professorial ranks. In return, no criticism was directed against the teaching methods, except in respect to the desire of the university authority to raise the productivity of studies and to increase the selection procedure.

However, from May 3 on, courses were stopped in certain advanced sections, under the direction of professors with "advanced ideas" like Monod. These stoppages were only a visceral reaction to the police brutalities, but the situation rapidly evolved towards calling into question the situation of the students within the University. For the first time, direct discussions between teachers and students took place in each department, often in the crowded lecture halls (500 to 600 people). Of course, the discussions bore at first on the examinations which were to begin May 15, but they opened up quickly enough to general political questions.

In other sections, where the professors are particularly reactionary, courses continued to meet. The students already mobilized, organized themselves spontaneously to go to these courses, to interrupt them, and to describe the discussions which were going on elsewhere. Whereas during the year it was impossible to get a whole lecture hall to participate in whatever discussions there were, whereas before people would whistle whenever someone talked about politics, about capitalism, now the majority of the students listened and took part, even if it was to express their opposition to the movement. In everyone appeared the desire to take an active part in running things but, on the whole, these sentiments were hardly expressed outside the halls and the department.

On the other hand, a student strike committee of about ten people wished to pose more general problems. This committee set itself up on May 10. It charged itself with organizing life in the occupied buildings, with having everything under its control, with preventing courses still being given from meeting. This committee was formed spontaneously, of its own freewill; in no way elected by students, it also didn't derive in any direct way from the UNEF (not very strong here, and controlled by the stalinist UEC), which had been left behind by the movement, together with all the political groups who stood apart or obstructed (with the exception of the trotskyite FER). The mass of students thus found themselves faced with the fait accompli of a strike committee which existed, functioned, made decisions, created organizations.

After the night of the barricades, a faculty strike committee was formed, uniting members of the SNESup and. almost exclusively, junior faculty (lecturers). (It contained only four professors and junior professors.) It also was not elected.

The two strike committees at first met separately but soon merged. From the beginning, the two committees pushed for the creation of rank-and-file committees in the students' lecture halls, and for laboratory councils in the research units attached to the Faculty. While the laboratory councils constituted themselves very rapidly, the strike committee was opposed to immediate elections of student rank-and-file committees because the Dean had organized the students who had been absent from the Faculty and had not participated in the movement. Ten days later, after many political discussions, the rank-and-file committees were set up. To the great annoyance of the Dean and the professors who wanted to play the mass of the strikers against the committee, the rank-and-file committees supported the action of the strike committee, though it was first strongly criticized for not having been an elected body.

More than the students in the strike committee, the teachers tried to set up representative structures to replace the old government of the Faculty, (the Faculty assembly which consisted only of professors and lecturers and the Dean it elects), a desire shared by the laboratory researchers and technicians. A provisional representative commission, consisting of 18 students, 9 professors, 9 lecturers or master-lecturers, and delegates from the technicians, research scientists, and administrators, was created, which settled the question of examinations by postponing them to October, and which was to prepare for the establishment of a representative central committee to replace the old university power structure.

Thus there was within the Faculty a tangle of parallel authorities: (1) the laboratory councils, revocable by the lab personnel, and leading a life separate from the rest of the Faculty; (2) the rank-and-file committees of the students, revocable at any time by the lecture halls and meeting in general assembly to make their decisions; (3) the General Assembly of the instructors, containing master-lecturers and lecturers as well as those professors who wished to participate; (4) the strike committee; (5) the provisional representative commission composed of student delegates chosen by the strike committee and revocable at any time by the committee and by the general assembly of the rank-and-file committees, and of teacher delegates, revocable at any time by the teachers' general assembly, (the Dean himself picked the professors sitting on this committee); (6) finally, the old Faculty government. All these centers of power coexisted more or less well during the ascending period of the movement, in the course of which the ranks of professors and the Dean were in no position to oppose the decisions of the strike committee. The decision to put off the exams until October led a large number of students to leave for their vacation - and after de Gaulle's speech on May 30, the professors hardened and refused to sit on the representative commission.

This decision contributed to reinforcing the unity between students, researchers, and master-lecturers, who then organized elections to the representative central committee. This move put the professors and the Dean in an awkward position, and serious cracks appeared within the professors' ranks; the reformists, sensing that the hour had come to attempt to coopt the movement, asked the Dean to have the elections of the professors' delegates proceed. The entry of the police into the Faculty was perhaps not unrelated to this situation.

The strike committee for its part came out for the creation of a Summer University, as the other Faculties were planning; the more radical of its members wanted in effect to establish contact with the workers and to open the Faculty up to the outside. A central bureau for the Summer University was elected by the assembly of the student rank-and-file committees. This office centralized the different initiatives which were making themselves seen: (a) in the various departments, experiments in new teaching methods were made with the cooperation of the most dynamic part of the professoral corps; (b) political activities; seminars enlivened by a certain number of mandarins (from the Faculties of Letters and of Law) and also, and above all, working groups in which students and workers rubbed shoulders and in which very fruitful discussions took place; (c) artistic activities (cinema, sale of books, etc.), which had the advantage of attracting many people.

The experiment of the Summer University, difficult to realize and assuredly with many faults, was without doubt one of the most attractive projects of the Faculty of Sciences, and the strike committee devoted a large part of its efforts to maintaining the occupation of the classrooms so that it could go on.[5] It goes without saying that the gaullist government could not allow it to develop, and the first cops who invaded the campus, in the early morning of July 5, admitted that they came to stop it.

3 Flins: Student-Worker Solidarity
One of the slogans the students stressed in their demonstrations was: "Power is in the street" This phenomenon is not without a touch of the 19th century (not by far the only one one might have observed), in reality the power of the future is to be found in that place where the producers are concentrated, where they work. But the street remains no less an unavoidable preliminary to the emergence of consciousness and, besides, an inevitable experience. It was at Flins that workers of the Sorbonne shop and workers of the Renault shop united in practical action, and it was there also (unlike at Billancourt or Cleon, for example) that in fact more than half of the personnel was to come out, despite all the pressures, against the return to work.

At Flins, the workforce is composed largely of young people, not yet very well habituated to the ways of the unions; the strike was spontaneous (breaking out here before at Billancourt) and the rank-and-file had rather tight control over the strike committee; likewise, participation in the picket line was higher

than elsewhere. On the night between Thursday and Friday, June 7,[6] half-tracks broke through the factory gates, allowing the CRS (there were about 4.000 of them in this sector) to enter, which forced the strike pickets to evacuate the plant. In the morning, under police protection, scabs came to take the strikers' places at work (or at least were supposed to do this) so that the management could announce an "effective resumption of work." However, despite an enormous deployment of police, young workers and those students who succeeded in escaping the roadblocks set up by the police met together before the factory gates and explained to the workers, deceived with false information (which the CGT made no attempt to refute), that no decision to resume work had been made. Thenceforth the workers refrained from reentering the factory. During this time, the CGT and the CFDT organized a meeting 4 miles away from the plant, which was attended by at most fifty or so union officials. These then returned to the factory gates where 2,000 to 3,000 demonstrators were assembled. The union delegates issued their slogans: "No provocations! Disperse! Do not reenter the factory!" But the workers insisted that the students speak. A union bigshot seized the mike again: "Disperse!" But the pressure of the ranks forced the mike to be given to Geismar (leader of the SNESup). He reported that at Paris the students had met the CRS head on and that students and workers united could reoccupy the factory. At this moment the police attacked. The students showed the workers how to fight - it didn't take too long! And the free-for-all went on for several days, through the fields, over a pretty wide area.

An attempt of several thousand demonstrators, assembled before the Saint-Lazare station, to go to Flins by train ran up against the obstruction of the of the CGT and the lack of solidarity on the part of the railwaymen. At Billancourt, about 30,000 workers of Renault did not for an instant try to break the union vise and make contact with Flins. Under these conditions, the struggle at Flins, after hard skirmishes, was bound to meet defeat. It remained the only one of its type, at least in the seriousness which it took on at certain moments, a seriousness however quite modest in the context of the apparently gigantic dimensions of ,the strike, even taking into account the fact that the most active elements were held up in the shops by urgent tasks. And yet, with all the limitations one can think of. a struggle of this type, such a witness to lived solidarity, remains a rare fact in the whole history of the workers' movement. On the spot, it developed the fighting spirit of the workers, sowing a seed which must some day bare fruit.[7]

4 Other Forms of Solidarity
Another aspect of worker-student solidarity, less spectacular than the preceding but perhaps even more important, was the creation of Action Committees (CA), based either on the neighborhood or on the workplace, with the active cooperation of students most of whom belonged to no organized group. These committees directed at the workers a simply enormous quantity of leaflets. By their actions of various sorts they contributed to laying the foundations of a new form of consciousness. With the reflux of the movement, these committees receded, but nothing is more natural since they are the expression of the movement, in its highest and its lowest levels. An outstanding fact nonetheless, the CA's as a whole took on the task of "transcending union and political structures" through the creation of a "multitude of political cells" which must someday unite but "without organizational pushing", as a function of the real struggle and not of abstract demands.[8]

The CLEOP (Comites de liaison etudiants-ouvriers-paysans) performed an activity no less important: they assured the provisioning of the strikers, especially in the small enterprises, which, not being supported by workplace organizations (like canteens), had need of aid. Some arose in the agricultural schools, others had a less definite origin. They established relations between themselves and cooperatives or certain unions of agricultural workers (CNJA, FNJA). They went particularly to Brittany (because of its proximity), where they were most welcome (for reasons stemming from the surplus of produce due to the lack of transports and from the open hostility to the existing circuits of transportation; in effect, transactions were made directly).

Likewise, students and peasants carried on discussions, which made up for the purposeful deficiencies of the official system of information. In this area, the CLEOP effectively fulfilled a task analogous to that of the Action Committees. The important thing was that meeting places appeared, in the Faculties, that a network of information and clarification of ideas was set up, with the CA's, that the solidarity between the various categories of producers in struggle did not always remain at the level of declarations of intention but took a tangible form, in the battles with the police in the streets or at Flins, and in the matter of provisioning.

IV The Workers' Movement
For reasons of space, we will be able to examine only a limited number of events, choosing then from among those which are in our opinion most significant. In any case, it would be pointless to retell here the history of the general strike. Among the mass of works dedicated to it, the reader will be able to find documents and a useful chronology.[9]

In the beginning, then, the student movement. It brought to tight the virtues of direct and spontaneous mass action. The students came down into the streets; they dared, and in so doing brought many people together to hold their own, united, against the power that faced them. Faced with that other unity which is that of the bourgeois class and its police, in coalition with the parties and the unions, they showed their strength. More than this, they proved that it was possible to occupy the workplaces; and while people might have known that, no one yet risked doing it.

However, the day after the night of the barricades (May 10 to 11) there was no spontaneous reaction on the part of the workers; everything appeared destined to be canalized by the national day of strike, controlled by the unions. But on Tuesday the 14th, late in the evening, it was learned that the Sud-Aviation factory at Nantes was occupied, that the workers had welded shut the factory gates and imprisoned the directors in an office. Then, from May 14 to 17, other strikes broke out, all with occupation of the premises: at the Messageries de Presse, the newspaper-distribution monopoly, at Paris; at the Renault plant at Cleon; and the movement, always spontaneous, spread everywhere. Friday, May 17, the SNCF (Societe Nationale de Chemins de Fer Français, the nationalized railroad company) began to shut down, and in several hours everything stopped in the pretty train stations of France. The union leaderships profited by the weekend of May 18-19 to "recapture" the movement: without issuing the call for a general strike, interunion strike committees were set up almost everywhere, charged with directing the strike as soon as it broke out.

Among the rank-and-file, there is in fact no precise demand. Everyone, obviously, is for a wage increase, a shorter work week, and so on. But the strikers, or at least the majority of them, are not unaware that these are precarious advantages. The best proof of this is that they have never resolved on an action like this one (though this was also, it is true, because they did not know that they would be so numerous). The real reason, a very simple one, is given clearly by the signs hung from the doors of the little factories of the Parisian suburbs: "We have had enough!" Enough of low wages, yes, but above all enough, enough of this colorless life in which the annoyances themselves are so shabby that one doesn't even dream of complaining about them, and less yet of fighting them. As for the young, they have had enough, enough in advance of this life which is going to make of you, as of everyone, a poor bastard, the spitting image of your father, of his father before him, and so on, in a somewhat more comfortable frame.

And this wild feeling, which no one teaches you at school, is so strong, so deeply rooted, that it is going to resist for days and days, holding out against the masters of the State, the threats of the bosses, the coaxings of the union bigshots. These last don't at all, in general, hide their objectives, and it is exactly these objectives which the working masses would scorn for two, three weeks and in some cases much more.

As early as Friday, May 17, the CGT distributed everywhere a leaflet which stated precisely the limits it wished to put on its action. To accuse it afterwards of treason makes hardly any sense; it put its cards on the table at the start: on the one hand, traditional demands coupled with the conclusion of agreements like the Matignon accords*, guaranteeing the existence of union locals in the shops; on the other hand, a change of government, that is to say, elections. This leaflet contained not one proposal outside this framework, and, significantly, it didn't in six pages once mention the word strike (let it be said once more: the CGT, no more than the FO or the CFDT, will declare neither a general strike nor a strike in some particular branch of activity). From then on, the policy of the CGT (and, with variation, of the other unions) was clear and simple: the Grenelle agreements {made by the unions and Pompidou on May 15, but rejected by the workers) give satisfaction to the need for reforms; the strikers must therefore go back to work.

It was the policy of loyal opposition, which has been for a long time the politics of the unions in France as throughout the western branch of capitalism, and it was this that the workers were going to reject with a determination never seen in history, but nevertheless without going on to the very end: the definite leap beyond legality, the starting up again of the great majority of production units (occupied to extremely varying degrees, in general rather low). Also, since the strikers, at that stage, had not succeeded in solidly taking the offensive, the State and the bosses, uniting in a perfectly natural way with the country's various political and union forces, would themselves take the offensive, and finish by carrying the day.

It remains no less evident that a phenomenon of an extraordinary breadth occurred an immense movement, a level of consciousness which was uneven but often high, and sometimes exemplary, and everywhere the discussion that went on, everywhere. Only on the basis of some abstract schema could one imagine that consciousness can develop without a confusion of ideas, mixed-up in the beginning, without groping, without visible incapacities and returns to old ways of looking at things. But what was happening, was the consciousness that one was doing something, and, for the moment, the projects (rarely thought up by the rank-and-file itself) into which all that was translated mattered little. Such a phenomenon, in some way one of men's minds, is hard to encompass by an analysis. However, it is useful to report certain practical experiences in order to try to distinguish in them features pregnant with the future, the far-reaching tendencies.

1 Assurances Générales de France
The Assurances Générales de France, second largest insurance company in France, is a nationalized enterprise which in four years has experienced a double concentration: first, the merger of seven companies in one group and then of this new group with three others, and on the other hand an accelerated automation and centralization. Neither the unions nor the cadres ever talked about workers' control but confined themselves to denouncing the arbitrary character of the management, which left them out of every decision (and which, in addition, had been taken over by a gaullist clique).

It was a tiny minority of employees who on Friday, May 17 (before the strike which was to go into effect May 20) raised the question of control in clear and brutal terms in a leaflet distributed by students of the March 22 Movement in all the companies of the group, and of which this is the essential part:

Like the students: Proposals for discussion in a general assembly of all the employees and cadres of the Groupe des Assurances Générales de France.

1. The Assurances Générales de France continue to function normally, managed under the autonomous control of all those working here at the present time.
2. All the directors, cadres, and AM are deprived of their former functions. Each department will designate one or several representatives chosen solely for their human qualities and their competence.
3. The department representative will have a double role:
-to coordinate the operation of the deppartment under the control of the employees; -to organize with the other department representatives a Management Council which, under the control of the employees, will assure the functioning of the enterprise.
4. The department representatives must be able to explain their conduct at any time before the employees and will be revocable at any time by those who have chosen them.
5. The hierarchy of wages is abolished. Every employee, cadre, or director, will receive provisionally a uniform salary equal to the average May wage (total wages divided by the number of employees present).
6. The personal dossiers of the employees will be returned to them; they will be able to remove everything not a purely administrative document.
7. All the property and materials of the Assurances Générales de France becoming the goods of all, administered by all, each person engages himself to ensure its protection in every circumstance.
8. To meet every threat, a volunteer protection squad under the control of the Management Council assures the protection of the enterprise day and night alike.

Monday, May 20, a new leaflet was distributed, stressing the following points:

-how social conquests had been rapidly won back in the past; - let us be suspicious of our friends aand have confidence only in ourselves;
- election of strike committees;
- control of the management of the enteerprise, recalling the preceding leaflet;
- finally, going beyond the strike itseelf:

We are beyond the strike; we must get everything going again by and for ourselves, without waiting for others to give us the order, but with Management Councils elected by all. Where then will the disorder be: it will be those who defend their property, their interests as rulers and as enjoyers of privilege by oppression, violence, poverty, and war. ... it is at the place where you work that everything can be decided. And there, with all the workers together, there can be the collapse of a whole world in which you are nothing and at the same time the construction of a whole world in which you are everything.

In the beginning, at the central office, the strike involved only a minority of the employees (500 out of 3,000, because of the transport strikes); it was the deed of a minority of young workers, union and non-union; the unions followed, controlling but not urging on. From the start the militants affirmed the desire that what would be obtained be irreversible. The list of demands is impressive; it is preceded by four preconditions (notably, payment for hours on strike) that the management was to accept without discussion; one of the preconditions concerned the maintenance of a commission of the strike committee supposed to take care of structural reforms and participation in decision-making. The entrance of cadres into the strike of May 22, (130 for the strike out of 250 voting and 500 Total), a majority of them young technocrats, modified the style of the strike: cadres and union leaders came together again to dominate all the bodies of the strike committee and, notable in the case of the CFDT, to talk about control, each from its own point of view. Several divisions appeared in the discussions which cut into everything that could be said on these questions:

- There was a violent altercation with the CFDT after a critique of this union's idea, managerial control "by the union", made before the General Assembly of the employees, with repercussions in the strike committee.

- There was a split in the commission ddealing with structures, a subcommission of the strike committee supposed to deal with control. Members of one of these subcommissions, young technocrats, principally CGC members, saw in the strike a chance to put forth their ideas about how the enterprise should be organized in opposition to those of the management; the plan of operation they proposed leaves intact the powers of the head of the enterprise and the hierarchy and is only an application of certain modern theories of management in an attempt to restructure fobs so as to integrate the employee into his work and to obtain his active "participation." The other sub-commission, on the contrary, tended to put forth the principle of a participation in decisions that is to say a system of co-management or Joint control (on the Yugoslav model, for example).

- These latter discussions were interessting because they afforded an opportunity to develop a concrete and very strong critique of all forms of participation and to raise the most theoretical questions in a manner accessible to all. It is not only that this critique was listened to and understood, notably by the young (at the very least those whom such discussions didn't alienate) who realized, on the basis of their experience, that since the power of decision was still out of the hands of the employees, they were dealing only with half-measures which lead in the end to the system's having a firmer hold on them through the intermediary of the cadres and managerial apparatus. But also, those who discussed were brought to admit that even co-management, if one wanted it to be genuine, leads to the calling into question of established structures like the hierarchy of functions and of wages, authority, the system of grading and advancement, access to information, etc. and that in the measure to which these structures are maintained or only modified, the whole system set up will be rapidly corrupted and will lose all meaning. Conflicts with the directors, if they are resolved by the directors, will be resolved in their interest - that is to say, in that of capitalism - and it will be, as it is now, the criteria of profitability and profit which finally determine everything. This is why the debate on the participation of the employees in decisions rapidly became constricted when things became more concrete: in discussing on what level the rank-and-file's power of decision must stop and where could the decision-making power of the heads impose a decision, with due respect for form, of course.

Even this formula of co-management is at any rate thought of by the unions (including the CFDT) and the cadres as utopian at the present stage. The real world doesn't work that way: in the terms in which the issue is raised, co-management leads to the elimination of an important part of the power of the unions and the cadres; it tends to promote a direct representation of the workers or even a direct decision-making power. To understand this, observe what this commission envisaged:

- Every decision without exception willl be made collectively by the rank and file unit (12 employees) and the person in charge (subchief).

- In case of agreement, the decision iss to be put in force. In case of conflict, the matter is carried before a representative commission presided over by the department chief and formed of equal numbers of representatives of the cadres and of the employees, at the rate of one per rank-and-file cell. These delegates are non-permanent, revocable, and chosen by the base specifically for the problem to be discussed. This commission has no power of decision; it reexamines the whole problem, suggests solutions, and passes it back for a decision to the rank-and-file unit where the conflict arose.

- If the conflict remains, everything ggoes before a permanent commission at the department level, equally representative, formed of permanent delegates elected by two colleges in the framework of the department (one year terms; the possibility of their revocability was suggested) which decides by majority vote, the department head having a deciding voice. The decision must be accepted without appeal.

- Two things are evident; the cadres arre reduced to their technical function, and the union delegates are eliminated up to the level of the department. This explains the position of the cadres and unions formulated thus: "It is necessary to know exactly what this signifies concretely for us. We are not yet ready for that, but the trail has been blazed."[10]

The most striking fact is, in addition, that the unions and the cadres decided in no way to impose a mode of operations on these bases, but to have it granted them in negotiations with the management once the strike was over. This was to recognize that all power of decision lies with the management. It is important to state also that the principle of co-management or of participation did not even figure in the preconditions for discussion, but only the creation of a commission concerned with "structures", a term which we have seen to have very different meanings for different interested parties. It is evident that all this will result at best in consultative bodies in which unions and cadres will divide the positions, and which will have no real power.

The principle by which the commission on structures was to be maintained also ran into opposition from the unions. Autonomous or under the aegis of the workplace committees? It was this latter solution which prevailed, showing clearly that everything, even if it is laughable, which would escape the power of the unions in the enterprise is opposed by the unions' desire to block any direct representation of the workers.

All these facts were perceived by the young people, who thought of the strike a little as theirs, not in an abstract way but as a function of one or another of the discussions which they brought back immediately to their particular situation in the enterprise. So that they rapidly discovered what was wrong with all those speeches whose language repelled them more than it attracted them.

The persistence of this language represented besides in their eyes a rupture with everything that the strike offered them as a starting point for communication and the breaking down of barriers. If the operation of the strike committee could appear a model-work done on the basis of equal participation by 150 members, without a permanent office and with commissions dividing up the tasks, in a coordinated way - in reality the unions and cadres took such an important part in it that one could see in it the possibility of a new bureaucracy, within an enterprise placed under the system of co-management. Without a doubt, the strike committee was forced to allow the presence of non-union men in the negotiations with the management, in discussions with the students after long refusing them, and in discussions with the striking employees as a whole after recognizing that the daily meeting was becoming a pure formality. But that hardly breached the bureaucrats' hold on the strike committee, all the more as the young, wearied by so many efforts always opposed, so much incomprehension, participated less in the discussions so as to devote themselves to the practical tasks of the strike, and shut themselves up in their own world of young people. If the unions did not succeed in breaking the spirit of which we spoke above, they succeeded nonetheless in preventing it from expressing itself openly. Thus the strike rapidly led back - a clear sign that it didn't open up the way to a revolutionary transformation - to a modified reproduction of the hierarchized structures of capitalist society, put to use by the same people who deem that they have a vocation to run this society, from the position that they presently occupy in it.

2 Compagnie Generale de Telegraphic sans Fil (CSF), Brest
Several years ago the CSF (General Radio Co., a great electronics trust) set up a factory at Brest, in the framework of the plan for the industrialization of Brittany, and in this way benefiting from the government subsidies granted to enterprises which decentralize. Cadres were imported from Paris and 1,100 workers recruited on the spot, the majority of them unskilled laborers. The management - doubtless in order to continue to collect the subsidy - offered at Brest only the least interesting jobs, which permitted it to counter every wage demand with the fact - real, but deliberately brought about - that the factory was not profitable and always operated at a deficit. This didn't go on without causing a certain frustration among the personnel, notably the cadres, who feared to find themselves one day out of work again, with a reduced level of qualification.

There has been only one union m the Brest plant, the CFDT, every member of the CGT being rapidly fired, At the time of the CSF-Thomson merger, the difficulties of the factory at Brest increased even more. "We had used that," said a CFDT delegate,[11] "to explain to the personnel the workings of the economy, of capitalist society, of the banks, etc. Our union activity has had an important influence on the minds not only of the workers but also of the engineers and the cadres."

On May 20, the groups which made up work-units (shops, offices, laboratories) first elected a strike committee, then made a study of reform of the hierarchy in the enterprise. 70 engineers participated in this work. The personnel also set up "workers' tribunals" to judge cadres for incompetence in their work and their relations with their subordinates; dossiers were assembled and transmitted to the management by the delegates. Summing up these proceedings, the CFDT representatives declared:[12] "We think that the workers' commissions and the factory committee that we have set up constitute irreversible choices. The strike committee has all powers of decision in a democratic enterprise. Workers' commissions will be set up in each production-unit. They are to deal with everything that directly affects the wage-earners in their work (methods of work, definition of jobs, hiring, promotion, etc.)." A leaflet, put out and distributed right at the plant, demanded the "democratization of the enterprise with a view towards self-management" in requiring, notably: "workers' control of professional training, with a budget equivalent at least to 2% of the annual rise in the total amount of wages; contractual policy for promotions; definition of each job and its sphere of competence; a plan for development of the numbers and qualification of the personnel; control of hiring; financial control of the factory and of the business."

On June 18, after six days of fruitless discussions with the management, the personnel decided to continue the strike, by a vote of 607 to 357. The negotiations stumbled against the problems of control, among others the setting up of representative commissions. The management invoked the illegal character of these structures to justify its refusal of them; the CFDT delegates then presented, without any more success, a plan for a commission integrated into the workplace committee, which could have played the same role as the bodies projected in the first place.

Finally, work resumed on Friday, May 21 (551 votes for resumption, 152 against). The conversations of the CFDT delegates from the Brest factory with the central office in Paris have led to the creation of a commission within the factory committee, consisting of five representatives of the management and twelve of the personnel, it will be charged with studying the renovation of the structures of the enterprise and will take an interest more particularly in the planning of work, in the "production time", and in the conditions of work. This measure concerns only the factory at Brest. The commission is only qualified to set down its "conclusions", before the end of the year.

A significant feature, this progressive whittling down of demands: in the beginning it was a matter of creating rank-and-file committees assuring the workers' control of important aspects of the life of the enterprise; then, it changed to representative commissions, chosen from out of the workplace committee; and it finished by being content with a simple study commission which will put forth "conclusions", of which the management will or will not, take account, depending on its interest or even its whim.

One saw such a process at work, though generally in less clear a form. in many medium-sized (and even large) enterprises on strike. It must be stressed, however, that in case of the movement's revival, institutions of this type however ridiculous their authority may be, would be able to set up - at least as a Beginning - as spokesmen for the will of the workers against the management; in the opposite case, of the definitive "return to normalcy", they must be reduced at best to functioning as auxiliaries to the management, sharing with it certain not very popular administrative tasks, or-most likely - to nothing at all.

3 Commissariat a l'Energie Atomique (CEA), Saclay
The CEA (Atomic Energy Commission) employs a total of 6,000 to 7,000 people at Saclay. Of this number about 4,500, of which a quarter are engineers, work under a "collective agreement"; the rest work for "outside enterprises" (cleaning women, secretaries, draughtsmen, skilled workers, technicians, building workers, etc.); in addition, there are graduate students on fellowships and foreigners working there for a term. The CGT has 625 members, with a nucleus formed by the oldest agents of the CEA, hired between 1946 and 1950, under the reign of the stalinist Joliot-Curie. The CFDT, which at Saclay has made a specialty of leftist one-upmanship, has 300 members and the FO the same. The house union is supposed to have about a hundred members. The CGC, very recently set up, has "made a killing" in the last elections of cadre delegates.

The strike was carried out with effective occupation of the work sites. (83% of the personnel remained at the sites throughout the strike; even on holidays (Ascension, Pentecost, weekends) there were at least 500 people at the center).

The time was entirely occupied by discussion - general or in committee-bearing either on fundamental problems or on the reorganization of the CEA, a question which interested many of the personnel, since the future of the Commission appeared to be in jeopardy. The strike itself started with a small nucleus of people doing experimental and theoretical research in pure physics; particularly well-payed agents, unconnected with production, often young and always tied professionally to the Universities; these personnel, union and non-union, acted outside of and, when necessary, against the union controls. For the first time one could observe a real solidarity with the workers employed by the outside enterprises.

The strike was of short duration. 15 days, officially. In fact, the general discussions, with an almost total stoppage of work, had proceeded the actual strike vote by almost a week. The return to work took place under pressure from the administration, which promised full payment for hours missed if work began again before June 4. Nonetheless, the discussions within the enterprise had been carried far enough for a certain number of structural demands to be presented to, and, after being emasculated, accepted by the administration.

In this way, a whole "pyramid" of representative commissions was set up. At each echelon (division, department, management) a unit council was constituted, presided over by the head of the unit and playing a consultative role. The unit council is elected outside of any union routine, on the ratio of one delegate to 10 people, and with representation of all the professional categories in the division, but the election is made by a single college; the delegates are in principle revocable at all times. At first it had been required that the head of the division (or of the unit) be open to challenge by the unit. Of course this demand was not satisfied. Nevertheless, certain units went on to vote for or against their division head. Certain unanimous "confrontations" made a stir for the moment. Then, it appeared that the "confronted" continued to go on as before...

In addition, a national committee has been created representing both employees and management, but it is presided over by an administrator general delegated by the government, who has a decisive voice. This committee discusses programs, the budget, and the general organization of the Commission. It is informed of nominations to the staff of the CEA. The same device is found in all the centers depending on the CEA, including the DAM (Direction des Applications Militaires - Office of Military Applications). Contrary to the unit councils, this committee is exclusively composed, on the personnel side, of union delegates. (At the DAM, where the union representation came up against an in principle prohibition, the latter requirement was lifted).

One sees thus that as far as effective control goes, the famous "pyramid of committees" has in the end no power. Its only utility could have been to keep the personnel informed; but even in this sphere, its possibilities are narrowly limited. The old strike committee, formed spontaneously, has been re-elected almost as a whole, under the name of "coordinating committee", with the mission of facilitating the circulation of information horizontally, that is to say, between unit councils. Although the majority of its members are union men (but not union delegates) this committee is just barely tolerated (and this thanks only to the pressures exerted by the rank-and-file), by the administration of the Center and by the unions. A number of division heads have already succeeded in injecting into the unit council a bureaucratic mentality, by making it a "privileged interlocutor"; that is to say, in blocking in fact the diffusion of information among the rank-and-fife, the coordinating committee is beginning to chase its own tail. Its last notice posted (at the beginning of July) proposes that the meetings of the unit councils be public, like the municipal councils. But in the current context of discouragement, it doesn't look as though this suggestion will meet with many echoes.

4 Sud-Aviation, Nantes
For a month, half-hour work stoppages followed one after another. On May 7, two days before a full day of strike, the director, one Duvochel, was chased by 35 workers; he succeeded in saving himself. During the night of May 13, at the instigation of militants of a trotskyite group (OCI)[13], 300 to 400 workers stopped work again; in the morning of the next day there were three half-hour stoppages, while the union delegates were received by the said Duvochel. But in the afternoon, according to an inquiry carried out on the spot by three students from Nanterre:[14]

Three union delegates decided to throw people on monthly salary out of their offices and to shut the boss up in his office. Several cadres joined the imprisoned director. A guard post was installed before his door. So that the boss wouldn't get bored, a loud-speaker was installed before the door and bellowed revolutionary songs at an earsplitting level, a device which permits a boss to learn the International by heart without any ideological effort...

At Flins and in certain factories of Elbeuf, directors found themselves imprisoned in the same way. This action, perfectly illegal (as was not the case with the strike, at least in itself), was of course condemned by the unions with all their strength. It thus bore witness to the autonomous character of the struggle carried on by the workers; an index of their combativity, it helped to further heighten it.

Here as everywhere, it was the young people from 25 to 30 who showed themselves the most determined to continue the struggle, and the return to 'work, as a comrade said to us, came "with discouragement and disgust."

5 Electricite de France (EDF) - Central Plant at Cheviré
The EDF-GDF (nationalized electric and gas company) on strike continued to furnish current and gas under the direction of the strike committees (CGT members greatly predominating). Decreasing the flow of current had the effect of stopping a great number of machines that were still running; thus, at the Faculty of Sciences at Orsay the computer had to stop and the technicians, thenceforth, joined the strike. However, the conditions under which the activity was carried out at the EDF (just as in the hospitals, for example) are not well known to us. Here is what the enquiry of the three from Nanterre said about the Cheviré center, near Nantes:

When the 293 workers had occupied the plant, on Saturday, May 18, they chose a strike committee composed of delegates from each union (90% at the EDF were unionized). But it was necessary, even while diminishing the current flow (which helped to paralyze the local industries), to maintain a minimum of electricity to assure safety services: hospitals, etc. The strike committee thus asked the strikers to "take on their responsibilities" in this matter. Actually, the elected Committee held, for 15 days, ... all authority in the plant. It made sure that uninterrupted operation was assured by the workers. It organized the search for supplies of combustibles (natural gas). For the provisioning of the strikers, it had arranged an active, but somewhat confused, solidarity with the surrounding population, The militants with which I spoke were very conscious (even the CGT delegate!) of the political meaning of this experience, and one of them explained: "We wished to show our capacity, and thus our right, as producers, to manage the means of production which we us. We proved it."

On the radio, a union delegate from the Savings Bank (nationalized) expressed himself in analogous terms at the time of the limited reopening of the bank windows. It is beyond doubt, for anyone who sticks his head out the window, that this was one of the most widespread feelings, and that it remains. If but lately it was latent among a large part of the workers, when they came to have a "confrontation" with some cadre, it is today readily expressed. And yet (we will return to this) this remains a sentiment, not an objective fact from which the consequences need only be drawn.

6 The Situation at Nantes, at the End of May

Nantes is of all the cities of France that in which the union seems to have had the greatest control at the local level. According to the inquiry which we have already cited twice,[15] a central Strike Committee took (or intended to take) a certain number of initiatives, especially as regards provisioning - such as distribution of permits and vouchers for gasoline, which does not in any case appear to have been very seriously carried out; organization of transports with the co-operation of the FO truckers, the municipality then putting cars at the disposition of the Committee:

To the families of strikers, who found themselves in the worst financial situation, the union organisations distributed vouchers for foodstuffs. These vouchers are equivalent to a certain quantity of food. For each child under three years: one voucher for 1 F. of milk. and for each person over three, a voucher for 500 grams of bread and one voucher for 1 F.

On the roads, the FO truckers set up roadblocks (there were also roadblocks around Caen, but only for one day). In the neighborhoods:

The three workers' familial organizations (AS, APF, UPF) made contact with the peasant unions of the nearest village, La Chapelle-sur-Erdre. A meeting attended by 15 unionized peasants and a delegation of workers and students decided to assure a permanent liaison to organize a network for distribution without middlemen.... Every morning, the union men came to check the prices at the markets.... Notices are put up in the stores authorized to open, with the following words: "Taking care of the provisioning of the population, the unions authorize this little store [the big ones were forced to close] to open its doors on condition that it respect the standard prices."

The correspondent for Figaro expressed himself in analogous terms:

As the prefecture could not take care of the most urgent problems, an "Interunion Strike Committee" installed itself in the city hall. Little by little, it substituted itself for the administration. It is thus that it issued the traffic vouchers, permits to ambulances and to the trucks of the bakers and the market-gardeners; it is thus that the shopkeepers had to paste on their shop-fronts these notices: "This store is authorized to open. Its prices are controlled permanently under the responsibility of the unions. Signed: CGT, CFDT, FO"

How much of this, exactly, is fact? According to another student traveler, the inquiry of the Nanterre three was "partial in both senses." Thus, they wrote that two delegates from the UNEF appeared in the Central Strike Committee; in fact, the trotskyite and FO members of the Committee, having demanded their admission, would have been in the position of opposing a categorical refusal by the delegates from the other unions, of workers as well as of peasants, who always accepted - but only for a short time - the presence of student delegates in the capacity of observers. On the other hand it is possible that the following lines had, at one time, described something actually going on:

The Central Strike Committee is suspicious of the neighborhood committees and reproaches them for not having worked through it at the beginning. In fact, the neighborhood committees will turn out to be much more effective in the organizing of provisioning, and their action will be of much greater import than that of the unions. Starting from the creation of a direct market for produce, they are going to become the cells of the politization of the working class neighborhoods.[16]

But, with the general reflux of the movement, and thus the shift in the balance of power in favor of the unions, the situation was obviously modified. Here is what Action, the newspaper of the "leftist" students, said about it:[17]

As for the strike and neighborhood committees of Nantes, they have been the object of a recapture operation that they are not about to forget.

Be that as it may, we see clearly here how, given the bankruptcy of the old authorities (prefecture, municipality), but also with their active support, the united unions use their respective organizations and related associations to set up a new structure of authority. Far from forcing the great modern shopping centers, whose personnel were on strike, to reopen - which would have been to attack the rule of private property and take "risks" - they relied on the shopowners and small peasants. Wedged between this "base" and the old administrative (and police) apparatus, the interunion Committee was to be obliged to manoeuvre shabbily until the day of the "return to normalcy".

When in its course it encounters organs arising directly from the people, which tries in this way to meet its immediate needs, it is suspicious and invokes, in a typically bureaucratic way, its self-styled representative character, which gives it the right to run the life of society. At a new stage, if there is one, there will be two possibilities: either the masses will submit to this transitional union power just as they submit to the power of Capital; or else they will enter into conflict with it through the intermediary of their own organs of struggle and control (rank-and-file, neighborhood, and other committees). Thus one sees concretely that to support the Action and Neighborhood Committees in a period of social crisis is not a question of rhetoric, or even of simple "politicization". This is what matters, more than the point of knowing to what extent the Central Strike Committee at Nantes exercized the functions which it arrogated with the blessing of the old class society.[18]

7 Rank-and-File Committees, Direct Action
With a number of exceptions, the strike committees were in general controlled by the union centrals (as was, nearly as often, the composition of the picket lines). In a certain number of factories, however, especially in the Parisian region, rank-and-file (or action) committees were created. Thus, at the Rhone-Poulenc factory at Vitry, rank-and-file committees existed in each sector; the rate of effective participation in the occupation of the work sites was particularly high: 1,500 took part out of a personnel totaling 3,500 workers. Elsewhere, in a large printing works:

A Strike Committee got set up which succeeded, for awhile, in going beyond, outflanking, and finally neutralizing the powerful college of union delegates. The members of this committee were union men (of necessity, since at our plant the union is in control of hiring). But there was here no question of infiltration: the men deliberately and openly set up in their factory a "parallel power", parallel to that of the CGT ... In the electronics section, a rank-and-file committee was created on a proposal of the CGT, which hoped in this way to "sink" the two rival unions.[19] Result: the CGT was "sunk" itself, and from the union rank-and-file committee a true revolutionary organization emerged, which included more than 50% of the workers as active members and considered itself perfectly capable of running the factory .[20]

At the Assurances Générales de France, following the denunciation of a part of the agreement relating to the payment for strike hours, it was proposed to the strike committee that an action committee elected on the ratio of one delegate per section be set up and that modes of action be envisaged which would be acceptable to all, consisting in making decisions in the areas reserved for the management on certain points (clocking in and out, making up for hours lost, determination of pay, etc.). Although it met with a favorable response, this project fell through essentially because of the formal veto of the CGT and the falling into line of the CFDT, which would not admit the existence of a committee which could constantly and directly translate the will of the rank-and-file and make the control of the factory a matter for struggle - to be exercised and imposed - and not a demand for which one awaits satisfaction from the management or the State.

Of course, the fate of these committees was strictly determined by the general course of events and, likewise, their attitude towards the unions varied as a function of conditions specific to each shop; some went so far as to consider themselves potential little unions, only, it goes without saying, to be blown away by the wind. These instruments had, in fact, meaning only for the struggle; that ended, their active role has ended also, or, more exactly, they can continue to exist (sometimes good, sometimes bad) only thanks to a new form of activity: discussion, the comparison of experiences. To with to act differently, to wish to substitute themselves in isolation for the old organizations, while maintaining their modes of action, is to move in the direction of certain and complete dissolution. There have been enough attempts of this type in the history of the international labor movement, for one to be categorical on this subject.

In the newspaper presses, at the Aurore the linotypists threw out certain headlines; at the Parisien libéré the personnel unanimously refused on one occasion to put out the paper because of an outrageously lying headline on the front page; at the Nation the printers refused to put out this gaullist rag. But there was no coordination of action and no attempt to establish this on the part of the rank-and-file: they were content to swallow the tall tales of the obligatory union CGT which wished L'Humanite (but not the weeklies or the leaflets) to appear at any cost.

In a host of enterprises, the strike committee took care of the payment of wages, or of money paid on account (to be regularized after the strike), or even (as at the SNECMA) cashed checks with petty cash taken from the company cash-desk; sometimes, the canteen continued to function, where canned goods were distributed, etc. These things occur in every strike of such extent, but it must be stressed that the initiative came from the workers themselves, these tasks being often carried out outside of the usual rules, and that the orders came from the strike committee, acting to meet immediate necessities and not on instructions from the management.

Finally, at the moment of the return to work, wildcat demonstrations took place, the initiative for which often came from activist minorities. This was the case among the bookprinters of the Boulevard Blanqui; at the labor exchange for the employees of the RATP, the demonstrators came to the headquarters of certain union organizations to get some explanations and to protest just as if they were up against heads of personnel, and were thrown out by the union marshalls. Several hundred school teachers briefly occupied the office of the SNI, with an analogous result.

V Participation and Structural Reforms
If one demand appeared clearly in the course of the general strike, especially among the tens of thousands of young people, students and workers alike, it was the desire to take responsibilities. In one sense, that is related to the fact that the mentality of the heads of French business still considerably retards the scope of the productive forces (technology, equipment, level of qualification, attitudes of the producers, etc.); this backwardness - incompetence, really - is recognized by certain theoreticians friendly to the bosses. Why does this advanced section of the ruling class love to talk about "participation"?

Given the level reached by the concentration of capital, its degree of rationalization and of automation, the exploitative society has trouble functioning without some participation by the workers. Decisions are made at such a high level, tasks are so highly divided, that the immediate producer cannot catch the sense of directives which are worked out without his participation and which fail to take account of the methods of practical application; in short, he no longer understands the direction of his work. So he tends to be completely detached from it; whereas the very structure of the enterprise (this distance separating directors and directed) requires that the producer "participate" for the directors plan to work properly. Therefore, those who speak of participation are the very ones who don't want and can't create a worker-controlled management because that would destroy all meaning both of the apparatus of domination which they represent and the functions they exercise within it. On the other hand, those who through their autonomous struggles spontaneously create, even if on an embryonic level, new forms and organizations of management and of struggle, realize in deeds a participation of all; but they not only do not talk about it but even often doubt that it can be realized.

The Power of the State and the Bosses: Participation as Slogan and Scale Model of Society

That "participation" is only a matter of "rendering social structures flexible" in the words of one high functionary (C. Gruson), is shown clearly by the June 7, 1968 declaration of the President of the Republic:

That implies that the law assign to each person a part of what the business earns and of what n reinvests in itself. That implies also that everyone be adequately informed how the enterprise is going and can, through Their freely chosen representatives, participate in the company and in its deliberations so that their interests, their points of view, and their proposals may be honored therein.... In a participative society, where everyone has an interest in its continuing to function, there is no reason at all for anyone not to wish the management to exert itself with vigor. Deliberation is the work of many and taking action is the work of one alone.

In fact, it is nearly a quarter century since "the law" created workplace committees designed "to honor the interests" of the rank and file, which, in reality, have at best served to save the bosses the trouble of managing certain branches of social security and to take his place in communicating disagreeable news to the personnel.[21] As for "profit sharing", another worn out joke, it has long been notorious bunk, and the fate of the "Vallon Amendment",[22] latest of these pleasantries, has just confirmed it last year.

Frivolous as they may be, even these proposals are rejected by the bosses of the medium-sized and small businesses, who feel no need to "associate the workers with the management," under any form at all despite the legal text in many cases. The big employers find that participation has already been realized:

The French structures permit the development of a true participation on the level of the national economy, in particular in the planning commissions and in the Economic Council, where the viewpoints of all partners in society are expressed confront each other, and most often harmonize.... Participation in the enterprise can be a factor of efficiency only if it is founded on the enforcement of the structures and the managerial hierarchy, which it must help to assume all its responsibilities but whose authority it must not undermine.... It is essential that the representatives of the personnel and the unions take up their responsibilities in this regard, that is to say, agree to take account of the economic data which demand attention from the enterprise.[23]

Perhaps the big employers will consent, under the circumstances, to cease their habitual bullying and come to see a "valuable go-between" in the unions if the latter admit to pushing for the interests of the business as such before those of its constituents, the rank-and-file (something impossible in the long run, as we just saw in May-June). In fact, if some decisions are effectively made, they will lead without doubt in the direction of the creation of a system of collective bargaining at fixed times, the State reserving a power of arbitration, as is the practice in most of the great industrialized countries. The gaullist "participation" would then remain one of those magic words that the eminent men of France like to wave around, like the "resistance", the "familial virtues", and, now, "alienation" and "revolution". And distinguished professors, high functionaries in retirement, young Christian bosses and modernists of the CFDT will continue to expound virtuously on this theme....

The CGT: a Man Who Lives by Bread Alone
The French bosses declare themselves in favor of "a constructive social dialogue, sheltered from destructive demagoguery, rooted in the realities of work and life, not in fantasy."[24]

This is as well-they have declared it a thousand times-the essential aim of the CGT. On both sides, it is a matter of showing that they are realists, that is to say, of limiting themselves to discussing purely bread-and-butter demands, of not going beyond existing laws, at least when one cannot avoid them; and, for the unions, of placing confidence in dialogue, particularly in the parliamentary system. Both sides' vision of the world has the same foundations; the enterprise can be governed only by a hierarchy of competent men, just as is society as a whole on the model of Western and Eastern capitalism alike. The unions' disputes with the employers bear on the necessity of readjusting wages[25] and giving free rein to union propaganda within the enterprise, as is the case in most of the enterprises all over the world. On a more general level, the CGT envisages a change in government, accomplished through elections, which would permit it to consolidate by means of the law, its position in society and in the enterprises.

Forced to talk about self-management, because everyone talks about it, the CGT, through Séguy, its general secretary, declared its position in these terms:

The movement guarded by the workers is much too powerful to be slopped by the hollow phrases, "self-management", "reform of civilization", "planned social and university reforms", and other inventions which all end up in relegating to the background the immediate demands.... We propose solutions and we refuse to stand surely for a vague formula.[26]

Under the pen of Salini, Humanité-Dimanche (6/2/68) set out the intentions of the PC:

The far-reaching structural reforms which our country needs, are nationalizations... Of only those sectors of the economy in the hands of the great capitalists.... Ten years of authoritarianism have made urgent the participation of all Frenchmen in the management of their own affairs, By the vole. By the extension of union freedoms in the enterprise.... We hope that the structural reforms and the full bloom of democracy will open the road to socialism, a socialism conforming to our traditions, our experience, our French political methods.

The theoreticians of the PC have elaborated certain models of management for the use of future nationalized enterprises.[27] To discuss them would be superfluous. These plans are not to be taken seriously; the Party hatches a few at every great social crisis; one could have read similar ones 25 years ago, which have never been applied (the fault doubtless of a parliamentary majority!). History has confirmed the just objection that the CGT itself makes about the "self-managementarians", modernists of the CFDT and others, that we can be sure that a system of partial control in a society which remains set on capitalist foundations is condemned to employ capitalist methods and to preserve a capitalist content, and that changing the style of management doesn't change very much. The idea of the CGT leaders is really very simple: it is the ideal of a bureaucratic society in which a class of technocrats rule by planning on all the problems of production and consumption; it suffices that an apparat calculate the needs of men and everything else follows. No place for workers' control in such a framework, except perhaps to draft at the rank-and-file level certain rules,[28] - decided upon by the higher-ups and concerning the execution of tasks and the distribution of products; something which is always done somehow or another anyway.

The CFDT: Self-management, the Magic Word
For a long time now, the CFDT has wielded a language in which modernist accents occasionally came to give some uplift to a speech identical, in the end, to those made by other union central bureaus. Last to enter the market, thus with leaders often younger and more inclined to take initiatives, the CFDT or a part of its directors, was certainly not unaware of the principle current in advertising, according to which the consumer, placed before two products of like quality, will choose the one presented most attractively, the "brand image" at once most original and most conforming to traditions. Besides, the monopoly on pure bread-and-butter demands belongs to the CGT.

In the end - with formal variations, of course - the CFDT joins hands with the CGT: only "reforms of the economic structure," a "process of democratization of the enterprise" can guarantee that wage increases will not be reduced to nothing in the near future.[29] How to attain these objectives? By parliamentary means, of course! However, what the CGT proclaims with loud yaps, designed to sound reassuring to the bourgeoisie and imperative to the rank-and-file, the CFDT suggests with a quite jesuitical caution:

The movement is of such depth that we don't see how the parties can today absorb the new forces and their demands, which are not only quantitative but also call for profound reforms of the structures of society.... As for the CFDT, we have decided to assume all our responsibility.[30]

But, of course, one must know how to be "realistic" and several days after these fine words, on the eve of the election, the headquarters distributed a leaflet in which it invited the workers to vote for the candidates which "appear to them the most apt to constitute that left majority on which the future of democracy depends.... Above all we put forward our objectives of union recognition, of the development of "union power," the expression of "worker power" in the enterprise, of structural reforms in the economy."[31]

What this means is clear, but it gives the CFDT only half of its brand name, the traditional side. That is not enough for the modernists of the central bureau who have pounced on the occasion to again launch a conception, at first sight advanced, extremist even in certain respects, in the measure to which the rule of rank-and file discussion and the idea of self-management is set in relief:

Self-management. participation: something readymade?
No. It must be defined by the workers!
The idea which we support and of which the first prerequisite is union recognition in the enterprise - is an act of the working masses. What counts for us, is that in the factories, the administrations, the workers discuss these problems and that they profit from the time of strength which the strike represents for workers to really discuss their place and the responsibilities they wish to assume in the enterprise and the economy.
If these discussions are carried on throughout the country, then, quite naturally, the content of what we want will be made precise, will be enriched with a whole workingclass experience which we don't perceive completely but which is extremely rich. Words take on meaning only when they take possession of the masses because it is the masses who nourish the content of the formulas that we put forward. Isn't self-management the final form of socio-economic life?[32]

For workers "bread and butter" issues are a response to an immediate reality, to a need that the unions translate with more or less success in their negotiations with the representatives of the State and the employers. Likewise, the passage we have just cited expresses a desire widespread among the workers, above all among the young - students, workers, salaried employees, peasants - a desire which gave the days of May-June 1968 their unique coloration: a profound demand, originating in a desire for individual self-affirmation, through at last responsible and meaningful action, and in the feeling of collective interdependence born in confused fashion during the struggle. These producers, unable to realize that profound demand at once envisaged its realisation through organs like the rank-and-file committees, action committees. etc., which corresponded to the struggle that they were carrying on at the time, and not to ancient phrases of general cretinization and social harmony. This, and nothing else, is the extremist point of view.

But the CFDT, following its vocation, ties this new content to obsolete practices which constituted a restraining force in the struggle - though not the only one and perhaps not the most important. These old practices are based on dialogue, between union and management within the enterprise, in parliament on the level of the society as a whole, and the inanity of which is recognized by a great part of those who give it their votes for lack of anything better.

Self-management, workers' control, for the CFDT, is no more and no less than the means for its implanting itself in the enterprises, since every union central bureau makes "worker power" and "union power" synonymous expressions. The following quotation without doubt does not express the position of the ex-Christian Confederation as such;[33] it has at least the merit of saying things crudely, while the usual proclamations live in a prudent clair-obscur:

"The meaning of workers' control has all its value in a planned economy oriented towards need and controlled by union organizations.... But we want to pursue the construction of a union apparatus powerful and controlled at all levels.... Without this reinforcement of unionism, everything we have said above is just literature,"[34]

In the light of its action in May and June, it would appear that the CFDT has always had in view only legal, parliamentary consecration of the movement's "gains", that is to say, of nothing at all, apart from the (promised) recognition of the union section in the enterprise. In general a minority in the shops, it preserved a certain freedom in speech, but where it had a majority-for example, at the Assurances Générales de France - it aligned its attitude with that of the CGT minority, thinking to make it take the blame in case the personnel contested the agreements made with the management. At any rate, the old guard sprung from the CFTC has the apparatus in its hands, and it is only a younger and more active nucleus which here plays the role played by the "activist minorities" in the Force Ouvrier.

FO: In the Image of the Traditional Left
The FO was hardly mentioned in the course of events, except in a few specific cases. Nearly a trifle, it was as imperceptible as the fragments of the traditional left, and for the same reasons: these groups bring together only dignitaries looking for government jobs and a circle of gaping strollers who are all washed up from the viewpoint of the powers that be in French society. These people are still into the individualism dear to the nineteenth century. This perhaps explains why at least two of the leaders of the FO, Hébert at Nantes and Labi at the Fédéchimie (chemical workers' union), could take leading positions without even dreaming of breaking with a visibly exhausted headquarters and, at least until now, without being expelled for it.

FO appeared to come out for important reforms "to humanize hierarchical relations," through union recognition in the enterprises and to the participation of its high officials in the elaboration of the Plan and in the "Economic and Social Council, in its consultative form.''[35] In short, to furnish specialists, eminent but not responsible, and thus to mitigate its absence at the rank-and file level by a presence at the summit. As far as action proper goes, a leaflet distributed by the FO after the strike limits itself to endless boasting about the reinforcement of the central and the "incontestable advantages" acquired, and so forth and so on. Entirely different, it is true, was the behavior of the Fédéchimie and of several other local or shop sections (both FO and CFDT), which did not hesitate to demonstrate its active sympathy to the student movement. What is more:

Keeping the pledge made at Charlety (to make no agreements with the bosses; Charlety was the site of a mass meeting organized by the UNEF and the SNESup among others), the Fédéchimie CGT-FO has signed no agreement with the employers in any of the chemical industries: chemicals, petroleum, glass, rubber, plastics. It has authorized the agreement of its National Union in the Atomic Energy Commission to the protocol which is the only one in Franca to anticipate the institution of organs of workers' control.[36]

And, in an attitude rather rare today among union officials, its secretary, Maurice Labi, came out against the elections:

The solution can be found only in the collective appropriation of the principal means of production, the democratic control of the enterprises, the reform of existing organs or the setting up of new institutions permitting the regulation of production and the harmonizing of social life.... In every factory, neighborhood, village and town, united committees of workers, peasants, students, and highschool students should be set up; the Estates General of the new France wilt meet to give our country a look young and modern, joyous and happy, socialist and free.[37]

O.K. Only when one proposes to abandon parliamentary methods, one must accept the consequences and, for example, continually keep up the pressure in favor of the organs charged with carrying on dialogue with the directors at all levels. We have seen above what came of the organs of the CEA one month after their legalization. Doubtless, since nothing has changed in other respects, they have hardly any chance to survive - but has the FO made an effort to support them by all the means of its propaganda? No. More generally, can the appeal to these "Estates General" come from an organization whose bigshots intend at the same time to play a consultative role in the various institutions of gaullist power? Is it simply a matter of replacing, as at Nantes, a mayor who called in sick? Labi bears witness to the old revolutionary syndicalist tradition, former glory of the French labor movement, but what does that mean now? At Rhone-Poulenc, a part of the workers has already answered: they joined up with the rank-and file committees, seeing clearly that the old structure had no value for the unity of the movement.

The CGC: The Cadres have their Right Place
We must put aside the critique of the hierarchy as such and of the concept of competence, not because these are unimportant questions - quite the opposite - but because their discussion would require a pamphlet the size of this one. We limit ourselves to calling attention to a very significant position.

In a leaflet of May 24, 1968 (Cadres CGC de l'Assurance) it is stated that "our desire to obtain a participatory structure doesn't date from today."

At the time of the last congress of the union of insurance cadres belonging to the CGC (March 13, 1968) this "desire" was thus defined:

We must be conscious of the role which we can play: we must realize that in the enterprises "capital" in the sense it used to have plays a less and less evident part, for the ownership of concerns is divided up between a large number of shareholders; finally at the head of the latter are various boards of directors and high level managers, who in the end play a much more important role than all the owners of capital. But we ourselves, to a different degree, have salaried status like the directors for, in the end, these directors are only, in relation to the proprietors of these concerns, neither more nor less than cadres; they are very high up, but their situation depends finally, despite everything, on these "corporate capitals" (even if the expression is losing meaning).

Consequently, one can say that the team of cadres which stands outside of the board of directors ought in its turn to have a chance to participate in making decisions; and it is this that we must absolutely demand in all circumstances.

It is on the basis of these ideas that it is good to repeat whenever one has the chance that we must structure our activity in such a way as to install in the course of years a true representation of cadres with power in the enterprise.

The May crisis set in relief the narrow spirit of the French bourgeoisie: its inconceivable distance from the real, its generic blinders. There is nothing astonishing about a group of cadres wishing to lean on the movement in order to curtail some few of the powers of its immediate superiors who. all shook up as they are, have a more than slight resemblance to idle royalty (without going on to ask themselves if they, the cadres, aren't in the same position). In the commissions that sprung up during the strike, the cadres frequently proposed two bases for reflection: (a) to define new structures capable of conferring a greater power to the cadre position, relaxing the old system of command and entrusting to the rank-and-file part of the regulation of its working conditions, in order to avoid the usual conflicts about "everything and nothing;" (b) to contest the role played in the working of the enterprise by factors both exterior (banks, the State) and interior (administrative council, board of directors), with a view to imposing - in the name of the "correctly understood interests" of all - the legal participation of "cadre power" in decision-making.

There was also a convergence between the situation of the cadres on the job and that of the future cadres, the students. The rapid evolution of the techniques and materials of production and control (until very recently) has engendered a technological unemployment, and thus a limitation of job openings, coupled with a tendential devalutation of their intellectual function. But when the students' action transcended itself to go so far as to confront the existing order ("We do not want to be the watchdogs of capitalism"), the great majority of cadres limited themselves to expressing the demands of which we have just spoken and whose success remains doubtful, under present conditions, since it is left to the discretion of the bosses' power.

Nevertheless, during the strike certain cadres advocated a non-hierarchized raise in wages and participated in the strike committees (with rank-and-file-cadre equality). This happened most often in the most modern industries, where the cadres are young, well paid, and severed from administrative tasks; it is a matter of a minority of the whole, but it is important that this occurred, and not only in a few isolated cases. It took a lot for the cadres, qua social stratum, to renounce, even on paper, what there is of authority in their functions (and only in very rare cases were they asked to).

To a great extent, the sympathies of the cadres toward the student movement expressed a sort of solidarity with the future members of their social class. This was also the source of the workers' distrust of both the students and the cadres. Even while supporting the cadres' demands of the sort mentioned above, the CGT exploited this suspicion to maintain a barrier between workers and students; to do this it did not hesitate to preach an "anti-intellectual" attitude, which is neither more nor less than a form of racism and is due entirely to imbecility and not at all to a reasoned critique.

Unions and Workers
The May movement permitted many to discover what a restraining force the unions represent. For, if spontaneity sufficed to lift the movement to great heights, it was not enough to keep it there, especially since the fight took on a sharp character only in exceptional cases. People became conscious of the function of the unions in the modern world: to participate in the administration of the labor force in the interest of society as it is, that is to say, to submit a certain number of demands to a series of specialized bargaining sessions, all while trying to reinforce their position within the apparatus of domination (the differences between union centrals turning solely on modes of realizing this last objective). But the unions could not function, thus did they not receive the approbation, passive in general, of the greatest mass of workers; in other words, the strength of the unions has produced only the weakness and the division of the workers.

When we see these powerful organizations, with hundreds of thousands of members, with a machinery run and guided by teams of experienced professionals, come to shabby results, the first reaction is to reproach them for their lack of efficiency (an inefficiency evident in France: the American union bosses are often gangsters or legal professionals but are at least relatively efficient in negotiations). After this, they are often accused of corruption, even of treason, and the means which comes to mind to remedy this situation is apparently simple: create another organization, this time pure and tough. To which the old centrals answer, with reason, that this would be to accentuate the division of workers even more. To which one could furthermore add that the history of the labor movement has showed for a century that these "new" organizations have been destined either to lose themselves in sectarian behavior and to wither on the stalk, or else, if they escape this fate, to model themselves on the old forms (as is demonstrated by the evolution of the various sections of the communist movement). Clearly: it is an impasse.

But why are the workers the only ones who don't talk about workers' control? Is it that they don't feel it would concern them? No, on the contrary: in their actions they already utilize spontaneous forms of organization and struggle which move in this direction. Even more, in his mentality and in his daily attitudes, in disobeying orders, in criticizing the cadre who confronts him directly, the worker contests in fact the principle and the practice of hierarchical control, the very basis of the capitalist system of management. But, just as in daily life this confrontation remains at a very individualized level, likewise at the first stages of collective action it doesn't succeed in generalizing itself. Although the spontaneous reactions, as we saw in May, often go quite far, they retain a passive adhesion to norms considered unbreakable. Thus, when at the Assurances Générales a CFDT militant, opposing the creation of a struggle committee elected by the workers, declared before 3,000 employees: "I am for it, but it can't be done. ...perhaps in 50 or 100 years," no-one reacted. A call to the same employees to organize by themselves a referendum on the question of strike pay found practically no response. And no one dreamed of reacting to arguments like, "The employees within one section will never succeed in coming to an understanding with each other," even after an extraordinary strike!

It is the capitalist mode of production which continually secretes such passive reactions among almost all of those who are under it. The established order appears to be the natural one in virtue of the consciousness which it in some spontaneous way engenders, according to which appearances correspond to reality, everyone receiving more or less his just share of the social product and finding himself in his just place. Of course, there are variants of this consciousness, a crowd of variants, but they are only phrases and ideas heard a thousand times since childhood in the family, at school, at work. and out of work: respect for authority, the cult of the leader, idolatry of knowledge - and the dogma that one's rank in the hierarchy naturally reflects a level of competence sanctioned in general by the diploma.

During the days of May and June, this thick blindfold was cracked; but the crack was neither deep nor lasting - at least at first sight. The fundamental reason for this was stated in the course of another great social crisis: "No proletariat in the world can from one day to the next reduce to smoke the traces of a century of slavery" (Rosa Luxemburg). And only the revival of the movement, with greater determination, can overthrow from top to bottom the mentality of the exploited masses.

VI The Organization of Production and Distribution by the Producers Themselves
A ruling class allows itself to be dispossessed of its power only by violence. Every working class struggle important enough to contest the social power (and not only, by troubling public order, the political power) of this class must expect to face the most pitiless repression to the extent that this contestation takes form in deeds and action.

The workers, as we have said, don't talk about control and think themselves incapable of managing an enterprise or society, if they so much as pose such questions or are asked them. The attempts at management we have spoken of should be considered from two points of view, contradictory in tendency:

- they are a response to a profound neccessity of capitalist society which has reached a certain level of development and concentration: the notion of workers' control arises spontaneously from the conditions of the modern factory, the modern enterprise.

- this is also evident to the ruling cllass, which perceives this fact from within the framework of exploitative society and tries to respond to it in terms of this framework. To integrate the worker into the enterprise by various recipes is fine for it and appears to the most "advanced" technocrats to be absolutely necessary for the survival of the capitalist enterprise. But this is to try to square the circle, because one can never integrate a worker into an activity the decisions about which and final control of which are totally out of his hands, decisions aiming above all to maintain the dominance of one class.

This very contradiction lies at the center of all the questions which we have brought up. Everyone in the various milieus - economic, political, union, technocratic - talks about "management", "control" because it is in this that the problem lies; but the solutions they propose succeed only in showing that they are no answer to the central problem of our society.

This question may now come to mind: "How may this problem be resolved?" But to pose it in this form expresses the viewpoint of a conscious and activist minority, and thereby reintroduces the division between minority and masses which appears to us to generate a new class system. Only the workers in struggle can give the answer - and all that we can do is to explicate situations in which the workers realize more or less rapidly that nothing fundamental has been changed.

This answer of the workers will be forthcoming only out of the struggle itself through the very development of this struggle. It is not conscious and formulated as a demand: it is the activity of struggle itself.

It is ultimately the only answer to the profound necessity for a system of production which gives total satisfaction to human needs and for a society in which the individual is not constantly frustrated in his activity. We think that this is the fundamental way to look at it: in terms of a system of management, control that flows from the struggle itself.

A struggle for material demands (wages, hours, vacations, retirement), if it is not content with partial satisfactions, if it is carried on with determination, if like this strike it extends to the whole country, if it is general, soon poses other problems than those of the strike itself, although they are the direct consequence of the strike and of its continuation with the same combative spirit.

First, all activities cannot come to a total stop: provisioning, medical care, transports, etc. pose problems which must be solved immediately, even if only for the strikers and their families. The longer the strike is prolonged, the more these problems of getting certain sectors going again become acute and important, till they extend to the country as a whole. Special questions (furnishing current to a hospital, delivering milk, etc.) at first, they come to be posed at the local level (provisioning of a city) or at the national level (assuring the transmission of information, for example.)

At the same time, the struggle of the ruling class against the strike acquires definite form and becomes more violent to the extent that the strike, precisely in lasting so long, changes in nature and seeks to control and manage instead of make demands. For then the social balance of power tips suddenly to the side of the workers in virtue of the simple fact that the activity of production and distribution is gotten on the road again and that they do it to serve themselves. As the repression develops, the struggle itself again transforms itself giving rise now also to the necessity of getting certain services functioning again, simply for the conduct of the strike: radio, the mails, transports.

These two domains of renewed activity - which appear distinct - interact make the need for liaisons and coordinating organs clear. This very necessity leads thus to replacing the apparatus of administration, of the police, by organs of workers' control of a local or national, or interprofessional, or other scale. In this way, the structures of a new society are set up under the initiative and the control of rank-and-file organs in the shops.

This reactivation of the economy can be accomplished in several ways. Let us set aside the case where this minimum functioning which preserves society from asphyxiation is assumed under the aegis of the existing power: either by scabs, or by the army, or by agreements made between unions controlling the strike and the "authorities" at whatever level. It is quite clear that power in such cases has not changed hands and that the workers do not control the strike themselves.

Likewise, some organization or other formed in the course of the struggle could take over management, if it could get control of the struggle and play a coordinating and organizational role that the workers would not have assumed themselves. The role of such an organization - party, union, revolutionary committee, etc. - would be the same as that played by the interunion organization at Nantes. It would exercise a power distinct from that of the workers in struggle: the latter either would submit to it in the same way that they submit to the current power - or would enter into conflict with it, through their own organs of struggle (strike committees, for example) or through those which they would create at that moment.

If at some point in the strike, the workers themselves set up an elected strike committee of which they kept control, everything would turn out differently. The reactivation of the enterprises, the creation of liaisons and coordinating organs, everything is done by the workers themselves, for it is they who must solve the material problems posed by the strike, its maintenance, and its development, and it is they themselves who do solve them. The management of production and distribution becomes the work of the workers. They did not think previously that they would run the enterprise, and if one had told them they could would not have believed it. But the very necessities of the strike force them to solve a practical problem and in doing this they seize social power.

It is certain that the ruling classes will do everything, absolutely everything, to prevent power from being taken by associated, free, and equal producers. Beyond measures of intimidation and violent repression, they will try to interest the masses in their politics of exploitation by organizing agitation in favor of the various tendencies among them which are supposed to be representative, those installed in power or those hoping to exercise it: electoral campaigns, a referendum, change of government, diversionary campaigns, etc. Then, or perhaps at the same time, the rulers will stress the risks of disaster and chaos that a prolonged struggle will bring to their economy. If the producers persist as a mass in remaining relatively indifferent to the politics and the economics of the ruling classes and continue their struggle, getting the enterprises going again under their own direction, then the ruling classes, all united, will decide to recapture, arms in hand, that of which they have always dispossessed the immediate producers: they will unleash civil war.

As early as May. when the forms of real worker power existed only in rough outline, the different ruling groups were unanimous in flourishing this menace: the right by speaking of it openly, the left, knowing themselves incapable of reacting, speaking only of the risk of military dictatorship. To the old reflexes of passivity among the producers were added reflexes of fear, also quite old. The workers entered into struggle not only because they saw the students occupy their workplaces and open them to all but also and above all because they saw the most resolute portion of the youth go down into the street and meet the forces of repression head on; they were "ready to fight to the finish," people said, and this opposition in its turn made everyone "ready to fight to the finish." There was much of this feeling in the greeting the strikers gave the union officials who had obtained at best a readjustment of French wages to the levels practiced in the other countries of the Common Market. But afterwards the workers had either to submit to the rod of the State, the employers, and the unions, that is to say, to the laws of the market, or really to go to the finish, to the reactivation of the occupied enterprises. And that no one dared to do; everyone knew what that would mean; fear paralyzed everything.

And now? Since nothing has changed, since there was no victory, but no defeat either, the alternatives remain the same: either to submit or to take up the fight again. Without doubt there will be groups or individuals capable of sweeping away the difficulties with a phrase, of rigorously working out a perspective to accommodate a strategy of dreams; and others; more numerous assuredly, to explain that all that happened had for origin "impatience raised to the level of a theory",[38] or will have no future. In fact, it is clear, the question of a renewal of the struggle clearly may not be settled in the domain of reflection but, to begin with, depends on the success of exemplary actions. All one can say is that the shock has been felt profoundly by the masses, that a new mentality has begun to emerge, that the pressures of authority restored and the arrogance of the bosses are not likely to diminish.

Consequently, at some time relatively near, the struggle will be able to begin again, on condition that it beats the ferocious opposition that it will meet at the hands of the union centrals. It will be a matter of wildcat strikes and demonstrations, carried on by organs arising directly from the struggle. When the struggle extends and is prolonged and these committees will have to take in hand the task which the ruling classes are from that moment on incapable of carrying out: they will have to administer production and distribution on the local, then on the national level. Faced by a State power already today deprived of all other support among the masses but that of the ballot - less than nothing in a period of social crisis - and one which can count only on the meager police forces, they will organize self-defense. They will transform themselves into councils of producers - workers, professionals, students, and peasants -instrument for the struggle and for the direct organization of production and society by the producers themselves.[39]

We think of ourselves as contributing, in our position within the movement,[40] to pushing the event in its natural direction. That means among other things to propose for discussion certain general ideas; not a plan preconceived by a few people, not a program which, under present conditions, can be tied only to organizations of the old type, by all the evidence maladapted to periods of social crisis.

These general ideas relate above all to the principles on which societies do or might function. Capitalist society without doubt still functions in the way stone age societies did, at least in one fundamental aspect: the subordination of men to an order over which they have little or no control. It is, however, possible to reduce capitalism's special mode of functioning to several basic principles, for example the extraction, the realization, and the accumulation of surplus value, the search (private or carried on by particular social categories) for profit. Likewise, the appearance of the new society, born of the old, is dependent on the diffusion and the realization of new social principles, applied on local, national and finally - else the new world is condemned to disappear - international levels. Assuredly, this application can only be empirical, can only take on forms varying to fit different places and times, and it would be pointless to wish to predict these practical forms today in detail. However, the permanent existence of producers' councils presupposes the appearance in the course of the struggle, indeed because of the class struggle, faced with the failures of capitalism and the ruling classes, of new economic foundations of society as a whole.

At a certain point, during the crisis, the problems of the organization of production and of the return for labor will ineluctably pose themselves. On the local level, then on the national level, the councils will have to organize production and distribution as a function of a plan whose data will be made available to everyone and which will be decided by everyone. In the present state of technique, in view especially of the progress of economic calculating techniques and of the computer industry, which makes it possible for anyone who wants to check up at any time on how things are going, this no longer appears to pose fundamentally insoluble problems, although a profound change of mentality is necessary.

There now exists a plan in each of the two great branches of the world capitalist system but, although what takes the place of a plan here is quite different from the plan in the East, these two forms of planning have at least the common characteristic of resting on the system of prices or of credit allocations, which rests in turn on the system of wage-labor, that is to say, on the exploitation of man by man. Producers who have learned to direct their struggles themselves, under conditions of equality for all and collective effort, will tend in a natural way to make the planned production and distribution of goods rest on new foundations. First, as we have seen, because this follows the natural tendency of the struggle, and also because, the value of money having been reduced to zero by inflation, it will be necessary to choose a new unit of account; but also because contemporary history has shown that the abolition of the private ownership of the means of production, though an evident necessity, does not absolutely coincide with the end of exploitation.

In the capitalist economy the system of prices more or less determined by the market (or credit allocations more or less "determined" by the divisions of the plan) constantly creates the illusion that exploitation is a problem of the market (or of planning), whose conditions need but be modified - generally, in the more or less democratic countries, by a "dialogue" between the classes in parliament and within other so-called representative structures - to effect a real and lasting transformation of the human condition. In the same way, the wages system only hides the reality of exploitation and divides the producers from each other by attaching the level of remuneration to levels of qualification which are basically imaginary. In fact, all the products of human labor, and thus the labor time of various categories of producers materialised in these products, have qualitative value, since they are all the crystallization of a certain quantity of labor, immediate and mediated: immediate in the factories and the fields, mediated by means of knowledge socially accumulated, transmitted, and applied.

In the capitalist system, the measure of the value of commodities is always money, which itself hides this fundamental reality; the producer is and can't be other than an article of commerce, himself a thing with a value. In other words, the producer cannot see himself otherwise than as an object who functions either as director or as directed to the extent to which he is considered and considers himself as gifted with competence or with rights; judged by criteria of differentiated value, he is linked to others by an abstract relation. He does not appear as he really is, a producer linked to other producers like himself by their sharing equally the quality of social labor. The abstract relation between things with values is incarnated in money, another abstract power, incarnating in turn the play of taws which essentially escape the will of men in general; the visible source of all baseness and all unhappiness, money is one of the properties of Capita!, By contrast, labor-power is one of the properties common to all men. The measure of the time which each producer devotes to work is the hour of labor. And the measure which permits the calculation of the labor-time crystallized in the products of human activity (with some near exceptions: scientific research and other creative works} is the hour of average social labor, basis of the communist production and distribution of goods.

But, it will be said, what is the difference between value-money and the "consumption voucher" calculated on the basis of the average social hour of labor? In a capitalist system, exchange expresses a fundamental fact; the immediate producer is not master of the means of production and social labor is the property of the ruling classes. The latter divide up the products of social labor as a function of "properly rights," of "degrees of competence", of the laws of the market and other laws, of a lot of factors and rules, sometimes corresponding to reality but always falsified by the division of society into classes - of which the old union organizations constitute one expression. On the other hand, when the hour of average social tabor serves as the basis for calculation of production and consumption, there is no more need for a "wages policy"; the productive forces, supposing the will of the producers and the existing capacities of production, determine automatically the volume of consumption, of the society of the whole and of the individual.

Henceforth, the producers themselves regulate production, but this regulation is no longer effected more or less blindly and always arbitrarily, as it is today. The social relations run no longer vertically, from top to bottom, from director to executor, but horizontally, between associated producers. It is no longer factors escaping human control or expressing the division of society into classes that fix the objectives of production, but the free producers themselves. And the measure that serves to regulate production is a quality distributed equally among men. But association, liberty, and equality of producers may not properly be said to flow from the realization of moral aspirations; in one sense, they are the consequence of the natural tendency to self-emancipation to which the old organizations and the old ideas are opposed; in another sense, each enterprise remains a cell of that immense economic body which is society and whose vital metabolism, the system of exchange, necessitates and produces organic unity. The various cells are integrated into one whole which rests on a radically egalitarian basis, and which can be no other than this: labor time taken as sole unit of calculation of production and consumption, a standard controllable by all.

All this is doubtless far from the immediate facts: a general strike which derived above all from a spontaneous explosion and propagation; a movement which really deepened only in a certain sector, that of the production of the higher levels of producers; new forms of organization which here and there appeared in embryonic state and as a function of specific situations; discussions of a qualitative and quantitative extent the like of which have never been seen in the history of human societies and which in the absence of their extension into action - the reactivation of the economy by associated, free, and equal producers - rapidly fell to chasing round in circles. Months and months of inaction are going to follow weeks of action. But just as the initiatives of some served to unleash the initiative of the greater number, the reflections of some may serve to awaken those of the great number. And this awakening to reflection is itself a first condition of the struggle.

* agreements signed with Leon Slum in 1936, ending the strike, legalizing the unions, guaranteeing 15 days vacation per year, creating social security, etc.

[1] Le Monde, 2-3 June.

[2] These proposals were made during the second week of May, when the movement was very little radicalized. Events made the majority of M22M afterwards lose interest in the problem.

[3] Leaflet issued by M22M on May 24; published in Partisans, no 42, pp. 107-8: Ce n'est

qu'un debut.... (Cahiers Libres, no. 124), pp. 49-57; parts of the latter have been translated in Caw!, issue no. 3.

[4] In fact this was the Movement's form only for a short period; if it was abandoned, it nonetheless made possible the creation of several Action Committees.

[5] The Faculty also sheltered a certain number of commissions, including the "eyewitness" commission, which collected depositions concerning police brutality, the student-worker action committees, and a poster studio similar to the popular studio of the Beaux-Arts (School of Fine Arts).

[6] See the Tribune of March 22, reprinted in I.C.O. No. 72, in Partisans, No. 42, etc.; translation in Caw!, No. 3, pp. 33-35.

[7] One saw this very well the day after the strike, when the management decided, despite the formal agreements, to speed up the line and to fire two foreign workers. After a daylong work stoppage, a meeting of workers on the evening of Wednesday, June 19, voted with raised hands for an unlimited strike. Officially, the CFDT was at the head of this movement; but the CGT would not hear of this "provocation": it opposed the strike and the CFDT finally fell into step with it, all the while denouncing very loudly (of course') the "treason" of the other union (the elections to the CE would soon be held...).

[8] Leaflet: "How to go on?" (CA Sorbonne)

[9] A useful chronology with documents may be found in Partisans, no. 42, June-July 1968, "Ouvriers, etudiants, un seul combat"

[10] Declaration of the unions of the Assurances Générales, Le Monde, June 2-3. 1968.

[11] Le Monde, May 29, 1968.

[12] Syndicalisme (organ of the CFDT), no. 1191, June 10,1968, p. 24.

[13] As in the student movement, one finds here, though to a much more limited degree, the role of detonator which certain "activist" minorities had in favorable circumstances (in 1936 as well, there were several cases of this type when the strikes began). Of course, these minorities couldn't furnish the "material basis" of the strike (general conditions, state of consciousness, etc.) any more than its direction.

[14] Action, No. 6.10, June 7.11; reprinted in Cahiers de Mai, No. 1, June 15, p. 4.

[15] An inquiry confirmed in its own way by the Figaro, which wrote (5/30/68): "The unions in reality have laid an iron hand on the Loire-Atlantic region ... On the market, new inspectors, but this time union men, control prices following the official government guidelines. From the metalworker to the fisherman, everyone waits for the union's decision," etc.

[16] Cahiers de Mai, art. cit., p. 10.

[17] "La revelation de Mai: les CA dans les enterprises", No. 18, June 27, 1968.

[18] "When they have a demand to make, they come to make it before the city hall (of Nantes), that is to say before the strike committee, but finally they appeal to it as in other circumstances they appealed to the Mayor" - said a guy of the March 22 Movement. Ce n 'est qu'un debut... pp. 94-95.

[19] This was also the origin of the rank-and-file committees at RP-Vitry, an experience about which a participant notes that it showed "in an obvious way the reasons for the 'depoliticization' and the 'apathy' of the workers: for the latter, when they feel themselves concerned, participate actively and massively, in a direct way. In a decision in which the decisions are made in their name by someone else the disinterest is almost total." Cahiers de Mai, No. 2, 1-15 July, p. 11.

[20] Action, ibid.

* See, for example, J-J Servan-Schreiber, Le Reveil de la France, Paris. 1968; an idiotic book which is interesting for its presentation of the May-June events entirely from this point of view.

[21] "Les Comites d'enterprise", ICO, no. 51, July 1966, p. 11.

[22] Vallon, a left gaullist deputy, proposed a law instituting profit-sharing.

[23] "L'assemblée générale de CNPF", Le Monde 10/7/68.

[24] Ibid.

[25] Which is evident when one knows that with a higher hourly productivity and labor-time, the hourly earnings of French workers were in general lower than wages in the same branches within other countries in the Common Market - except Italy, and even then not always. (Cf. J. Servant in Economie et Politique - theoretical journal of the PC - No. 168.)

[26] L 'Humanité, May 22. 1968.

[27] For example: J. Brieve, "La gestion démocratique des enterprises du secteur public et nationalise", Economie et Politique, No. 166-67.

[28] Cf. ibid.: 'These decisions (of the General Management), which must conform to the line set by the Administrative Council (in function of a policy set by the National Assembly [sic]) can be at all limes controlled by the latter and by the personnel, within the bounds of its rights." Longwinded on these "rights", the author is absolutely silent on these "bounds": one would have bet on it.

[29] Leaflet put out 5/27/68.

[30] Special edition of Syndicalisme, May 30, 1968.

[31] Supplement to Syndicalisme 6/13/68.

[32] Syndicalisme, 5/25/68.

[33] Another CFDT bigshot limits himself to demanding an increase in the "powers of parties other than the possessors of capital," a system "assuring the workers and their union organizations the full exercize of their rights." (R. Bonéty, Le Monde, 7/9/68). [34] Declerq, "Pour une planification démocratique", report to the 30th Congress of the CFTC, June 19-21, 1959.

[35] Le Monde, 7/9/68.

[36] "Contre le piege a c... des elections", Combat, 6/17/68.

[37] Ibid.

[38] L. Figuères, "Le Gauchisme", Cahiers du Communisme, No. 6; 1968.

[39] See Appendix, Thesis 3.

[40] That is to say, in participating in organs which are in principle non-exclusionary, with all its disadvantages on the side of visible efficiency, and not based upon a principle of discrimination, which must, whatever the supposed justification, obey the principle of class society and can in consequence never engender the slightest real efficiency but only produce a sect.

APPENDIX: Five Theses on the Class Struggle

By Anton Pannekoek.

Capitalism in one century of growth has enormously increased its power, not only through expansion over the entire earth, but also through development into new forms. With it the working class has increased in power, in numbers, in concentrated mass, in organization. Its fight against capitalist exploitation, for mastery over the means of production, is also continually developing and has to develop into new forms. The development of capitalism led to concentration of power over the chief branches of production in the hands of big monopolist concerns. They are intimately connected with State power and dominate it; they control the main part of the press, they direct public opinion. Middle class democracy has proved the best camouflage of this political dominance of big capital. At the same time there is a growing tendency in most countries to use the organized power of the State in concentrating the management of the key industries in its hands, as a beginning of planned economy. In Nazi Germany, a State-directed economy united political leadership and capitalist management into one combined-exploiting class. In Russian State-capitalism, the bureaucracy is collective master over the means of production, and by dictatorial government keeps the exploited masses in submission.

Socialism, put up as the goal of the worker's fight, is the organization of production by Government. It means State-socialism, the command of the State-officials over production and the command of managers, scientists, shop-officials in the shop. In socialist economy this body, forming a well-organized bureaucracy, is the direct master over the process of production. It has the disposal over the total product, determining what part shall be assigned as wages to the workers, and takes the rest for general needs and for itself. The workers under democracy may choose their masters, but they are not themselves master of their work: they receive only part of the produce, assigned to them by others; they are still exploited and have to obey the new master class. The democratic forms, supposed or intended to accompany it, do not alter the fundamental structure of this economic system.

Socialism was proclaimed the goal of the working class when in its first rise it felt powerless, unable by itself to conquer command over the shops, and looking to the State for protection against the capitalist class by means of social reforms. The large political parties embodying these aims, the Social Democratic and the Labor Parties, turned into instruments for regimenting the entire working class into the service of capitalism, in its wars for world power as well as in peace-time home politics. The Labor Government of the British Labor Party cannot even be said to be socialistic; what it does is not liberating the workers, but modernizing capitalism. By abolishing its ignominies and backwardness, by introducing State management to preserve and guarantee profits for the capitalists, it strengthens capitalist domination and perpetuates the exploitation of the workers.


The goal of the working class is liberation from exploitation. This goal is not reached and cannot be reached by a new directing and governing class substituting itself for the bourgeoisie. It is only realized by the workers themselves being master over production.

Mastery of the workers over production means, first, organization of the work in every shop and enterprise by its personnel. Instead of through command of a manager and his underlings all the regulations are made through decision of the entire body of the workers. This body, comprising all kinds of workers, specialists, and scientists all taking part in the production, in assembly decides everything related to the common work. The rule that those who have to do the work also have to regulate their work and take the responsibility, within the scope of the whole, can be applied to all branches of production. It means, secondly, that the workers create their organs for combining the separate enterprises into an organized entirety of planned production. These organs are the workers' councils.

The workers' councils are bodies of delegates, sent out by the personnels of the separate shops or sections of big enterprises, carrying the intentions and opinions of these personnels, in order to discuss and take decisions on the common affairs, and to bring back the results to their mandatories. They state and proclaim the necessary regulations, and by uniting the different opinions into one common result, form the connection of the separate units into a well-organized whole. They are no permanent board of leaders, but can be recalled and changed at every moment. Their first germs appeared in the beginning of the Russian and German revolutions (Soviet, Arbeiterrate). They are to play an increasing role in the future workingclass developments.


Political parties up to the present times have two functions. They aspire, first, at political power, at dominance in the State, to take government into their hands and use its power to put their program into practice. For this purpose they have, secondly, to win the masses of the working people to their programs: by means of their teaching clarifying the insight, or, by their propaganda, simply trying to make of them a herd of sheep.

Working class parties put up as their goal the conquest of political power in order to govern in the interest of the workers, and especially to abolish capitalism. They claim to be the vanguard of the working class, its most clear-sighted part, capable of leading the uninstructed majority of the class, acting in its name as its representative. They claim to be able to liberate the workers from exploitation. An exploited class, however, cannot be liberated simply by voting freedom, but, when it wins, only new forms of domination.

Freedom can be won by the working masses only through their own organized action, by taking their lot in their own hands, in devoted exertion of all their faculties, by directing and organizing their fight and their work themselves by means of their Councils.

For the parties, then, remains the second function, to spread insight and knowledge, to study, discuss and formulate social ideas, and by their propaganda to enlighten the minds of the masses. The workers' councils are the organs for practical action and fight of the working class; to the Parties falls the task of the building up of its spiritual power. Their work forms an indispensable part in the self-liberation of the workingclass.


The strongest form of fight against the capitalist class is the strike. Strikes are more than ever necessary against the capitalists' tendency to increase their profits by lowering wages and increasing the hours or the intensity of work. Trade unions have been formed as instruments of organized resistance, based on strong solidarity and mutual help. With the growth of big business capitalist power has increased enormously, so that only in special cases are the workers able to withstand the worsening of their working conditions. The Trade Unions grow into instruments of mediation between capitalists and workers; they make treaties with the employers which they try to force upon the often unwilling workers. The leaders aspire to become a recognized part of the power structure of capital and State dominating the working class; the Unions grow into instruments of monopolist capital, by means of which it dictates its terms to the workers.

The fight of the working class, under these circumstances, more and more takes the form of wild-cat strikes. They are spontaneous, mass outbursts of the long-suppressed spirit of resistance. They are direct actions in which the workers take their fight entirely into their own hands, leaving the Unions and their leaders outside.

The organization of the fight is accomplished by the strike-committees, delegates of the strikers, chosen and given mandate by the personnels. By means of discussions in these committees the workers establish their unity of action. Extension of the strike to ever larger masses, the only tactics appropriate to wrench concessions from capital, is fundamentally opposed to the Trade Union tactics of resisting the fight and putting an end to it as soon as possible. Such wild-cat strikes in the present times are the only real class fights of the workers against capital. Here they assert their freedom, themselves choosing and directing their actions, not directed by other powers for other interests.

This last shows the importance of such class contests for the future. When the wild-cat strikes take on ever larger extension they find the entire physical power of the State against them. So they assume a revolutionary character. When capitalism turns into an organized world government - though as yet only in the form of two contending powers, threatening mankind with entire devastation - the fight for freedom of the working class takes the form of a fight against State Power. Its strikes assume the character of big political strikes, sometimes universal strikes. Then the strike-committees must take on general social and political functions, and assume the character of workers' councils. The revolutionary struggle for social power then becomes a fight for mastery over and in the shops, and the workers' councils, as the organs of struggle, grow into organs of production at the same time.

List of Abbreviations

AM Agents de maîtrise - junior executives (not an organization).
CA Comités d'Action Action Committees (see text).
CAL Comités d'Action Lycéens - Highschool Action Committees.
CFDT Conféderation Française Démocratique du Travail - French Democratic Confederation of Labor, created from the CFTC. While the latter admitted only Catholics, the CFDT is open. It is unattached to any political party.
CFTC Conféderation Française des Travailleurs Chrétiens -French Confederation of Christian Workers, maintained by a few members of the old CFTC when the mass of the union was transformed into the CFDT.
CGC Conféderation Générale des Cadres - General Confederation of Cadres.
CGT Conféderation Générale du Travail - General Confederation of Labor; the largest union in France, in principle independent of the PC but in fact directed by it: its secretary general Séguy is also a member of the PC politburo, as are all the most important leaders.
CLEOP Comités de Liaison Etudiants-Ouvriers-Paysans - Student-Worker-Peasant Liaison Committees (see text).
CNJA Centre National des Jeunes Agriculteurs - union of young peasants and farmworkers.
CNPF Centre National du Patronat Français - National French Employers Association.
CRS Compagnies Republicaines de Sécurité - special police force ("riot police") created by the gaullist provisional government after World War II to maintain "order".
FER Féderation des Etudiants Révolutionnaires - Revolutionary Students' Federation; one of several Trotskyist groups; very dogmatic.
FNJA Féderation Nationale des Jeunes Agriculteurs - union of young peasants and farmworkers.
FO Force Ouvriere -Workers' Strength; more correctly CGT-FO, a union resulting from a split in the CGT after the war on the issue of PC control and pro-Russian policy; FO has links with American unions, has been suspected of CIA financing; has a mostly white collar membership.
PC Parti Communiste - Communist Party.
RATP Régie Autonome des Transports Parisiens - nationalized company running all public transportation in Paris.
SNCF Société Nationale des Chemins de Fer Français- French National Railway Company, nationalized after the war.
SNECMA Société Nationale d'Etudes et Construction de Moteurs d'Avion -National Airplane Motor Research and Construction Co., one of the first companies to be nationalized after the war.
SNESup Syndicat Nationale de l'Enseignement Supérieur - National Union of Higher Education; union theoretically of all university faculty, in fact mostly junior faculty; very left wing.
SNI Syndicat Nationale des Instituteurs - National Union of Primary School Teachers.
UEC Union des Etudiants Communistes - Union of Communist Students, official student organization of the PC.
UNEF Union Nationale des Etudiants de France - National Union of French Students; the main student union, with leftist tendencies.
UNR Union pour la Nouvelle République -Union for the New Republic, one of the changing names of the gaullist party.


The sitdown strikes of the 1930's: From baseball to the bureaucracy - Jeremy Brecher

The Sitdown Strikes of the 1930's: From Baseball to the Bureaucracy

Pamphlet on sitdown strikes released by the U.S. Libertarian Socialist journal Root & Branch. The pamphlet is an expanded chapter from Jeremy Brecher's book Strike!

Submitted by UseValueNotExc… on April 5, 2022

One day in 1936, a reporter named Louis Adamic visited the rubber capital of America, Akron, Ohio. A new kind of strike called the sit-down had just started hitting the headlines, and Adamic tried to find out how they had begun The first Akron sit-down he was told, was not in a rubber factory but at a baseball game, where players from two factories refused to play a scheduled game because the umpire, whom they disliked, was not a union man. They simply sat down on the diamond while the crowd cheered and yelled for a new umpire until finally the old one was replaced. Not long after a dispute developed between a dozen workers and a supervisor in a rubber factory. The workers were on the verge of giving in when the supervisor insulted them and one of them said “Aw, to hell with 'im, let’s sit down.” The dozen workers turned off their machines and sat down. Within a few minutes the carefully organized flow of production through the plant began to jam up as department after department ground to a halt. Thousands of workers sat down, some because they wanted to, more because everything stopped anyway. What had happened, workers wanted to know? “There was a sit-down at such-and-such a department.” “A sit-down?". . . “Yeah, a sit-down; don't you know when a sit-down is, you dope? Like what happened at the ball game the other Sunday.” (1)

Adamic describes the response:
sitting by their machines, caldron boilers, and work benches, they talked. Some realized for the first time how important they were in the process of rubber production. Twelve men had practically stopped the works! Almost any dozen or score of them could do it! In some departments six could do it! The active rank-and-filers, scattered through the various sections of the plant, took the initiative in saying, ‘We’ve got to stick with ‘em!’ And they stuck with them, union and non-union alike. Most of them were non-union. Some probably were afraid not to strike. Some were bewildered. Others amused. There was much laughter in the works. Oh boy, oh boy! Just like at the ball game, no kiddin’. There the crowd had stuck with the players and they got an umpire who was a member of a labor union. Here everybody stuck with the twelve guys who had first sat down, and the factory management was beside itself. Superintendents, foreman, and straw bosses were dashing about. . . This sudden suspension of production was costing the company many hundreds of dollars every minute. . . In less than an hour the dispute was settled -- full victory for the men.

Between 1933 and 1936 the sitdown gradually became a tradition in Akron, with scores of sitdowns, the majority probably not instigated even by rank-and-file union organizers and almost invariably backed by the workers in other departments. It became an understood principle that when one group of workers stopped work everyone else along the line sat down too. To explain this, Adamic listed the advantages of the sitdown strike, “from the point of view not so much of the rank-and-file organizer or radical agitator as of the average workingman in a mass-production industry like rubber.”

To begin with, the sitdown is the opposite of sabotage, to which many workers are opposed.

It destroys nothing. Before shutting down a department in a rubber plant; for instance, the men take the compounded rubber from the mills, or they finish building or curing the tires then being built or cured, so that nothing is needlessly ruined. Taking the same precautions during the sitdown as they do during production, the men do not smoke in departments where benzine is used. There is no drinking. This discipline is instinctive. (2)

Sitdowns are effective, short, and free from violence.

There are no strikebreakers in the majority of instances; the factory management does not dare to get tough and try to drive the sitting men out and replace them with other workers, for such violence would turn the public against the employers and the police, and might result in damage to costly machinery. In a sitdown there are no picket lines outside the factories, where police and company guards have great advantage when a fight starts. The sitdown action occurs wholly inside the plant, where the workers, who know every detail of the interior, have obvious advantages. The sitters-down organize their own ‘police squads,’ arming them in rubber -- with crowbars normally used to pry open molds in which tires are cured. These worker cops patrol the belt, watch for possible scabs and stand guard near the doors. In a few instances where city police and company cops entered a factory, they were bewildered, frightened, and driven out by the ‘sitting’ workers with no difficulty whatever.

The initiative, conduct, and control of the sitdown come directly from the men involved.

Most workers distrust -- if not consciously, then unconsciously -- union officials and strike leaders and committees, even when they themselves have elected them. The beauty of the sitdown or the stay-in is that there are no leaders or officials to distrust. There can be no sellout. Such standard procedure as strike sanction is hopelessly obsolete when workers drop their tools, stop their machines, and sit down beside them.

Finally, the sitdown counters the boredom, degradation, and isolation of the factory.

Work in most of the departments of a rubber factory or any other kind of mass-production factory is drudgery of the worst sort -- mechanical and uncreative, insistent and requiring no imagination; and any interruption is welcomed by workers, even if only subconsciously. The conscious part of their mind may worry about the loss of pay: their subconscious however does not care a whit about that. The sitdown is dramatic, thrilling.

. . . the average worker in a mass-production plant is full of grievances and complaints, some of them hardly realized, and any vent of them is welcomed.

The sitdown is a social affair. Sitting workers talk. They get acquainted. And they like that. In a regular strike it is impossible to bring together under one roof more than one or two thousand people, and these only for a meeting, where they do not talk with one another but listen to speakers. A sltdown holds under the same roof up to ten or twelve thousand idle men, free to talk among themselves, man to man. ‘Why, my God, man,’ one Goodyear gum-miner told me in November 1936, ‘during the sitdowns last spring I found out that the guy who works next to me is the same as I am, even if I was born in West Virginia and he is from Poland. His grievances are the same. Why shouldn’t we stick?’ (3)

Late in 1935, Goodyear announced that it was shifting from the six- to the eight-hour day, admitting that 1,200 men would be laid off and that other companies would follow suit. The announcement created shock in Akron -- unemployment was still high and six hours under speed-up conditions were already so exhausting that rubberworkers complained “when I get home I’m so tired I can’t even sleep with my wife.” (4) As the companies began “adjusting” piecerates in preparation for introducing the 8-hour day, a wave of spontaneous work stoppages by non- union employees forced a slowing of production. (5)

January 29, 1936, the truck tirebuilders at Firestone sat down against a reduction in rates and the firing of a union committeeman. The men had secretly planned the strike for 2:00 a.m.: when the hour struck.

the tirebuilders at the end of the line walked three steps to the master safety switch and, drawing a deep breath, he pulled up the heavy wooden handle. With this signal, in perfect synchronization, with the rhythm they had learned in a great mass-production industry, the tirebuilders stepped back from their machines.

Instantly, the noise stopped. The whole room lay in perfect silence. The tirebuilders stood in long lines, touching each other, perfectly motionless, deafened by the silence. A moment ago there had been the weaving hands, the revolving wheels, the clanking belt, the moving hooks, the flashing tire tools. Now there was absolute stillness, no motion anywhere, no-sound.

‘We done it! We stopped the belt! By God, we done it!’ And men began to cheer hysterically, to shout and howl in the fresh silence. Men wrapped long sinewy arms around their neighbors' shoulders. screaming. ‘We done it! We done it! We done it!’ (6)

The workers in the truck tire department sent a committee around the plant to call out other departments, another to talk with the boss, and a third to police the shop. Within a day the entire Plant No. 1 was struck, and when, after 53 hours, the walkers at Plant No. 2 announced they had voted to sit down in sympathy, management capitulated completely. Two days later, pitmen at Goodyear sat down over a pay cut, were persuaded to return to work by the company union, sat down again and were again cajoled back to work, sat down a third time and returned to work under threat of immediate replacement by the Flying Squadron, a special strikebreaking force in the plant. February 8 the tire department at Goodrich sat down over a rate reduction. The strike spread through the rest of the plant, stopping it completely within six hours, and management rapidly capitulated to the sitdowners. The sit-down had shaken each of the big three within a ten-day period.

The crisis finally came Feb. 14. A few days before Goodyear had laid off 70 tirebuilders and the workers assumed that this was the signal for introducing the 8-hour day. At 3:10 a.m., 137 tirebuilders in Dept. 251-A of Goodyears Plant No. 2 -- few if any of them members of the union -- shut off the power and sat down. (7) The great Goodyear strike was on.

Akron workers had developed the sitdown strike largely because the union had failed to control the speed-up. It had called strikes and then called them off at the last minute, called them again and then reached a settlement which management described accurately as “no change in employee relations,” after which rubber workers had stood up on street corners tearing up their union cards. But by now the United Rubberworkers Union had changed its course, replaced union professionals with former rubber workers in office, and allied itself with the new C.I.O. industrial union movement. With each sit-down, the union signed up the participants, and now workers flooded back into the union halls. The initiative for the sitdowns, however, did not come from the union; indeed, as labor historian Irving Bernstein pointed out, “The U.R.W. . . . disliked the sitdown.” (8) Thus U.R.W.A. officials now persuaded the Goodyear sitdowners to leave and marched them out of the plant. Goodyear offered to take the laid-off men back, but by now the rubber workers of the entire city were up in arms, determined to make a stand against the 8-hour day. 1500 Goodyear workers met and voted unanimously to strike, but four days later the president of the union local was still saying the strike was not a U.R.W.A. affair. (9)

Meanwhile, the workers began mass picketing at each of the 45 gates around Goodyear’s 11-mile perimeter, putting up 300 tarpaper shanties to keep warm. The men elected picket captains who met regularly, coordinated strike action, and set the strike's demands. Inside plant No. 1 hundreds of men and women staged a sitdown until a union delegate marched them out. At the union hall, “committees sprang up almost by themselves” to take care of problems as they arose. A soup kitchen developed-out of the sandwich- and coffee-making crew, staffed by volunteers from the Cooks and Waitresses Union. (10) On the 6th day of the strike the ClO sent in half-a-dozen of its top leaders to Akron, and the U.R.W. executive board sanctioned the strike.

The company now tried to break the strike by force. It secured an injunction against mass-picketing, which the workers simply ignored. The sheriff put together a force bf 150 deputies to open the plants, but 10 thousand workers from all over the city gathered with lead pipes and baseball bats and the charge was called off at the last possible second. Next a Law and Order League was organized by a former mayor with money from Goodyear which claimed 5,200 organized vigilantes. Word spread that an attack was planned for March 18. The union went on the radio all that night while workers gathered in homes throughout the city ready to rush any place an attack was made. The Summit County Central Labor Council declared it would call a general strike in the event of a violent attack on the picket lines. In the face of such preparations, the vigilante movement was paralysed.

President Roosevelt’s ace mediator, Ed McGrady,. proposed that the workers return to work and submit the issues to arbitration. To this and other proposed settlements the workers at their mass meetings chanted “No, no, a thousand times no. I'd rather die than say yes.” (11) After more than a month Goodyear capitulated on most of the demands although without agreeing to formal recognition. The rubber workers returned to work largely victorious and proceeded to implement their position with the sitdown. In the three months after the strike there were 19 recorded sitdowns at Goodyear alone, with any number more “quickies” unrecorded. (12) Louis Adamio described the situation the found in Akron in 1936:

a week seldom passed without one or more sitdowns. . . . A typical one took place on November 17, when I was In Akron, in the huge Goodyear No. 1 plant. After an inconclusive argument with the management over an adjustment in wage rates, ninety-eight workers in one of the departments sat down, stopping the work of seven thousand men for a day and a half, at the end of which period the company promised speedy action on the adjustment.

Officials of rubber companies. with whom I talked were frantlc in their attempts to stop the sitdowns. They blamed them on trouble-makers and the union movement in general. They tried to terrorize union sympathlzers. The Goodyear management- for instance, assigned two non-union inspectors to a department with instructions to diaqualliy tires produced by known union men. After pelting them with milk bottles for a while, the men sat down and refused to work until the inspectors were removed. The company rushed in its factory guards with clubs, but a 65-year old union gum-miner met the army at the entrance and [told] them to ‘beat it.’ They went -- and the non-union inspectors were replaced.

Akron sitdowns were provoked by various other causes. In the early autumn of 1936, S.H. Dalrymple, president of the U.R.W.A., was beaten by thugs employed by a rubber factory, whereupon the factory workers sat down in pretest, forcing the company to close for a day. When work was resumed the next night, a K.K.K fiery cross biased up within view of the Plant. This caused the men to sit down again -- and to dispatch a squad of ‘huskies’ to extinguish the cross. (13)

The scene of the sit-down story now shifts to the auto industry, where Machine Operator No. 8004 worked in the camshaft department of the Chevrolet factory in Flint, Michigan. The men he worked with produced 118 shafts a shift, naturally producing a few more in the first half when they were fresh than in the second. One day in 1935 management suddenly announced that they would have to increase production in the second half to the level of the first, turning out 124 instead of 118 a shift. The men accepted the increase, but then organized informally to prevent any further speed-up. As one of them put it, “Any man who runs over 124 every night is only cutting his own throat.” (14) They also carefully planned not produce more in the first half, least management again use the differential against them. If they ran past 62 shafts, they would hide the extras in the racks under the machines, covering them with rough stock. The pickup man checked every hour to see how many shafts were completed and passed the information along, allowing the workers to keep a steady and equalized pace. If a worker turned out 70 shafts, he picked up only 62 of them. Machine Operator No. 8004 fought the movement, telling his fellow workers to “knock the production out and forget about trying to set an amount for each man to run” (15); he was almost beaten up for his pains. This case of workers controlling the speed of production is documented -- unlike thousands of others that have remained unrecorded -- because Machine Operator No. 8004 was a labor spy. (16)

As a study of the auto industry in 1934 by the NRA Division of Research and Planning revealed prophetically, the grievance “mentioned most frequently. . . and uppermost in the minds of those who testified is the stretch out [speed-up]. Everywhere workers indicated that they being forced to work harder and harder, to put out more and more products in the same amount of time and with less workers doing the job. . . if there is any one cause for conflagration in automobile industry it is this one.” (17) According to Sidney Fine, whose Sitdown is the basic scholarly study of the great General Motors strike of 1936-7, the speed-up was resented not only because of the absolute rate of production, but also because the mass production worker “was not free, as perhaps he had been on some previous job, to set the pace of his work and to determine the manner in which it was to be performed.” (18) A Buick worker complained “You have to run to the toilet and run back. If you had to . . . take a crap, if there wasn’t anybody there to relieve you, you had to run away and tie up the line, and if you tied the line up you got hell for it.” (19) The wife of a GM worker complained.

You should see him come home at night, him and the rest of the men in the buses. So tired like they was dead, and irritable. My John’s not like that. He’s a good, kind man. But the children don’t dare go near him, he’s so nervous and his temper’s bad. And then at night in bed he shakes, his whole body, he shakes.

“Yes.” replied another.

They’re not men anymore if you know what I mean. They’re not men. My husband is only 30, but to look at him you’d think he was 50 and all played out. (20)

Where you used to be a man. . . now you are less than their cheapest tool,” one worker complained (21), and another summed up, “I just don’t like to be drove.” (22)

The development of unionism in Auto followed closely that in Rubber. Herbert Harris estimated that with the coming of the New Deal’s National Recovery Administration, which guaranteed workers’ right to collective bargaining, 210,000 auto workers joined the AFL auto locals, though the figure may be excessive. (23) Since the employers refused to give any significant concessions, important auto locals voted to strike and a strike throughout the industry seemed inevitable; workers flooded into the unions to take part in the strike - 20,000 in Flint alone. (24) The AFL leadership, however, wanted to avoid a strike at all costs, and managed to postpone it again and again. Finally Collins, top AFL official in the auto industry, asked President Roosevelt to intervene. Roosevelt immediately demanded that the strike be postponed. That afternoon Collins told union leaders, "You have a wonderful man down there in Washington and he is trying hard to raise wages and working conditions.” (25) According to Kraus, “The attitudes of the auto workers toward the President those days bordered on the mystical;” the local representatives agreed to cancel the strike. Thereupon Roosevelt announced a settlement conceding nothing to the workers but an Automobile Labor board to hear discrimination cases, legitimizing company unions, and virtually exempting the auto industry from the NRA’s protection of collective bargaining; (26) “We all feel tremendously happy over the outcome in Washington,” a GM vice-president reported. (27) In the words of Sidney Fine. “The President made the victory of the automobile manufacturers complete on the issue of representation and collective bargaining.” (28) Leonard Woodcock recalls that when the workers in Flint heard of the settlement they felt “a deep sense of betrayal,” and began to tear up union cards. By October 1934, paid up membership in Flint had plummeted to 528. (29) In several subsequent local strikes, the AFL played a strikebreaking role, even marching its members with a police escort into a Motor Products plant struck by another union. (30) Those few, mostly young and militant, who remained in the auto union bitterly fought AFL control, and eventually took control of the union and aligned it with the newly emerging CIO.

Like the rubber workers, the auto workers turned to the sitdown and other forms of job action against speed-up; we have given one example in a camshaft department above.

Quickies occurred sporadically, especially in auto body plants in Cleveland and Detroit, from 1933-35. (31) By late 1936, the highly visible sitdowns in Akron were being imitated by auto workers all over, especially since it was the ‘grooving in’ period in which new models are introduced, and management as usual tried to raise speed and cut pieceretes on new jobs, lifting resentment to a peak. In Flint, heart of the GM empire, there were seven work stoppages in Fisher Body #1 plant in one week. One day the trim shop knocked off an hour early as a protest. Workers in another shop struck for an extra man and got the line slowed from 50 to 45 jobs. Another action won a 20% restoration of a wage cut. Henry Kraus, author of a book on the GM strike and at that time editor of the union paper in Flint, describes this as “largely a spontaneous movement onto which the union had not yet securely attached itself.” (32) He describes Bob Simons, a union leader in the Fisher plant, coming to Bob Travis, the UAW organizer in Flint, and saying, ‘Honest to God.. Bob, you’ve got to let me pull a strike before one pops somewhere that we won’t be able to control!” (33)

The union tried to win the confidence of the workers by supporting the sitdowns and making itself the agency through which they could be spread. On November 12, for example, supervision reduced by one of the ‘bow-men’ who welded the angle irons across car roofs. The other bow-men were two brothers named Perkins and an Italian named Joe Urban; none of them were in the union but they had been reading about the Bendix sitdown and, adopting the idea, simply stopped working. The foreman and superintendent marched over and tried to talk them into going back to work, but the men just sat there arguing until twenty unfinished jobs had passed on the production line. The whole department followed the argument with intense excitement. Finally the bow-men agreed to go back to work till they could talk to the day-shift about it, but everyone left that night talking about the sitdown. Next day when the Perkins came to work they were sent to the employment office and told that they were fired. They showed their firing slips to Bub Simons and he and the other union committeemen ran through the “body in while” department where the main welding and soldering work was done, crying, “The perkins boys were fired! Nobody starts working!”

The whistle blew. Every man in the department stood at his situation, a deep, significant tenseness in him. The foreman pushed the button and the skeleton bodies, already partly assembled when they got to this point, began to rumble forward. But no one lifted a hand. All eyes were turned to Simons who stood out in the aisle by himself.

The bosses ran about like mad.
“Whatsamatter? Whatsamatter? Get to work!” they shouted.

But the men acted as though they never heard them. One or two of them couldn't stand the tension. Habit was deep in them and it was like physical agony for them to see the bodies pass untouched. They grabbed their tools and chased after them. “Rat! Rat!” the men growled without moving and the mothers came to their senses.

The superintendent stopped by the “bow-men.”
“You’re to blame for this!”-he snarled

“So what if we are?” little Joe Urban, the Italian, cried, overflowing with pride. “You ain’t running your line, are you?”

That was altogether too much. The superintendent grabbed Joe and started for the office with him. The two went down along the entire line, while the men stood rigid as though awaiting the word of command. It was like that because they were organized but their organization only went that far and no further. What now?

Simons, a torch-solderer, was almost at the end of the line. He too was momentarily held in vise by the superintendent’s overt act of authority. The latter had dragged Joe Urban past him when he finally found presence of mind to call out:
“Hey Teefee, where are you going?”
It was spoken in just an ordinary conversational tone and the other was taken so aback he answered the really impertinent question.
“I’m taking him to the office to have a little talk with him.” Then suddenly he realized and got mad. “Say, I think I’ll take you along too!”
That was his mistake.
“No you won’t!” Simons said calmly.
“Oh yes I will!” and he took hold of his shirt.
Simmons yanked himself loose.
And suddenly at this simple act of insurgence, Teefee realized his danger. He seemed to become acutely conscious of the long line of silent men and felt the threat of their potential strength. They had been transformed into something he had never known before and over which he no longer had any command. He let loose of Simons and started off again with Joe Urban, hastening his pace. Simons yelled:
“Come on, fellows, don’t let them fire little Joe!”
About a dozen boys shot out of the line and started after Teefee. The superintendent dropped Joe like a hoy poker and deer-footed it for the door. The men returned to their places and all stood waiting. Now what? The next move was the company’s. The movement tingled with expectancy. Teefee returned shortly, accompanied by Bill Lynch, the assistant plant manager. Lynch was a friendly sort of person and was liked by the men. He went straight to Simons.

“I hear we’ve got trouble here,” he said in a chatty way. “What are we doing to do about it?”

“I think we’ll get a committee together and go in and see Parker,” Simons replied.

Lynch agreed. So Simons began picking the solid men out as had been prepared. The foreman tried to smuggle in a couple of company-minded individuals, so Simons chose a group of no less than eighteen to make sure that the scrappers would outnumber the others. Walt Moore went with him but Joe Devitt remained behind to see that the bosses didn’t try any monkeyshines. The others headed for the office where Evan Parker, the plant manager, greeted them as smooth as silk.

“You can smoke if you want to, boys,” he said as he bid them to take the available chairs. “Well, what seems to be the trouble here? We ought to be able to settle this thing.”

“Mr. Parker, it’s the speedup the boys are complaining about,” Simons said, taking the lead. “It’s absolutely beyond human endurance. And now we’ve organized ourselves into a union. It’s the union you’re talking to right now, Mr. Parker.”

“Why that’s perfectly all right, boys,” Parker said affably. “Whatever a man does outside the plant is his own business.”

The men were almost bowled over by this manner. They had never known Parker as anything but a tough cold tomato with an army sergeant's style. He was clearly trying to play to the weaker boys on the committee and began asking them leading questions. Simons or Walt Moore would try to break in and answer for them.

“Now I didn’t ask you,” Parker would say, “you can talk when it’s your turn!” In this way he south to split the committee up into so many individuals. Simons realized he had to put an end to that quickly.

“We might as well quit talking right now, Mr. Parker,” he said, putting on a tough act. “Those men have got to go back and that’s all there is to it!”

“That’s what you say,” Parker snapped back.

“No, that’s what the men say. You can go out and see for yourself. Nobody is going to work until that happens.”

Parker knew that was true. Joe Devitt and several other good men who had been left behind were seeing to that. The plan manager seemed to soften again. All right, he said, he’d agree to take the two men back if he found their attitude was okay.

“Who’s to judge that?” Simons asked.

“I will, of course!”

“Uh-uh!” Simons smiled and shook his head.

The thing bogged down again. Finally Parker said the Perkins brothers could return unconditionally on Monday. This was Friday night and they’d already gone home so there was no point holding up thousands of men until they could be found and brought back. To make this arrangement final he agreed that the workers in the department would get paid for the time lost in the stoppage. But Simons held fast to the original demand. Who knew what might happen till Monday? The Perkins fellows would have to be back on the line that night or the entire incident might turn out a flop.

“They go back tonight,” he insisted.

Parker was fit to be tied; What was this? Never before in his life had he seen anything like it!

“Those boys have left!” he shouted. “It might take hours to get them back. Are you going to keep the lines tied up all that time?”

“We’ll see what the men say,” Simons replied, realizing that a little rank and file backing would not be out of the way. The committee rose and started back for the shop.

As they entered a zealous foreman preceded them, hollering: “Everybody back to work!” The men dashed for their places.

SImons jumped onto a bench.

“Wait a minute!” he shouted. The men crowded around him. He waited till they were all there and then told them in full detail of the discussion in the office. Courage visibly mounted into the men’s faces as they heard of the unwavering manner in which their committee had acted in the dead presence itself.

“What are we going to do, fellows,” Simons asked, “take the company’s word and go back to work or wait till the Perkins boys are right there at their jobs?”

“Bring them back first!” Walt Moore and Joe Devitt began yelling and the whole crowd took up the cry.

Simons seized the psychological moment to make it official.

“As many’s in favor of bringing the Perkins boys back before we go to work, say Aye!” There was a roar in answer. “Opposed, Nay!” Only a few timid voices sounded - those of the company men and the foremen who had been circulating among the workers trying to influence them to go back to work. Simons turned to them.

“There you are,” he said.

One of the foremen had taken out pencil and paper and after the vote he went around recording names. “You want to go to work?” he asked each of the men. Finally he came to one chap who struck his chin out and said loudly: “Emphatically not!” which made the rest of the boys laugh and settled the issue.

Mr. Parker got the news and decided to terminate the matter as swiftly as possible. He contacted the police and asked them to bring the Perkins boys in. One was at home but the other had gone out with his girl. The police short-waved his license number to all scout cars. The local radio station cut into its program several times to announce that the brothers were wanted back at the plant. Such fame would probably never again come to these humble workers. By chance the second boy caught the announcement over the radio in his car and came to the plant all bewildered. When told what had happened the unappreciative chap refused to go to work until he had driven his girl home and changed his clothes! And a thousand men waited another half hour while the meticulous fellow was getting out of his Sunday duds.

When the two brothers came back into the shop at least, accompanied by the committee, the workers let out a deafening cheer that could be heard in the most distant reaches of the quarter-mile-long plant. THere had never been anything quite like this happen in Flint before, The workers didn’t have to be told to know the immense significance of their victory. Simons called the Perkins boys up on the impromptu platform. They were too shy to even stammer their thanks.
“You glad to get back?” Simons coached them.
“You bet!”
“Who did it for you?”
“You boys did.”
Simons then gave a little talk through carefully refraining from mentioning the union.
“Fellows,” he said amid a sudden silence, “you’ve seen what you can get by sticking together. All I want you to do is remember that. Now let’s get to work.” (34)

The power revealed here was the workers’ own power to halt production. But the union claimed credit for having led the action, and largely in response to this victory, union membership in Flint increased from 150 to 1500 within two weeks. (35)

The union’s objective was to win recognition as the bargaining representative for the auto workers. Discontent was seething in the auto plans and breaking out in strikes all over. Since the auto companies were not willing to recognize the union voluntarily, the obvious approach for the union was to “attach itself” to this strike movement, lead it on a company-wide basis, and use it to negotiate for recognition by the company. As one U.A.W. National Council member put it some time before, “the only means we have now is to strike . . . we must prove to the automobile workers we can help them. (36) Indeed, such “organizational strikes” became the basic tactic of the CIO unions in winning union recognition. Yet the union leadership was ambivalent about a strike. According to J. Raymond Walsh, later research and education director for the CIO. “The CIO high command, preoccupied with the drive in steel, tried in vain to prevent the strike. . .” (37) Leadership of the UAW believed a strike was necessary, but wanted to postpone it until they were better organized -- membership from April to December 1936 averaged only 27,000 for the entire industry, which on the average employed 460,000 (38) -- and resisted attempts to spread various strikes that broke out in November and December. This attitude was based on the fact that G.M. would be little hurt by the strikes in peripheral plants, whereas if the Fisher Body plants in Cleveland and Flint could be closed, perhaps 3/4ths of GM’s production could be crippled. (39)

On the other hand, local leaders often reflected the turbulence of the workers in the shops; as Adolph Germer, CIO representative for the auto industry, complained:

“There is … a strong undercurrent of revolt against the authority of the laws and rules of the organization…. It is not that the boys are defiant of the organization; I attribute it rather to their youth and dynamic natures. They want things done right now, and they are too impatient to wait for the orderly procedure involved in collective bargaining.” (40)

The union finally requested a collective bargaining conference with G.M., the key company in the industry. It also announced the goals with which it hoped to gain leadership of the workers: an annual wage adequate to provide “health, decency, and comfort,” elimination of speed-up, spreading work through shorter hours, seniority, an eight-hour day, overtime pay, safety measures, and “true collective bargaining.” (41) It expected events to move toward a head sometime in January. Events, however, did not wait for them; the workers all over began striking on their own. As Germer complained, “It seems to be a custom for anybody or any group to call a strike at will. . . .” (42)

In Atlanta, November 18, the local called a sitdown over piece rate reductions, to the consternation of UAW national officials. A week later, the UAW local at the Bendix Corporation in South Bend, Indiana, won a contract after a nine-day sitdown, and a sitdown at Midland Steel Frame Company in Detroit won a wage increase, seniority, and time-and-a-half for overtime. In early December, a sitdown at Kelsey-Hayes Wheel Company in Detroit forced union recognition. In Kansas City on December 16, workers sat down over the firing of a union member for jumping over the conveyor to go to the toilet. (43) Detroit experienced a virtual sitdown wave in December 1936, with workers at the Gordon Baking Company, Alcoa, National Automotive Fibers, and Bohn Aluminum and Brass Company all sitting down. (44)

Those union leaders who wanted a strike against GM were most worried about whether the Fisher plant in Cleveland would come out -- many union workers there had lost their jobs in the wake of previous strikes, and no more than 10 percent of the workers were in the union. (45) But resentment was running high over grooving-in speed-up, and when management postponed a long-awaited meeting to discuss grievances on December 28, workers in the quarter panel department said, “to hell with this stalling,” and pulled the power switch. Workers in the steel stock, metal assembly, and trim departments quit work, and soon 7,000 workers were sitting down. (46) The local leadership was “taken completely by surprise.” (47)

Meanwhile, events in Flint moved toward the decisive conflict. Two days after the Cleveland strike began, fifty workers sat down at the Fisher Body No. 2 plant in Flint to protest the transfer of three inspectors who had been ordered to quit the union and refused. (48) Later that night, workers in Fisher plant #1 discovered that the company was loading dies -- critical for the making of car bodies -- onto railroad cars for shipment to plants elsewhere. GM followed a policy described by its executive vice president, William Knudson, as “diversification of plants where local union strength is dangerous”; half the machinery in the Toledo Chevrolet plant, for example, had been removed after a strike in 1935, leaving hundreds out of work. (49) The workers were furious, and streamed over to the union hall across from the plant where a meeting had been announced for lunchtime. Kraus, who was present, reports that “everybody’s mind seemed made up before even a word was spoken.” (50) When an organizer asked what they wanted to do, they shouted, “Shut her down! Shut the goddamn plant!” (51) They raced back into the plant, and a few minutes later one of them opened a third-story window and shouted, “Hurray, Bob! She’s ours!” (52)

The occupiers rapidly faced the problem of organizing themselves for life inside the plant. The basic decision-making body was a daily meeting of all the strikers in the plant. “The entire life of the sitdown came into review here and most of its ideas and decisions originated on the spot,” Henry Kraus reported. (53) The chief administrative body was a committee of seventeen that reported to the strikers; available records indicate that virtually all its decisions were cleared with the general meeting of strikers. (54) The strikers inside the plant, according to Sidney Fine, “displayed a fierce independence in their relationship with the UAW leadership on the outside.” For example, Travis, though personally respected by the strikers, had to ask their permission to send one of his staff into the plant to gather material for the press, and he was only allowed in on the condition that his notes were cleared by the strike executive. A sitdowner told a reporter that he and his companions would not leave the plant even under orders from the union president or John L. Lewis, “unless we get what we want.” (55) They had no direct representation in the negotiations, however.

Social groups of 15, usually men who worked together in the shop, set up house and lived together in their own corner of the plant (56) usually with close camaraderie. Each group had its own steward, and the stewards met together from time to time. The actual work of the strike was done by committees on food, recreation, information, education, postal services, sanitation, grievances, rumor control, coordination with the outside, and the like; each worker served on at least one committee, and was responsible for six hours of strike duty a day. The sitdowners sent out their own representatives to recruit union members, coordinate relief, and create an ‘outside defense squad.’

Special attention was paid to the question of defense. A ‘special patrol’ made hourly inspections of the entire plant day and night, looking for signs of company attack. Security groups were assigned to doorways and stairwells. Strikers set up ‘a regular production line’ (57) to make blackjacks out of rubber hoses, braided leather, and lead, and covered the windows with metal sheets with holes for fire hoses. The men conducted regular drills with the hoses, and collected piles of bolts, nuts, and door hinges for ammunition.

Sanitation likewise was stressed. At 3:00 p.m., a crane whistle would blow and all the men would line up at one end of the plant. The first wave would pick up refuse, behind it the second would put things in order, and the third would sweep the floor. The commissary floor was cleaned once an hour. The men showered daily. These measures were aimed at preserving both morale and health. Likewise, the workers protected the machinery, in some cases even oiling it, organized fire protection, and inspected for fire hazards. Food was prepared on the outside by hundreds of volunteers and brought to the sitdowners by striking trolley coach employees.

Workers established courts to punish infractions of rules. The most serious ‘crimes’ were failures to perform assigned duties by not showing up, sleeping on the job, or deserting one’s post. Others included failing to bus dirty dishes, littering, not participating in daily clean-up, smoking outside the plant cafeteria, failing to search everyone entering and leaving buildings, bringing in liquor, and making noise in sleeping areas or the ‘Quiet Zone,’ where absolute silence was available twenty-four hours a day. Punishments were designed to fit the crime; for example, men who failed to take a daily shower were ‘sentenced’ to scrub the bathhouse. The ultimate punishment, applied only after repeated infractions, was expulsion from the plant. The courts were generally conducted with a good deal of humor and treated as a source of entertainment. For example, a striker who entered a plant without proper credentials was sentenced to make a speech to the court as his punishment. Reporter Edwin Levinson observed that “there is more substantial humor in a single session of the Fisher strikers’ kangaroo courts than in a season of Broadway musical comedies.”

This kind of informal gaiety and creativity seemed to burgeon in the strike community. A favorite pastime was for the men to gather in a circle and call out the name of a member, who would then have to sing, whistle, dance, or tell a story. Each plant had its own band, composed of mandolins, guitars, banjos, and harmonicas. The strikers made up verse after verse about the strike to dozens of popular and country tunes. General meetings, by the strikers’ decision, opened and closed with singing. The favorite was Solidarity Forever. One sitdowner wrote home, “We are all one happy family now. We all feel fine and have plenty to eat. We have several good banjo players and singers. We sing and cheer the Fisher boys and they return it.” (59) Another wrote, “I am having a great time, something new, something different, lots of grub and music.” (60) A psychologist declared that the ‘atmosphere of cooperativeness’ created ‘a veritable revolution of personality,’ indicated, for instance, by workers more frequently saying “we” than “I.” (61) As a reporter in Paul Gallico’s novelette on the sitdown sensed, “They had made a palace out of what had been their prison.” (62)

Outside the factories, a network of committees supported the strike, organizing defense, food, sound cars, picketing, transportation, strike relief, publicity, and entertainment. Women were particularly important in the outside organization. (The union leadership had decided that only men would occupy the plants, to the anger of some women workers.) Wives’ support was essential to strike morale, a fact recognized by the company, which sent representatives calling on them to pressure their husbands back to work. But strikers’ wives and women workers poured into strike activities, maintaining the picket line, running the commissary and working on the various committees. Following a street dance on New Year’s Eve, about 50 women decided to form a Women’s Auxiliary and set up their own speakers’ bureau, day care center for mothers on strike duty, first-aid station, and welfare committee. After battles began with the police, women established a Women’s Emergency Brigade of 350 members on military lines, ready to battle police. “We will form a line around the men, and if the police want to fire then they’ll just have to fire into us,” one of the women said. “Women who only yesterday were horrified at unionism, who felt inferior to the task of organizing, speaking, leading, have, as if overnight, become the spearhead in the battle of unionism.” (64) Another recalled, “I found a common understanding and unselfishness I’d never known in my life. I’m living for the first time with a definite goal…. Just being a woman isn’t enough anymore. I want to be a human being with the right to think for myself.” (65)

The strike spread rapidly from Flint and other initial centers throughout the GM system. The union coordinated the strike and put forward union recognition as its central demand -- what recognition meant was never clarified, but workers assumed it meant a powerful say for them in industrial decisions and they supported it enthusiastically. Auto workers sat down at Guide Lamp in Anderson, Indiana, at Chevrolet and Fisher Body in Janesville, Wisconsin, and Cadillac in Detroit. Regular strikes developed at Norwood and Toledo, Ohio, and Ternstedt, Michigan. GM was forced to halt production at Pontiac, Oldsmobile, Delco-Remy, and numerous other plants. (66) GM’s projected production for January of 224,000 was cut to 60,000. (67) In the first ten days of February, it produced only 151 cars in the entire country. (68)

General Motors refused to bargain until the plants were evacuated and started a counter-attack on three levels: legal action, organization of an anti-strike movement, and direct violence against the strikers. The third day of the strike, GM lawyers requested and received an injunction from Judge Edward Black ordering strikers to evacuate the plants, cease picketing, and allow those wanting to work to enter. The sheriff read the injunction to the sitdowners, who jeered him menacingly until he fled. Then a quick-witted union lawyer checked and discovered that Judge Black owned 3,365 shares of General Motors stock valued at $219,900. This exposed the judge as an interested party and made the injunction worthless, as well as showing the corporation’s power over government. (69)

The company’s next move was to organize the Flint Alliance “for the Security of Our Jobs, Our Homes, and Our Community.” It was headed by George Boysen, a past and future GM official, and as a state police investigator reported, it was “a product of General Motors brains.” It worked in close cooperation with John Barringer, the Flint city manager. (70) The Alliance began anti-strike publicity and started recruiting anti-union workers, businessmen, farmers, housewives, schoolchildren, and anyone else who would sign a card; a large enrollment was desired, according to Boysen, for “its moral effect toward smothering the strike movement.” (71)

For almost two weeks, little violence occurred in Flint. But on January 11, supporters carrying dinner to the sitdowners in Fisher #2 were stopped at the gate by plant guards, whom the strikers had allowed to hold the ground floor of the factory. The pickets started taking food up a twenty-four-foot ladder, but the guards formed a flying wedge and seized the ladder. Suddenly police closed off all traffic approaches to the plant. An attempt was clearly under way either to starve out the sitdowners or evict them by force, and unless the workers took the gates it would succeed. Twenty sitdowners, armed with blackjacks, marched downstairs and demanded the key to the gate. “My orders are to give it to nobody,” the company police officer in charge replied. (72) The sitdowners gave the guards to the count of ten, then charged the gate. The guards fled and locked themselves in the women’s bathroom. The sitdowners put their shoulders to the wooden gates and splintered them, to the cheers of the pickets who had quickly gathered outside. (73)

Then suddenly patrol cars drew up and city policemen began pouring out, throwing gas grenades at the pickets and into the plant. At this point, the earlier defensive preparations taken by the sitdowners came in handy; they opened firehoses on the officers and showered them with two-pound door hinges. Within five minutes, the police, drenched and battered, retreated from the vicinity. The police attacked again, but the outside pickets regrouped and drove them off. In retreat, the police began firing their guns, wounding 13. (74)

The conflict was quickly dubbed the “Battle of the Running Bulls.” It was considered a great victory for the strikers and a demonstration that they could hold out against police attack. In its wake, hitherto neutral hostile workers flooded into the union. It also provoked Governor Frank Murphy to order the National Guard into Flint.

Murphy was a New Deal governor par excellence. In Detroit he had been one of the most liberal mayors in the country, providing exceptional public assistance to the unemployed and preventing the police from suppressing radicals. He was elected governor with overwhelming labor support, and had insisted on making welfare relief available to strikers. He was also on close terms with such auto magnates as Walter Chrysler and Lawrence Fisher of Fisher Body, whose plants were the chief target in Flint. Although it was not known at the time, Murphy was also the owner of 1,650 shares of General Motors stock worth $104,875 (75)

Murphy did not intend to use the National Guard to drive the sitdowners out by force. He was fully supported in this decision by General Motors, whose officials told Murphy privately that they did not want the strikers “evicted by force.” (76) Knudson stated publicly that GM wanted the strike settled by negotiation rather than violence. Murphy, who believed the sitdown illegal but feared bloodshed in evicting the strikers, used the National Guard to prevent vigilante attacks while holding the threat of a starve-out over the workers’ heads. Murphy even succeeded in arranging a truce in which the union would evacuate the plants in exchange for a company pledge not to remove machinery or open the plants for 15 days. This would have given away the strikers’ strongest point, their possession of the plants, but it was scotched when the union labeled GM’s plans to negotiate with the Flint Alliance a double-cross and called off the truce.

Failing to evacuate the plants by other means, GM applied for a new injunction from a different judge. Meanwhile pressure built up as strikers were attacked by police in Detroit, vigilantes in Saginaw, and both in Anderson, Indiana. At this point, the local leaders in Flint devised a bold initiative to shift the balance of forces by seizing the giant Chevrolet #4 plant. The problem was that union strength at Chevrolet #4 was limited and the plant was heavily protected by company guards. At a meeting of carefully selected Chevrolet workers, which deliberately included suspected company spies, Bob Travis announced a sitdown at Chevrolet #9 at 3:20 the next day, February 1. Key leaders at #9 were told that they need only hold the plant for half an hour, as the real target was #6. As expected, company guards had been tipped off by the company spies and shifted from the #4 to the #9 area. At 3:20, workers sat down at #9, company guards rushed in, and the diversionary battle began. Meanwhile, a handful of workers in Chevrolet No. 4 who knew the plan marched around the factory shouting, “Shut ’er down!” (77) but were too few even to be heard. Those tipped off in No. 6, meanwhile, led a small group over to #4. They were still too few to close down the huge plant, however, and it seemed as if the plan had failed. But when they returned to #6, they found the whole plant on strike, and the workers marched en masse back to #4 to shut it down. About half the #4 workers joined the sitdown, the rest dropping their lunches in gondolas for the sitdowners as they left.

The capture of Chevrolet #4 changed the balance of forces, showing that the workers, far from being exhausted, were still able to expand their grip on the industry. As a result, GM agreed to negotiate without evacuation of the plants. The law-and-order forces tried one more offensive, however. Judge Gadola issued a new injunction ordering evacuation of the plants and an end to picketing within twenty-four hours. When the workers ignored it, he issued a writ of attachment and claimed authority to have the National Guard enforce it without approval of the governor. In the final crisis, thousands of workers poured into Flint from hundreds of miles around. Auto plants in Detroit and Toledo were shut down by the exodus of workers to Flint. (78) To avoid the appearance of provocation, the mobilization was declared Women’s Day and women’s brigades came in from Lansing, Pontiac, Toledo, and Detroit. The crowd of perhaps 10,000 virtually occupied Flint, parading through the heart of the city, then surrounding the threatened Fisher No. 1 plant, armed with thirty-inch wooden braces provided from the factory.

Learning that the Guard would not evict the sitdowners, City Manager Barringer ordered all city police on duty and decided to organize a 500-man “army of our own.” (79) “We are going down there shooting,” he announced. “The strikers have taken over this town and we are going to take it back.” (80)

The tenor of events is suggested by a plan worked out without union knowledge by the Union War Vets, who had taken responsibility for guarding strike leaders outside the plants. Had leaders been arrested under the Gadola writ, the veterans “would muster an armed force among their own number and in defense of the U.S. Constitution, of ‘real Patriotism,’ and the union, would take over the city hall, the courthouse and police headquarters, capture and imprison all officials and release the union men.” (81)

The rug was pulled from under Barringer’s “army” when a GM official asked him to demobilize, saying, “The last thing we want is rioting in the streets,” (82) a result the workers’ mass mobilization would have made inevitable.

After long negotiations GM agreed to recognize and bargain with the union in the struck plants and promised not to deal with any other organization in them for six months. As Sidney Fine wrote,

“What the U.A.W., like other unions at the time, understood by the term ‘recognition’ has always been rather nebulous, but the union believed, and it had reason to, that it had been accorded a status of legitimacy in G.M. plants that it had never before enjoyed. It was confident that it would be able to consolidate its position in the 17 plants during the six-month period because it had no rivals to contend with.” (83)

But if the agreement established the union firmly enough, it did little for the concrete grievances of the workers. When Bud Simons, head of the strike committee in Fisher #1, was awakened and told the terms of the settlement, he remarked, “That won’t do for the men to hear. That ain’t what we’re striking for.” (84) When the union presented the settlement to the sitdowners, they asked, “How about the speed of the line? How about the bosses—would they be as tough as ever?” Did the settlement mean everything stood where it did when they started? (85)

The workers’ forebodings were borne out by the negotiations that followed the evacuation of the plants. In the words of Irving Bernstein, “The corporation’s policy was to contain the union, to yield no more than economic power compelled and, above all, to preserve managerial discretion in the productive process, particularly over the speed of the line.” (86) The fundamental demand of the strike from the point of view of the workers had been “mutual determination” of the speed of production, but under the collective bargaining agreement signed March 12, local management was to have “full authority” in determining these matters. If a worker objected, “the job was to be restudied and an adjustment was to be made if the timing was found to be unfair.” (87) Further, instead of having a shop steward for every twenty-five workers, directly representing those they worked with, the union agreed to deal with management through plant committees of no more than nine members per plant. (88) Finally, the union agreed to become the agency for limiting workers’ direct action against speedup and other grievances, pledging that

“there shall be no suspensions or stoppages of work until every effort has been exhausted to adjust them through the regular grievance procedure, and in no case without the approval of the international officers of the union.” (89)

Such agreements were not enough to control workers who had just discovered their own power. Workers assumed victory in the strike “would produce some radical change in the structure of status and power in GM plants,” and they “were reluctant to accept the customary discipline exercised by management.” They “ran wild in many plants for months.”(90) As one worker later recalled, “every time a dispute came up the fellows would have a tendency to sit down and just stop working.” (91) According to Knudson, there were 170 sitdowns in GM plants between March and June 1937.

For example, March 18, 200 women sat down in a sewing room in Flint Fisher Body #1 in a dispute over methods of payment. An hour later, 280 sat down in sympathy with them in another sewing room. Next, sixty men sat down in the shipping department. Soon the entire plant was forced to shut down. “Since the strike was clearly in violation of the agreement … in which the union promised to protect the company against sitdowns during the life of the agreement, union officials hurried to Flint to settle the matter.” (92)

Two weeks later, 935 men struck in the final Chevrolet assembly plant. Then the parts and service plant struck in sympathy, closing Fisher Body #2. Finally, workers in all departments of the Chevrolet complex walked out in sympathy. Meanwhile, the Fisher Body Plant and the Yellow Truck and Coach Plant in Pontiac were closed by workers protesting discharge of fellow workers. In all, 30,000 workers were involved in the wildcats at this time. This indicated that the workers had developed the ability to coordinate action between plants and even between cities without the union; union officials told Governor Murphy that they were “mystified” by the sitdowns and that “their representatives in the plants told them they had been ‘pushed into’ the new sitdowns without union authorization.” (93) Equally important, the workers won control over the rate of production, despite the union contract that conceded this authority to management.

“Production in the Chevrolet Motor plants has been slowed down to nearly 50% of former output during the last several weeks by concerted action of the union workers, with key men on the mother line stopping work at intervals to slow down production.” (94)

Despite the failure of the union to win control over production rates, a Fisher #1 worker who had opposed the big strike wrote,

“The inhuman high speed is no more. We now have a voice, and have slowed up the speed of the line. And [we] are now treated as human beings, and not as part of the machinery. The high pressure is taken off…. It proves clearly that united we stand, divided or alone we fall.” (95)

The top leadership of the union considered these wildcat work stoppages a serious threat to union authority. A N.Y. Times article entitled “Unauthorized Sit-Downs Fought by C.I.O. Unions” (96) described the steps they took against them:

“(1) As soon as an unauthorized strike occurs or impends, international officers or representatives of the U.A.W. are rushed to the scene to end or prevent it, get the men back to work and bring about an orderly adjustment of the grievances.

(2) Strict orders have been issued to all organizers and representatives that they will be dismissed if they authorize any stoppages of work without the consent of the international officers, and that local unions will not receive any money or financial support from the international union for any unauthorized stoppage of, or interference with, production.

(3) The shop stewards are being “educated” in the procedure for settling grievances set up in the General Motors contract, and a system is being worked out which the union believes will convince the rank and file that strikes are unnecessary.

(4) In certain instances there has been a “purge” of officers, organizers and representatives who have appeared to be “hot-heads” or “trouble-makers” by dismissing, transferring or demoting them.”

John L. Lewis and UAW leaders blamed wildcats that idled tens of thousands in early April on Communist agitation, and the N.Y. Times reported Lewis might soon “send some ‘flying squadrons’ of ‘strong-arm men’ from his own United Mine Workers to Flint … to keep the trouble-makers in line.” (97) But William Weinstone, Michigan secretary of the Communist Party, hotly denied the charges that Communists were responsible. He denounced “helter-skelter use of the sit-down.” (98) He added, “I have personally visited Flint today … and have not found a single Communist party member who countenanced or supported in the slightest the recent sit-down. . . ” (99) In fact, the Communists’ general attitude toward the sitdown closely followed that of the C.I.O. At a party strategy meeting an Akron Communist leader put it thus:

“The sitdown is an extremely effective organizational weapon. But credit must go to Comrade Williamson for warning us against the danger of these surprise actions. The sitdowns came because the companies refused to bargain collectively with the union. Now we must work for regular relations between the union and the employers – and strict observance of union procedure on the part of the workers.” (100)

The lengths to which union opposition to wildcats went is illustrated by an incident in November 1937. Four workers were fired from a Fisher Body plant and several hundred of their fellow workers struck and occupied the plant in protest. United Auto Workers leaders denounced the strike but were unable to persuade the workers to leave, and therefore resorted to stratagem. They persuaded the workers to divide into two shifts and take turns occupying the plant, concentrated their supporters in one of these shifts, and marched the workers out of the plant, turning possession back to the company guards. When the other shift of strikers arrived to take their turn, they found themselves locked out. (101)

It is not surprising that a N.Y. Times reporter found the continuing sitdowns resulted in part from “dissatisfaction on the part of the workers with the union itself” and that “they are as willing in some cases to defy their own leaders as their bosses.” They had not reckoned on the union becoming the agency for enforcing work discipline in the shops. Yet this had always been the essential policy of the CIO unions, however much they might utilize sitdowns as an organizing tactic. CIO director John Brophy made this clear in a carefully worded statement issued before the General Motors strike:

“In the formative and promotional stages of unionism in a certain type of industry, the sitdown strike has real value. After the workers are organized and labor relations are regularized through collective bargaining, then we do urge that the means provided within the wage contract for adjusting grievances be used by the workers.” (102)

Len De Caux, editor of the CIO Union News Service, elaborated:

“The first experience of the C.I.O. with sitdowns was in discouraging them. This was in the Akron rubber industry, after the Goodyear strike. C.I.O. representatives cautioned … the new unionists against sitdowns on the grounds that they should use such channels for negotiating grievances as the agreement provided…. When collective bargaining is fully accepted, union recognition accorded and an agreement reached, C.I.O. unionists accept full responsibility for carrying out their side of it in a disciplined fashion, and oppose sitdowns or any other strike action while it is in force.” (103)

John L. Lewis was even more blunt: “A C.I.O. contract is adequate protection against sit-downs, lie-downs, or any other kind of strike.” (104) Held up as a model was the CIO’s largest union, the United Mine Workers, whose “agreement with coal companies now includes guarantees that there shall be no cessation of work during the term of the contract, and its constitution includes definite penalties, including fines, discharges and even a blacklist for anyone calling or participating in an unauthorized strike.” (105)

“The new unions, it is held in C.I.O. quarters, must educate and discipline their members or invite a situation of chaos and anarchy which could very well be utilized by either Leftists or Rightists in seizing political power,” the Times concluded ominously. Despite the efforts of the union and management, however, the wildcats in the auto industry continued - and continue to this day.

In the wake of the GM strike, people throughout the country began sitting down. Even excluding the innumerable quickies of less than a day, the Bureau of Labor Statistics recorded sitdowns involving nearly 400,000 workers in 1937. (106) It would be impossible to summarize them all here, but we can learn something of their range and pattern by examining a number of those that occurred in the peak of the wave during and just after the GM sitdown.

The most immediate spread was in the auto industry. The union began negotiations with Chrysler, and the company offered to accept the GM agreement. According to the New York Times, at the start of negotiations:

. . .the union committee started the discussion on the issue of seniority, but said that the rank-and-file demanded that sole bargaining be put first on the agenda.

Then the various union locals held meetings and passed resolutions ordering the union committee to present an ultimatum demanding a yes-or-no answer from the company on sole bargaining by the following Monday.

When the company replied in the negative, according to the union, the men themselves sat down without being ordered out by their leaders. (107)

The company secured an injunction ordering the 6,000 sitdowners to leave, but as the evacuation hour came near, huge crowds of pickets gathered -- 10,000 at the main Dodge plant in Hamtramck; 10,000 at the Chrysler Jefferson plant; smaller numbers at other Chrysler, Dodge, Plymouth, and DeSoto plants; 30,000 to 50,000 in all (108), demonstrating the consequences of an attempted eviction. “It is generally feared,” the Times reported, that an attempt to evict the strikers with special deputies would lead to an “inevitable large amount of bloodshed and the state of armed insurrection.” (109)

Governor Murphy warned that the State might have to use force to restore respect for the courts and other public authority, to protect personal and property rights, and to uphold the structure of organized society, emphasizing that the State must prevent “needless interruption to industry, commerce and transportation.” (110) He established a law-and-order committee, but when top UAW officials refused to serve on it, “strikers inside the plant could be seen waving their home-made blackjacks in jubilation. Inside the gate about 150 women who had been serving meals in the company cafeteria engaged in a snake-dance, beating knives and forks against metal serving trays.”

Shop committees in the occupied plants voted not to leave the plants until they had won sole bargaining rights for the union. (111) Nonetheless, on March 24, John L. Lewis, representing the CIO, agreed to evacuate the plants on the basis of the GM settlement, which Chrysler had accepted even before the strike began. Many strikers considered the settlement a surrender, but they reluctantly left the plants. (112)

The Chrysler strike was merely the largest of dozens of simultaneous sitdowns in the Detroit area. About 20,000 additional auto workers were out as a result of a sitdown at the Hudson Motor Company. (113) Wildcat sitdowns in General Motors plants occurred by the score during this period, many of them involving tens of thousands of workers at a time. By April 1, there were more than 120,000 auto workers on strike in Michigan. Workers occupied the Newton Packing Company in late February and, after eleven days, turned off refrigeration of $170,000 worth of meat, stating they were “through fooling.” (114) In early March, clerks sat down in the Crowley-Milner and Frank and Seder department stores. Thirty-five women workers seized the Durable Laundry, as the proprietor fired a gun over organizers’ heads “to scare them away.” The same day, Detroit’s four leading hotels were all closed by sitdowns and lockouts, the auto workers providing a mass picket line in one case. Women in three tobacco plants barricaded themselves for several weeks; in one case, residents of the neighborhood battled their police guard with rock-filled snowballs. Eight lumber yards were occupied by their workers. Other sitdown strikes occurred at the Yale & Towne lock company and the Square D electrical manufacturers.

Unable to challenge the giant Chrysler strike, police moved forcefully against the lesser sitdowns. Early in the afternoon of March 20, police evicted strikers from the Newton Packing Company. Three hours later, 150 police attacked sitdowners at a tobacco plant.

“Hysterical cries echoed through the building as, by ones and twos, the 86 women strikers, ranging from defiant girls to bewildered workers with gray hair, were herded into patrol wagons and sped away, while shattering glass and the yells of the street throng added to the din.” (115)

Such action could clearly be an entering wedge against the auto workers, and the UAW responded by calling a mass protest rally in Cadillac Square. The union also threatened to call a strike of 180,000 auto workers in the Detroit area (excluding those at GM for whom they had just signed a contract) and hinted that it would ask for a citywide general strike unless forcible evictions of sitdowners in small stores and plants were halted. In the judgment of Russell B. Porter,

“It is wholly possible that the automobile workers’ union might get the support of the city’s entire labor movement, now boiling over with fever for union organization … for a city-wide general strike.” (116)

Telegrams went out to UAW locals in Detroit to stand by in preparation to strike, but the city quickly halted its drive against the more than twenty remaining small sitdowns.

In the two weeks March 7 to March 21, Chicago experienced nearly sixty sitdowns. Motormen on the sixty-mile freight subway under Chicago shut off controls and sat down when the employer decided to ship a greater proportion of goods above ground and laid off thirty-five tunnel workers. The motormen were joined by 400 freight handlers and other employees who barricaded their warehouses. On March 12, sitdowns hit the Loop, with more than 9,000 men and women striking, including waitresses, candymakers, cab drivers, clerks, peanut baggers, stenographers, tailors, truckers, and factory hands. Eighteen hundred workers, including three hundred office workers, sat down at the Chicago Mail Order Company and won a 10 percent pay increase; 450 employees at three de Met’s tea rooms sat down as “the girls laughed and talked at the tables they had served” until they went home that night with a 25 percent pay increase; and next day sitdowns hit nine more Chicago firms.

The range of industries and locations hit by sitdowns was virtually unlimited. Electrical workers and furniture workers sat down in St. Louis. Workers at a shirt company sat down in Pulaski, Tennessee. In Philadelphia, workers sat down at the Venus Silk Hosiery Company and the National Container Company. Leather workers in Garard, Ohio, sat down, as did broom manufacturing workers in Pueblo, Colorado. Workers sat down at a fishing tackle company in Akron, Ohio. Oil workers sat down in eight gasoline plants in Seminole, Oklahoma.The list could go on and on.

Sitdowns were particularly widespread among store employees, so easily replaced in ordinary strikes. Women sat down in two Woolworth stores in New York. Pickets outside one store broke through private guards, opened windows from a ledge fifteen feet above ground, and passed through cots, blankets, oranges, and food packets to the strikers, who ate with china and silver from the lunch counter. Similar sitdowns occurred in five F. & W. Grant stores; in one, strikers staged an impromptu St. Patrick’s Day celebration and a mock marriage to pass the time. Having no chairs to sit down on, 150 salesgirls and 25 stock boys in Pittsburgh staged a “folded-arms strike” in four C.G. Murphy five-and-ten stores for shorter hours and a raise; they also complained that “we have to pay for our uniforms and washing them and have to sweep the floor.” When twelve stores in Providence, Rhode Island, locked out their employees to prevent an impending sitdown, at which point the unions called a general strike of retail trades.

Nor was the sitdown restricted to private employees. In Amsterdam, New York, municipal ash and garbage men sat down on their trucks in the city Department of Public Works garage when their demands for a wage increase were refused; when the mayor hired a private trucking firm, the strikers persuaded the men not to work as strikebreakers. A similar strike occurred in Bridgeport, Connecticut, when sixty trash collectors sat down, demanding immediate reinstatement of a fellow employee and the firing of the foreman who had dismissed him. In New York, 70 maintenance workers, half white, half black, barricaded themselves in the kitchen and laundry of the Hospital for Joint Diseases; services were continued for patients, but not for doctors, nurses, and visitors.

A series of similar sitdowns occurred in the Brooklyn Jewish Hospital. Forty gravediggers and helpers prevented burials in a North Arlington, New Jersey, cemetery by sitting down in the toolhouse to secure a raise for the helpers. Seventeen blind workers sat down to demand a minimum wage at a workshop run by the New York Guild for the Jewish Blind, and were supported by a sympathy sitdown of eighty-three blind workers at a workshop of the New York Association for the Blind. Draftsmen and engineers in Brooklyn sat down against a wage cut in the office of the Park Department. Works Progress Administration workers in California sat down in the employment office as flying squadrons spread a strike through the Bay Area.

An important aspect of the sitdown was the extent to which it was used to challenge management decisions. We have already seen various examples of this, such as the Chicago freight subway workers’ challenge to the decision to move more freight above ground. On March 11, workers at the Champion Shoe Company sat down when they found the company had secretly transferred fifty machines to a new plant. Two hundred fifty workers, more than half of them women, occupied a Philadelphia hosiery mill that management intended to close and prepared to block efforts to move the machinery. 115 workers at the Yahr Lange Drug Company in Milwaukee, who had resisted efforts to unionize them, sat down in protest against a company policy of firing workers as soon as their age and length of service justified a raise. Their sole demand was removal of Fred Yahr as general manager of the company. “The girls sat around and played bridge and smoked, and the men gathered in knots awaiting the results. The telephone was not answered, and customers were not served. Salesmen on the road were notified of the strike by wire and responded that they were sitting down in their cars until it was settled.” After a long conference with the workers, management announced that Yahr had resigned. The strikers, in effect, had “fired the boss.”

Far from being limited to employer-worker relationships, sitdowns were used to challenge a wide range of social grievances. In Detroit, for example, 35 women barricaded themselves in a welfare office demanding that the supervisor be removed and that a committee meet with the new supervisor to determine qualifications of families for relief. Thirteen young men sat down in an employment agency where they had paid a fee for jobs that had then not materialized. In New York, representatives of fifteen families who lost their homes and belongings in a tenement fire sat down at the Emergency Relief Bureau, demanding complete medical care for those injured in the fire and sufficient money for rehabilitation, instead of token sums the bureau had offered. A few days later, 45 people sat in at another relief office, demanding aid for two families and a general 40 percent increase for all families on home relief. In Columbus, Ohio, thirty unemployed men and women sat down in the governor’s office, demanding $50 million for poor relief. And in St. Paul, Minnesota, 200 people staged a sitdown in the Senate chamber, demanding action on a $17 million relief plan. In the Bronx, two dozen women sat down in an effort to prevent the eviction of two neighbors by twenty-five policemen.

Prisoners in the state prison in Joliet, Illinois, sat down to protest working in the prison yard on Saturday afternoon, usually a time of rest, as did prisoners in Philadelphia against a cut in prison wages. Children sat down in a Pittsburgh movie theater when the manager told them to leave before the feature film, as did children in Mexia, Texas, when a theater’s program was cut. At Mineville, New York, 150 high school students struck because the contracts of the principal and two teachers had not been renewed. Women students at the Asheville Normal and Teachers College in North Carolina sat down to protest parietal rules. In Bloomington, Illinois, wives went on a sitdown strike, refusing to prepare meals, wash dishes, or answer door bells until they received more compensation from their husbands. In Michigan, thirty members of a National Guard company that had served in Flint during the GM sitdown staged a sitdown of their own in March because they had not been paid.

The sitdown idea spread so rapidly because it dramatized a simple, powerful fact: that no social institution can run without the cooperation of those whose activity makes it up. Once the power of the sitdown was demonstrated, others could apply it to their own situation. On the shop floor, it could be used to gain power over the actual running of production. In large industries, it could be used for massive power struggles like the GM strike. In small shops, it could force quick concessions. Those affected by public institutions -- schools, jails, welfare departments, and the like -- could use similar tactics to disrupt their functioning and force concessions. The power and spread of the sitdowns electrified the country. In March 1937 alone, 170 industrial sitdowns with 167,210 participants were reported. No doubt a great many more went unrecorded.(117)

The sitdowns provided ordinary workers an enormous power that depended on nobody but their fellow workers. As Louis Adamic wrote of the non-union sitdowns in Akron,

The fact that the sitdown gives the worker in mass-production industries a vital sense of importance cannot be overemphasized. Two sitdowns which completely tied up plants employing close to ten thousand men were started by half a dozen men each. Imagine the feeling of power those men experienced! And the thousands of workers who sat down in their support shared that feeling in varying degrees, depending on their individual power of imagination. One husky gum-miner said to me, “Now we don’t feel like taking the sass off any snot-nose college-boy foreman.” Another man said, “Now we know our labor is more important than the money of the stockholders, than the gambling in Wall Street, than the doings of the managers and foremen.” One man’s grievance, if the majority of his fellow-workers in his department agreed that it was a just grievance, could tie up the whole plant. He became a strike leader; the other members of the working force in his department became members of the strike committee. They assumed full responsibility in the matter; formed their own patrols, they kept the machines from being pointlessly destroyed, and they met with management and dictated their terms. They turned their individual self-control and restraint into group self-discipline…. They settled the dispute, not some outsider. (118)

This potential of ordinary workers organizing their own action posed an implicit threat to every form of hierarchy, authority, and domination. For if workers could direct a social enterprise as complex as, say, the Flint sitdown, why could they not reopen production under their own direction? Certain experts like engineers and chemists would at certain times be needed, but the foremen and the rest of management would be completely unnecessary. The workers would simply have to provide their common needs and send out delegates to coordinate with their suppliers, with workers in the same industry, and with those who used their products. The sitdown movement was widely perceived as a threat to management power; as G.M. President Sloan wrote, the “real issue” of the G.M. sitdown was “Will a labor organization run the plants of General Motors. . . or will the management continue to do so?” (119)

It is not surprising that in the face of the sitdown wave, a great many employers decided to deal with the unions voluntarily: by World War II unions were established in practically all large industrial companies. Most significant was the largest corporation of them all, U.S. Steel, which reversed its tradition of bitter anti-unionism to recognize the C.I.O.’s Steel Workers Organizing Committee (SWOC). As Irving Bernstein wrote, it made sense for the corporation to engage in collective bargaining “on a consolidated basis with experienced and responsible union officials like Lewis and Murray rather than with disparate local groups led by men with no background in bargaining.” U.S. Steel head Myron Taylor “had good reason to trust Lewis and Murray,” whom he had bargained with already in the coal industry. (120)

The new contract cost U.S. Steel little -- a wage increase it recouped twice over in a price increase, limitation on hours, which was already required to bid on government contracts, and some deference to seniority in laying off workers. In return, the contract provided that

“differences … should be taken up without cessation of work, with the final decision, if an agreement was not reached, to rest with an impartial umpire named by the company and union.” (121)

S.W.O.C. was in a strong position to enforce this strike ban: its officials were appointed by the C.I.O., not elected by the steelworkers; all initiation fees and dues went through the central office; and locals were forbidden to sign an agreement or call a strike without its approval. As Myron Taylor wrote a year after the contract went into effect, “The union has scrupulously followed the terms of its agreement.” (123)

In early 1937, Louis Adamic had a revealing interview with the head of a small steel company that had voluntarily recognized the CIO soon after U.S. Steel, suggesting how union recognition looked to an employer faced with rising labor militancy. The employer described how he had been visited by a CIO organizer who “began to sell me on the idea of letting the CIO start a union in our plant.” The organizer started to tell him “all about the petty troubles and pains-in-the-neck we’d had in the mill the past few weeks, which … amounted to a lot of trouble and expense,” which “were bound to increase as the years went by”:

Why? Because, he said, in shops where the union was fought and men belonged to it secretly all sorts of damned things happened all the time, which led to fear, nervousness, and jitters among the men, to secret sabotage and loafing on the job…. he proceeded to tell me, too, that if we let the union come in, it would form a grievance committee consisting of workers in the mill; all the union men in the shop would be required, and others allowed, to take their grievances to the committee, which would assemble all the kicks and complaints and what-nots, then take them up with us -- the management … say once a week; and many, perhaps most, of the grievances would be smoothed out by the committee itself without bothering us with them…. We signed an agreement for a year, the union was formed, about half the men joined, a grievance committee was organized and sure enough, the thing began to work out…. It seemed to act as a sort of collective vent.

The men bring their grievances to committee members, then argue about them, then the first thing they know, in many instances, the grievances disappear.

His only complaint was that grievance committee members “are new, green, inexperienced fellows, apt to get excited about nothing at all. As yet they can’t quite handle authority and responsibility. They ‘get tough’ with us over little matters.” (124)

The thurst of the sitdowns went beyond the simple disruption of production; indeed, the sitdowns were widely felt to have revolutionary implications. A group of Boston “civic leaders” headed by President Emeritus Lowell of Harvardissued a statement that

Armed insurrection -- defiance of law. order and duly elected authority -- is spreading like wildfire. It is rapidly growing beyond control, . . . it attacks and undermines the very foundation of our political and social structure.

If minority groups can seize premises illegally, hold indefinitely, refuse admittance to owners or managers, resist by violence and threaten bloodshed all attempts to dislodge them, and intimidate properly constituted authority to the point of impotence. then freedom and liberty are at an end, government becomes a mockery, superseded by anarchy, mob rule and ruthless dictatorship. (125)

The unions were fully aware of this threat.

Sooner or later the newer unions, it is held in C.l.O. quarters, must educate and discipline their members or invite a situation of chaos and anarchy which could very well be utilized. . . in seizing political power. (126)

Union leaders emphasized that their ‘purge’ of radical troublemakers was not directed at Communists as such. They are driving out elements that keep the workers stirred up over petty grievances and excite them to stage unauthorized sit-downs for the sake of ultimate revolutionary objectives. (127)

The employers, with great opportunities for profit in the face of growing war production, were able in the years following 1937 to raise wages considerably, and were able to soften the more arbitrary aspects of their power over workers as the unions took over responsibility for disciplining the workforce and maintaining uninterrupted production. With such concessions, union and management succeeded in heading off any any revolutionary development, and gradually reestablished their authority over production. Unofficial job actions, wildcat strikes and other actions by which workers directly counter the power of management continue to the present day. They remain limited, however, just as they did in 1937. A look at some of the factors that limited them may be helpful if and when people again make an assault on the power of the industrial managers.

Perhaps the central weakness is that workers did not fully appreciate their own power. They realized they could stop the operation of their own employer and thereby force a change in the way things were run, but they did not realize they had the power to stop the country, and therefore could change the whole society. They discovered they could coordinate their own action in the shop but did not realize they could do so in a city, an industry, a nation, or the world.

A severely limited view of the kinds of change that were possible was both the effect and the cause of this. For example, there is no record of any discussion among the Flint sundowners of running the auto shops for themselves -- either immediately or someday; the union naturally stressed this fact to the public. Numerous members of Communist, Socialist, and other radical groups took part in the sitdowns, but generally they saw “building the union” as their sole objective; because radicals generally supported state ownership and control of the means of production, they did not interpret this the sitdowns as a step toward direct self-management by the workers.

What the workers generally wanted was a counter-power to management -- freedom to set the pace of work, to tell the foreman where to get off, to share the work equitably, to determine their share of the product, and the like. They generally believed that trade unionism would give them this. The CIO unions -- like any organization trying to win a following -- presented itself as the fulfillment of its constituency’s desires. The great objective of the CIO organizing campaigns was that magical phrase ‘union recognition’ -- magic because it could mean everything or nothing. To the workers the CIO proclaimed that union recognition meant job security, shorter hours, higher wages, better working conditions, an end to speed-up, vacations with pay, seniority, and -- in the words of John L. Lewis -- “industrial democracy.” Furthermore -- and here the CIO won over the great number made cynical about unionism by their experience with the A.F.L. -- the CIO proclaimed that the union meant all the workers would be organized together to fight the employers. It was this vision, appropriating workers’ intuitive understanding of their need to support each other and fight the employers, that created the “myth of the CIO,” a vision that dazzled the minds and held the loyalties even of those who found the organizations they had created operating day to day against them.

For of course the CIO had no intention of winning the workers power over management. As Mike Widman, a long-time associate of John L. Lewis and director of the campaign to organize Ford put it, explaining why he turned down a company offer to let the workers elect their own foremen. “My union experience taught me that the direction of the working force is vested in management. The union shall not abridge the right, so long as there is no discrimination or unfairness.” (128) From the union’s point of view, this was not deceit but merely realism: the workers’ idea of permanent, institutionalized counterpower over production really was illusory. For as long as goods and services are produced for sale in a competitive market, a company that allows workers’ needs instead of profit to shape its policies will lose out to the competition; the same is true of a nation. For this reason, trade unions can only win concessions which do not seriously interfere with the profit-making of the employer. The counter-power the workers expected to win through trade unionism could in fact be won only a) temporarily, by refusing to work whenever things weren’t done their way, or b) permanently, by taking over the management themselves and producing for their own needs and the needs of other workers who in turn were producing for them, instead of for profit. The first, they did and still do from time to time despite the opposition of the unions; the second they did not even conceive.

Because they did not appreciate their own power, workers felt they had to rely on the power of others. Most important, they felt that Roosevelt and the New Deal wing of the Democratic Party was on their side and helping them, that the government was their friend. In fact, the New Deal was perfectly happy to see collective bargaining established, fully realizing that far from posing a threat to the system, it would (as the Wagner Act declared) promote economic stability and reduce strikes. Nor was Roosevelt unwilling to capitalize on his image as friend of the common man -- especially as the unions went all out to round up votes for him, even holding off organizing campaigns in the period before elections. The result was that when the New Dealers decided that the disruptive aspects of the 1936-7 upsurge had gone far enough (as did Gov. Murphy during the Chrysler strike and President Roosevelt when he declared “a plague on both your houses” after the Chicago police deliberately killed 10 strike supporters in the 1937 Memorial Day Massacre) and middle class opinion against the workers, the movement suddenly lost its confidence, felt itself to be “running out of steam.”

Similarly, because they did not fully realize their own power, workers felt that they needed the kind of strong leaders and powerful central control exemplified by John L. Lewis. For this reason, when unionism failed to make the changes they expected. they respondad by trying to get new unions or leaders, or by scaling down their hopes and retreating into cynicism; while they continued to use their own power shop by shop to contest the power of management, the idea of creating their own organizations based on their own power did not arise.

The sitdown strikes revealed the power workers possessed, and still possess, because their work is the basis of society -- when they stop, everything stops. This power is gradually being rediscovered today in the growing number or wildcat strikes; who can predict when it may explode in another general upheaval? Whether or not the sltdown is again the basic tactic or such a movement, the principle that underlies it -- the power of workers over production -- will be its key strength. As in 1936-7, any means necessary -- whether institutionalized representation like the trade unions or the naked force of the military -- will be used to keep workers “in their place” and maite them give up their power to decide when and how to work. (In 1970 the National Guard was called out against strikers three times.) In 1936-7, the workers were able to foil the military force turned against them by huge mass picketing in which the entire community joined, but they gave up their power for a promise of “recognition” and “representation.” But something has been learned from experience between 1936 and today -- that those who claim to represent you can’t fight your battles for you, that they can even fight against you. So in a future upheaval workers may well decide not to give up their power over production -- and their power to stop it -- to anyone. When they

refuse to work except under conditions they set, they have already taken over the real power of management, and the old bosses will no doubt do everything possible to take it back. At that point workers will face a choice of returning to “their place” or taking over management of their work themselves.

(1) Louis Adamic, My America, 1928–1938 (New York: Harper and Brothers, Publishers, 1938), pp. 405-6.
(2) Ibid., 407.
(3) Ibid., 409.
(4) Irving Bernstein, The Lean Years: A History of the American Worker, 1920–1933 (Baltimore: Penguin Books, 1960), p. 99.
(5) Ibid., p. 592.
(6) Ruth McKenney, Industrial Valley (New York: Harcourt, Brace and Co., 1939), pp. 261-262.
(7) Bernstein, op. Cit.. p. 593
(8) Ibid., p. 593
(9) McKenny, op. Cit., p. 288, 312.
(10) Bernstein, op. Cit.. p. 594; McKenny, op. Cit., p. 300
(11) Bernstein, op. Cit.. p. 595
(12) Adamic, op. Cit. p. 410
(13) Adamic, op. Cit., p. 411
(14) Henry Kraus, The Many and the Few: A Chronicle of the Dynamic Auto Workers (Los Angeles: Plantin Press, 1947), p. 8.
(15) Ibid., p. 9.
(16) Ibid., pp. 7-9
(17) Herbert Harris, American Labor (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1939), 272.
(18) Sidney Fine, Sit-Down: The General Motors Strike of 1936–1937 (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1969), 55.
(19) Ibid., p. 19.
(20) Harris, op. cit., p. 271.
(21) Fine, op. cit., p. 59.
(22) Ibid., p. 57.
(23) Harris, op. cit., p. 281.
(24) Kraus, op. cit., p. 10.
(25) Bernstein, op. cit., p. 182-3.
(26) Ibid., pp. 184-5.
(27) Fine, op. cit., p. 31.
(28) Ibid., p. 31.
(29) Ibid., p. 31.
(30) Ibid., p. 83.
(31) Bernstein, op. cit., p. 182-3.
(32) Kraus, op. cit., p. 42.
(33) Ibid.
(34) Ibid., pp. 40-54.
(35) Fine. op. cit., p. 117.
(36) Ibid., p. 75.
(37) Ibid., p. 112
(38) Ibid., p. 98.
(39) Ibid., p. 143.
(40) Bernstein, op. cit., p. 501.
(41) Fine, op. cit., p. 97.
(42) Ibid., p. 136.
(43) Bernstein, op. cit., p. 523.
(44) Fine, op. cit., p. 130-1.
(45) Ibid., p. 142.
(46) Kraus, op. cit., p. 83; Bernstein op. cit., p. 524.
(47) Bernstein, op. cit., p. 524.
(48) Fine, op. cit., p. 144.
(49) Ibid., p. 89
(50) Ibid., p. 87
(51) Kraus, op. cit., p. 88.
(52) Ibid., p. 89.
(53) Ibid., p. 93.
(54) FIne, op. cit., p. 157.
(55) Ibid., p. 172.
(56) Kraus, op. cit., p. 93.
(57) Fine, op. cit., p. 165.
(58) Ibid., p. 160.
(59) Ibid., p. 174
(60) Ibid., p. 171.
(61) Ibid., p. 157.
(62) Ibid., p. 171. The sources for the situation inside the plan are Fine, chapter vi and Karus, pp. 92-7.
(63) Ibid., p. 201.
(64) Ibid.
(65) Ibid.
(66) Bernstein, op. cit., p. 525.
(67) Fine, op. cit., p. 209.
(68) Ibid., p. 303.
(69) Bernstein, op. cit., p. 528.
(70) Fine, op. cit., p. 189.
(71) Ibid., p. 188
(72) Kraus, op. cit., p. 128.
(73) Ibid., pp. 127-9.
(74) Fine, op. cit., p. 5.
(75) Ibid., p. 155
(76) Ibid., p. 236
(77) Kraus, op. cit., p. 211.
(78) Ibid., p. 234
(79) Fine, op. cit., p. 281.
(80) Ibid.
(81) Kraus. op. cit., p. 248.
(82) Fine, op. cit., p. 282.
(83) Ibid., pp. 306-7.
(84) Ibid., p. 307.
(85) Kraus. op. cit., p. 287.
(86) Bernstein, op. cit., p. 551.
(87) Fine, op. cit., p. 325.
(88) Bernstein, op. cit., p. 551.
(89) N.Y. Times, April 11, 1937.
(90) Fine, op. cit., p. 321.
(91) Ibid.
(92) NYT, March 19, 1937.
(93) NYT, April 2, 1937.
(94) Ibid.
(95) Fine, op. cit., p. 328.
(96) NYT, April 11, 1937.
(97) NYT, April 4, 1937.
(98) NYT, April 7, 1937.
(99) Ibid.
(100) McKenny, op. cit., p. 340.
(101) International C.C. Vol. III no. 11-12. Dec. 37, p. 23.
(102) Adamic, op. cit., p. 415.
(103) Harris, op. cit., p. 290-91.
(104) Ibid., p. 291.
(105) NYT, April 11, 1937.
(106) Bernstein, op. cit., p. 500.
(107) NYT, March 27, 1937.
(108) NYT, March 18, 1937.
(109) NYT, March 19, 1937.
(110) NYT, March 18, 1937.
(111) NYT, March 27, 1937.
(112) Ibid.
(113) NYT, March 21, 1937.
(114) NYT. March 9, 1937. The following accounts are also from the New York TImes.
(115) NYT, March 21, 1937.
(116) Ibid.
(117) Fine, op. cit., p. 331.
(118) Adamic, op. cit., p. 408.
(119) Fine, op. cit., p. 182.
(120) Bernstein, op. cit., p. 468.
(121) NYT. March 18, 1971.
(122) Bernstein, op. cit., p. 498.
(123) Ibid., p. 468.
(124) Adamic, op. cit., p. 431-3.
(125) NYT, March 27, 1937.
(126) NYT, April 11, 1937.
(127) NYT, April 4, 1937.
(128) Studs Terkel, Hard Times. pp. 140-1.

Thanks to Henry Kraus and the Plantin Press for permission to quote extensively from The Many and the Few.


The Seattle general strike of 1919

Seattle shipyards: the strike begins
Seattle shipyards: the strike begins

The detailed official history of the strike, in which the city was taken over by the workers, by the History Committee of the General Strike Committee, March 1919 with a preface from Root and Branch in 1972.

Submitted by Steven. on December 21, 2009

From February 6 to February 11, 1919, nearly 100,000 Seattle workers participated in a general strike. This pamphlet is a history of the strike, written by the History Committee of the General Strike Committee shortly after the end of the strike. It was compiled by Anna Louise Strong, then a “progressive” reporter for the union-owned Seattle daily, The Union Record. Before being published in final form, everything was submitted first to the history committee and then published in The Union Record, where workers comments were invited.

We are reprinting it for several reasons. First, it provides a concrete account of one of the few general strikes in this country’s history. Although conditions have changed considerably, it still gives a good idea of what happens during a general strike and what problems arise. Second, the Seattle general strike was the general strike in the USA that went farthest towards workers’ management, both in concept and in practice. It was seen, by both participants and opponents, as part of a process through which workers were preparing themselves to run industry and society, Final authority in running the strike rested with a General Strike Committee, three members from each striking local, elected by the rank-and-file. The 300 members of the committee were mostly rank-and-filers with little previous leadership experience. During the strike, this committee or its Executive Committee of 15 virtually ran Seattle. The strike was not a simple shutdown of the city. Instead, workers in different trades organized themselves to provide essential services, such as doing hospital laundry, getting milk to babies, collecting wet garbage, and many other things.

Third, the idea of strikers providing partial services presented here can be useful not only in general but in more limited strikes. Such tactics can help to keep non-striking workers (i.e. workers outside the striking plant, industry, or service) on the side of the strikers and at the same time hit the capitalists more directly. For example, in the 1970 postal strike, letter carriers promised to deliver welfare checks even while on strike. In Cleveland, in 1944, streetcar workers threatened to refuse to collect fares in order to win a pay increase the City Council gave in before they actually used the tactic. Another possible example would be if garbage workers picked up garbage every but the wealthy and business sections. This type of action would in most cases have to be taken outside the union, since few union bureaucracies would use such a clearly class-directed tactic, and thus of necessity the workers would have to organize this themselves.

The Seattle strike took place in a time of upheaval and crisis throughout the world. There had been a revolution in Russia, followed by revolts in Germany, Hungary, and several other European countries, it was widely believed that workers in these countries were overthrowing capitalism and taking over management of production for themselves. The Russian Revolution was supported by large numbers of workers in the U.S. as elsewhere. Late in 1919, longshoremen in both Seattle and San Francisco refused to load arms and munitions destined for Admiral Kolchak, leader of the counterrevolution in Siberia, and in Seattle they beat up the scabs who tried to load them onto the government-chartered ship. To many workers, the Russian revolution, as they conceived it (not realizing to what extent the Bolsheviks had already destroyed the power of the workers’ own factory committees and soviets and instituted authoritarian rule), was something to be followed here. 1

In this country also there was widespread labor turmoil. Vastly expanded production for World War I and the cut-off of immigration made labor scarce, and placed workers in a powerful position. To ensure steady production, under the changed conditions, business and government made a deal with the conservative American Federation of Labor. Government and management would give up union-breaking and allow the A.F.L. to organize; in return, the unions would prevent strikes. (This wartime experience of government- guaranteed unionization later became the model for containing workers’ movements in the 1930’s.) However, despite the appeals to patriotism, the promises of a “new era” after the war,-and the opposition of government, business, and the A.F.L., strikes mushroomed during the war: the war years 1916-1918 averaged 2.4 times as many workers on strike as 1915.

Two factors were largely responsible for this. First, there was an enormous inflation associated with the war: the cost of living practically doubled from August 1915 to the end of 1919. Thus while real wages increased, they lagged far behind workers’ expectations; meanwhile, the work week was greatly lengthened. Second, as one wartime labor mediator wrote, “the urgent need for production ... gave the workers a realization of strength which before they had neither realized nor possessed.”

Big strikes practically stopped spruce lumber production and closed down the most important copper areas early in the war. In Bridgeport, Conn., the most important munitions center in the U.S., workers repeatedly stopped production in defiance of the orders of both the National War Labor Board and their own national union leaders.

Increasing militancy was accompanied by a growing spirit of solidarity. For example, shipyard workers on the Pacific Coast tied up the yards for several months in sympathy with the lumber strikers in the Northwest, refusing to handle “ten-hour lumber” in order to aid the lumberers struggle for the eight hour day. General strikes developed in Springfield, Ill., Kansas City, Mo., Waco, Texas, and Billings, Montana, all to support particular groups of striking workers.

When the war ended, the conflict increased. Now that the great war-time industrial expansion was over, capitalists widely felt it necessary to reduce wages relative to prices if profits were to be maintained. Thus the government simultaneously ended war-time price controls and allowed corporations to resume their traditional union-breaking policies. Between June 1919 and June 1920 the cost of living index (taking 1913 as 100) rose from 177 to 216. Unemployment increased considerably right after the end of the war. At the same time, workers were eager to receive the benefits that war propaganda had promised them. The “new era” they had been promised turned out to mean declining real incomes, growing unemployment, and the undermining of what little defense against arbitrary management authority they had won.

As a consequence, more workers participated in strikes in 1919 than in any other year in American history except 1946. There were large strikes in the New England and New Jersey textile districts, involving 120,000 workers, largely opposed by the unions.

Three hundred fifty thousand steel workers walked out, crippling most of the industry. They were met with a reign of terror in the large steel districts in Western Pennsylvania, “red raids” and deportations from the federal government, and lukewarm support (and at times treachery) from the trade union movement. Since the A.F.L. unions had traditionally been all white, the employers had no trouble recruiting 30 to 40 thousand black workers as strikebreakers. The strikers held out for more than two months, but finally succumbed to the overwhelming power of the steel industry and the government.

There were several other large strikes, many of them “outlaw” or wildcat, heartily and openly opposed by the unions. The most important of these was the strike of the railroad workers, which spread across the country. It was eventually ended by the combined pressure of repression and some concessions. Most protracted was the mass upheaval in the coalfields, with sporadic strikes, national strikes, and armed battles running from 1919 into 1922. In the course of these struggles, the idea of workers’ management of production often came to the fore. For example, in the course of a wildcat strike of Illinois miners, a mass-meeting of 2,000 from the Nigger Hollow Mines adopted a resolution which read:

“In view of the fact that the present-day system of Society, known as the capitalist system, has completely broken down, and is no longer able to supply the material and spiritual-needs of the workers of the land, and in further view of the fact that the apologists for and the beneficiaries of that system now try to placate the suffering masses by promises of reforms such as a shorter workday and increases in wages, and in further view of the futility of such reforms in the face of the world crisis that is facing the capitalist system; therefore be it ... Resolved, that the next National Convention of the U.M.W.A. issue a call to the workers of all industries to elect delegates to an industrial congress, there to demand of the capitalist class that all instruments of industries be turned over to the working-class to guarantee that necessities, comforts, and luxuries be produced for the use of humanity instead of a parasitical class of stockholders and bondholders, and that the congress be called upon to pass an amendment to the Constitution of the United States legalizing all such action in the aforementioned Congress.”

Similar forces were at work in Seattle. Radical sentiment had simmered there even during the war. When a socialist and former president of the Seattle A.F.L., Hulet Wells, was convicted for opposing the draft and then tortured in prison, the Seattle labor movement erupted with giant street rallies. Seattle union membership had increased from 15,000 in 1915 to 60,000 by the end of 1918. Most of the unions were affiliated with the A.F.L. but their ideas and action differed greatly from A.F.L. policy; as Harry Ault, editor of The Union Record, and a moderate in the local labor movement, put it: “I believe that 95 per cent of us agree that the workers should control the industries. Nearly all of us agree on that but very strenuously disagree on the method. Some of us think we can get control through the Cooperative movement, some of us think through Political action, and others think through industrial action."

Right after the end of the war, the I.W.W. (Industrial Workers of the World) and the A.F.L. Metal Trades Council cooperated in sponsoring a Soldiers’, Sailors’, and Workingmen’s Council, taking the Soviets of the Russian revolution as their model.

If the Seattle General Strike was an aspect of the stormy conflicts throughout the U.S. and the world in 1919, it also grew out of the specific historical conditions in Seattle. Partially because of its geographic isolation, the Seattle labor movement had developed a unique structure. Whereas most unions emphasize the relation of workers to others in their own industry or trade, the most important identification of Seattle workers was with the workers of Seattle as a whole. (In Seattle, an attack on one group of workers was felt as an attack on all.) This was reflected in and partially caused by the fact that most collective bargaining was coordinated through the Central Labor Council, in which all A.F.L. unions were represented. Such city-wide labor councils have been centers of radical activity in other countries, but in 20th century America they have been extremely weak. The very newness of most of the Seattle labor movement meant that there had been little time for a local union leadership with its own interests to separate itself off from the rank-and-file. Although the union leaders in Seattle certainly had their doubts about the general strike, they did not actively try to smash it--in marked contrast to union leaders’ behavior in other general strikes, notably in San Francisco in 1934. Thus while the workers of Seattle had to create a new organ, the General Strike Committee, they did not come into direct conflict with the existing union structure, precisely because of the factors which made that structure unique.

There were many limitations both in the thought and actions of the participants in the Seattle General Strike and in this account of the Strike, which leaves many important questions open. Perhaps most striking in the pamphlet is the strong emphasis on the non-violence of the strike, its peaceful intent, its maintenance of “law and order.” To some extent, this stress can be explained by the fact that the History was written in part to serve as a defense for many radicals and other participants who were arrested after the strike was over. Also, it should be remembered that the author, who was one of those arrested, was a “progressive” newspaper writer and not a striking worker. However, it is true that the strike was entirely peaceful, that from the beginning it was conceived in a peaceful framework, and that this per shaped the development of the strike. Given the situation in Seattle, this made sense. The strike was almost completely effective and thus did not require mass picketing (which could lead to violence) to shut things down. There was no possibility of successful revolutionary action, which would have involved armed struggle, in as small and isolated a place as Seattle, whose workers were more radical than those in most other parts of the country it would have been bloodily crushed by the much stronger forces of reaction. What is objectionable in the Strike History is the emphasis on peacefulness, its elevation to a principle rather than a tactic to what extent this was shared by the participants we do not know.

Also strange is the attitude towards the Japanese workers expressed here. The Japanese workers had also gone on strike and were invited to send delegates to the General Strike Committee, but with no vote. It is unclear what the context of this decision was, but this might have been a serious and potentially destructive limitation in the class-consciousness of those who made the decision. The pamphlet fails to give much information on what the Wobblies (the Industrial Workers of the World) and other radicals did during the strike, what role they played, or what had been the effect of their years of activity and propaganda (some of it about “The General Strike”) on the participants The Wobblies were especially active in the shipyards. But the general strike was by no means a Wobbly creation, as some people have portrayed it.

Because of its early date, the pamphlet does not tell much about what happened after the strike. The account Anna Louise Strong gives in her autobiography is discouraging, although apparently accurate. She notes that the economic crisis of 1920-21 came to Seattle a year before it came to other cities. The Seattle shipyards closed a year earlier than the yards of Hog Island and San Francisco which also worked on government orders; perhaps by accident, perhaps because of “shrewd men in the East who decided that ‘red Seattle’ must be tamed.’ She continues, ‘our shipyard workers drifted to other cities to look for work. The young, the daring, the best fighters went ... The life died out of a dozen ‘workers’ enterprises’ which were part of our ‘inevitable road to socialism.’ Over-expanded cooperatives went bankrupt in a storm of recriminations Workers fought each other for jobs and not the capitalists for power.”

Would it have made any difference if the strike had gone farther, had lasted longer, managed more enterprises, been willing to resort to violence? Probably not. Of more significance is the question: to what extent was the decline of the workers movement in Seattle (and in other places throughout the country) a direct result of the economic crisis, as Strong suggests, and to what extent were other factors involved?

One of the major problems of the workers in the strike was their leaders. This is recognized in the pamphlet and a fair amount of information is given concerning it, mostly about the attempts of the national unions to force their Seattle locals to break the strike. There is much that can be added from other sources as well Seattle’s union leadership was notoriously radical yet the decision to strike was made while most of the “labor leaders” were at a special conference in Chicago to organize a national general strike to free Tom Mooney 2

This situation was dramatized when the Executive Committee voted 13 to 1 on Saturday (the third day of the strike) to recommend ending the strike that night. The 300 members of the General Strike Committee were almost persuaded until they took a supper break and talked with members of their own rank-and-file; they returned to the meeting and voted overwhelmingly to continue the strike. All of this suggests that the problem was not one of “bad” or “yellow” leaders, but was inherent in the division between “leaders” and “led”. The strikers could continue only insofar as they kept decisions in their own hands.

For us, one of the most important questions in any strike is to what extent do the participating men and women take over direction of their activities themselves, and to what extent are they simply following the directives of an alternative elite. A strike committee, for example, can be only a means by which different groups of workers coordinate their activity; on the other hand, it can be a new directing authority. Many questions about decision-making in the Seattle strike are not answered by the Official History.

Who was on the General Strike Committee of 300 and the Executive Committee of 15? Were they rank-and-filers or leaders? If the former (as turned out to be the case) what was their position and level of activity in the A.F.L. unions? Did the rank-and-file ever meet during the strike’ When did the delegates on the General Strike Committee consult them?

From other books, we have gathered that there were union meetings during the strike and that these union meetings, unlike most today or even most A.F.L. union meetings outside Seattle at that time, did allow some kind of democracy and communication--the rank-and- file really could control what happened to a fair degree

Also it is probably true that the 30,000 rank-and-file workers a day who participated in the mass meals that had been arranged discussed the strike with each other at these meals. This was most likely the major way in which mass pressure was put on the Strike Committee members, many of whom came to these meals. (Most of these questions are not answered in any other accounts of the strike either.)

Exactly who ran those services that were run by “workers” during the strike? Were they the local union leaders? Were they workers elected from the rank-and-file? Were the decisions about how to run things made at mass meetings? If done by delegates, to what extent did they contact the rest of the workers about doing these things?

These are important questions to ask, about what for us was perhaps the most important aspect of the General Strike. Workers’ management is the basis of the socialist society we hope to see created and to help and immediately recallable delegates when not, and then only after full discussion of the crucial issues by those to whom the delegate is responsible. (For one view of this see Root & Branch Pamphlet #1, Workers Councils by Anton Pannekoek.)
It will also mean a drastic change in peoples’ daily lives and relationships.

This brings us to another set of questions left unanswered by the pamphlet. What did the participants do with their time? To what extent did they just sit at home (except for the mass meals, which maybe half of them came to) or have a vacation, as some of the strike bulletins told them to do? How were their daily lives and relationships with friends, family, coworkers affected?

Finally, while it is useful for us today to study what happened during the Seattle General Strike, what problems the workers faced and how they tried to solve them, it is important also to point out the respects in with the situation and thus the problems are different today (and were different, in most places outs in 1919 as well). As we have already pointed out, the Seattle union movement was uniquely democratic even for its own time. A general strike today would probably have to be wildcat, in opposition to, fought by, and out of the control of the union bureaucracy. This is because most unions are bureaucratic, hierarchical structures which allow little meaningful participation of rank-and-file members. Their function is to act as middlemen in the labor market: insuring employers a quiet and docile labor force between contracts, and at contract time making sure that both the demands and the methods used to win them, whether “collective bargaining” or strikes, do not threaten the system. These features seem to be inherent in the nature of modern trade unions.

A second difference is that the U.S. government would most likely play a more active and repressive role in fighting a general strike today. In fact it was very unusual for 1919 that there was not more repression and violence on the part of the employers and the government.

Third, a general strike now would probably require much more mass participation both in decision-making and in physical activity. The former because a general strike would be done in conflict with the union structures and workers would have to build new organizations to run the strike (which at the outset, at a minimum, would probably mean mass participation), the latter because most cities or areas create. But workers’ management does not mean appointing leaders to make all the decisions, even if these leaders are workers, It means that workers make those decisions that affect them (in the area of production, these decisions would be: what is produced, how is it produced, by whom, and how is it distributed). These decisions should be made directly when possible, by rotated now are not as isolated as Seattle was, and it would be necessary, even if the strike was totally effective within the city or area, to have mass picketing and related activities in order to stop shipments coming into the city or area from the outside and to prevent the use of troops as strikebreakers. These are the ideas that have occurred to us in connection with the pamphlet. Other people approaching it from different perspectives and experiences would naturally have other questions and thoughts.

Originally printed by the History Committee of the General Strike Committee, March 1919. History Committee: May Young (waitress), John Mckelvey (Shipbuilder), Fred Nelson (Boilermaker), J.N. Belanger (Steamfitters Secretary), Sam Frazier (Carpenter) and Anna Louise Strong (Historian). Reprinted by Root and Branch in 1972.

From coast to coast went the report that a revolution was imminent in Seattle. A General Strike had been called in sympathy with the shipyard workers, and no one knew what would come of it. Both before and after the strike, government officials in Washington and other prominent persons declared that Bolshevism had attempted to make its first appearance in the Northwest. In Seattle itself the tension before the General Strike is difficult to describe. Business men took out riot insurance on their warehouses and purchased guns. The press appealed to the strikers not to ruin their home city. Later they changed their tone and became more threatening, appealing to the strikers to state “which flag they were under,” and if under the American flag, to put down Bolshevism in their midst.

Many opponents of organized labor hoped to see the Labor Movement of Seattle broken by the attempt to handle a General Strike, and many old-timers in the labor Movement feared that this would indeed happen.

Meantime the people of the city acquired supplies for a long siege. Grocery stores sold enormous quantities of goods. Hardware stores ransacked their storehouses for discarded supplies of lamps of the sort used by last summer’s resorters in beach camps, and sold them out at a substantial advance in price. A few of the wealthy families were reported in the press as having moved to Portland, to be out of the “upheaval.”

And yet, when the strike occurred, never had there been less outward turmoil in the city of Seattle. Ordinary police-court arrests sank below normal. Quiet reigned throughout the city. Even the ordinary meetings of radical groups were voluntarily suspended lest they give an opportunity to some one to start trouble. In short, as a reporter from a nearby town declared “while the authorities prepared for riots, labor organized for peace and order.” And peace and order obtained.

Now that the strike has passed into history, it is the purpose of this account to gather up the information in scattered documents, in the press, and in the minutes of the strike committee and relate what happened during the strike in the labor world of Seattle. We do this because the General Strike is a new weapon to the workers of the United States. Before our strike occurred, we did not know how the weapon which we held in our hands would “go off.” And we have gained an experience which we believe will be of use to the Labor Movement of our country.

In the uncertainty and tension before the strike occurred, when no one knew exactly what might come of it, the statement that “this is not a strike but a revolution” was first made by the mayor of Seattle. It was the morning paper, the Post-lntelligencer, which first publicly announced the alleged “Bolshevik” character of the strike, in a cartoon showing the red flag hoisted above the stars and stripes in the city of Seattle.

To what extent Revolution was or was not in the minds of workers participating in the strike, will be discussed later, after the actual happenings of the strike have been made clearer. But since an editorial published in the Union Record (the official daily organ of the Central Labor Council) the day before the strike, has been quoted in partial form from coast to coast, as a sign of revolutionary intentions, we give it here in full:

On Thursday at 10 A.M.

There will be many cheering, and there will be some who fear. Both these emotions are useful, but not too much of either. We are undertaking the most tremendous move ever made by LABOR in this country, a move which will lead--NO ONE KNOWS WHERE! We do not need hysteria. We need the iron march of labor.

LABOR WILL FEED THE PEOPLE. Twelve great kitchens have been offered, and from them food will be distributed by the provision trades at low cost to all. LABOR WILL CARE FOR THE BABIES AND THE SICK. The milk- wagon drivers and the laundry drivers are arranging plans for supplying milk to babies, invalids, and hospitals, and taking care of the cleaning of linen for hospitals. LABOR WILL PRESERVE ORDER. The strike committee is arranging for guards, and it is expected that the stopping of the cars will keep people at home. A few hot-headed enthusiasts have complained that strikers only should be fed, and the general public left to endure severe discomfort. Aside from the in-humanitarian character of such suggestions, let them get this straight: NOT THE WITHDRAWAL OF LABOR POWER, BUT THE POWER OF THE STRIKERS TO MANAGE WILL WIN THIS STRIKE. What does Mr. Piez of the Shipping Board care about the closing down of Seattle’s shipyards, or even of all the industries of the northwest? Will it not merely strengthen the yards at Hog Island, in which he is more interested?

When the shipyard owners of Seattle were on the point of agreeing with the workers, it was Mr. Piez who wired them that, if they so agreed he would not let them have steel. Whether this is camouflage we have no means of knowing but we do know that the great eastern combinations of capitalists could afford to offer privately to Mr. Skinner, Mr. Ames, and Mr. Duthie a few millions apiece in eastern shipyard stock, RATHER THAN LET THE WORKERS WIN.

The closing down of Seattle’s industries, as a MERE SHUTDOWN, will not affect these eastern gentlemen much. They could let the whole northwest go to pieces, as far as money alone is concerned.

But, the closing down of the capitalistically controlled industries of Seattle, while the workers organize to feed the people, to care for the babies and the sick, to preserve order--this will move them, for this looks too much like the taking over of power by the workers.

Labor will not only Shut Down the industries, but Labor will reopen, under the management of the appropriate trades, such activities as are needed to preserve public health and public peace. If the strike continues, Labor may feel led to avoid public suffering by reopening more and more activities UNDER ITS OWN MANAGEMENT. And that is why we say that we are starting on a road that leads, no one knows where!

This editorial was perhaps more variously interpreted than any statement made during the strike. The Post-Intelligencer published it the next morning and made no further comment. And perhaps comment is needless, since each man will interpret it according to his own intentions.

It might be mentioned, however, that the editorial was submitted, as were all matters affecting the strike, to the members of the Conference-Committee of the Metal Trades, before it was published. And at the very time when it was being held aloft as the banner of revolution, by the capitalist press of the country, members of Labor and other liberal minded citizens of Seattle were declaring that here at last was, out of the turmoil, a suggestion of some truly constructive attainment that might come out of the General Strike.

For the mood of Labor, as the General Strike drew near, was one of deep seriousness. They knew that they were facing a situation as yet untried, and they did not know what would result from it, of good or bad, for the City of Seattle and the labor movement in that city.

What did come out of it, as will be seen as the story proceeds, was precisely what was hoped for in this editorial, ”more and more activities under the management of labor.” The stimulus to cooperative enterprise and to the enthusiastic working together of unions was the most important, permanent and constructive result of the General Strike. To supplement the editorial given above, we call attention to the two Anise verses printed as an appendix to this book 3 , and also to an editorial printed in the Union Record some weeks after the strike, of which we quote only parts:

Concerning Revolution
We are growing tired of explaining that we didn’t mean this and that; we are weary of seeming to take the negative explanatory attitude in connection with a faith of which we are proud, a faith which adds meaning to our lives. We want to tell, in positive words, the glorious thing we do mean.

If by revolution is meant violence, forcible taking over of property, the killing or maiming of men, surely no group of workers dreamed of such action. But if by revolution is meant that a Great Change is coming over the face of the world, which will transform our method of carrying on industry, and will go deep into the very sources of our lives, to bring joy and freedom in place of heaviness and fear--then we do believe in such a Great Change and that our General Strike was one very definite step towards it.

We look about us today and see a world of industrial unrest, of owners set against workers, of strikes and lockouts, of mutual suspicions. We see a world of strife and insecurity, of unemployment, and hungry children. It is not a pleasant world to look upon. Surely no one desires that it should continue in this most painful unrest.

We see but one way out. In place of two classes competing for the fruits of industry, there must be, eventually ONLY ONE CLASS sharing fairly the good things of the world. And this can only be done by the workers learning to manage.

When we saw in our General Strike: The Milk Wagon Drivers consulting late into the night over the task of supplying milk for the city’s babies; The Provision Trades working twenty-four hours out of the twenty-four on the question of feeding 30,000 workers; The Barbers planning a chain of co-operative barber shops; The steamfitters opening a profitless grocery store; The Labor Guards facing, under severe provocation, the task of maintaining order by a new and kinder method; When we saw union after union submitting its cherished desires to the will of the General Strike Committee: then we rejoiced. For we knew it was worth the four or five days pay apiece to get this education in the problems of management. Whatever strength we found in ourselves, and whatever weakness, we knew we were learning the thing which it is necessary for us to know.

Someday, when the workers have learned to manage, they will begin managing. And we, the workers of Seattle, have seen, in the midst of our General Strike, vaguely and across the storm, a glimpse of what the fellowship of that new day shall be.

The General Strike in Seattle grew out of the strike of some 35,000 shipyard workers for higher wages. The Seattle shipyards are on a basis of closed shop and collective bargaining between the various yard-owners and the Metal Trades Council of Seattle. The Council is composed of delegates from twenty-one different craft unions, (seventeen at the time of the first strike vote). These separate unions no longer make separate agreements with the yard-owners; a single blanket-agreement is made at intervals by the Metal Trades Council for all the crafts comprising it. This was the situation before the United States entered the war.

In August 1917 the workers had succeeded in establishing a uniform scale of wages for one-third of the Metal Trades men working in the city. Some of the ship yards were unable to reach an agreement on account of having clauses in their contracts with the government preventing them from raising wages without the government’s consent. The Macy board came out on the Coast to adjust the wages and instead of bringing about uniformity in the wage scale through their system of applying the increased cost of living to wages received that had been brought about through collective bargaining, applied the increase to the wages received the year before and owing to some of the crafts having been in a disorganized condition at that period and others having been organized and in a position to maintain their standards, the application of the increase gave some crafts 60 cents per day more than they had requested and the great majority of basic ship yard trades 22 cents per day less than they were receiving in the other yards and shops Making a difference of 82 cents per day between the crafts which created dissatisfaction from the very start.

There was bitter opposition to this among the Seattle workers, who saw themselves deprived of advantages gained by long years of organization and struggle. But the International Officers of various crafts involved had signed the memorandum creating the Macy Board, and the men, while protesting, and refrained from striking for patriotic reasons, because of the war needs of the country. The Seattle workers maintained that according to the constitution of the various craft unions, the International Officers of the various crafts had no authority thus to bind their locals, without a referendum vote. This was felt all the more keenly as the local crafts had themselves given over their rights to the Metal Trades Council, in order that they might bargain for the entire industry at once, and they felt that power was wrongfully taken from the instrument they had built for their own protection.

For more than a year they continued work, though under constant protest against the fairness of the agreement, to which they constantly stated they had not been a party. Appeal after appeal was made, with no result. While continuing at work, the Seattle shipyard workers established world records in the building of ships. So great was their efficiency that official records state that 26 percent of all ships built for the United States Shipping Board during the war were built in Seattle alone.

After the armistice was signed, and after repeated failure to get relief through appeals, the various crafts of the Metal Trades took a strike vote by referendum. According to the strong conviction of the Seattle unions, in voting on these matters each worker should count as one, no matter in which union he belongs. According to the constitution of the various international organizations and the Metal Trades Department of the American Federation of Labor, however, the vote is counted by crafts, and requires a majority of the crafts represented in order to settle an issue. Thus in Seattle, where the boilermakers and Shipbuilders’ Union is about as large as the other twenty put together, it would have only one vote in twenty-one. The majority of men in the yards might be overwhelmingly one way and the majority of craft unions might be the other way.

In this particular case, however, the majority, counted either way, was in favor of the strike. Ten of the seventeen craft unions declared for the strike, each according to its own constitution, which in some cases required two-thirds, in other cases a three-fourths vote. Of the remaining seven unions, only one failed to secure a majority vote for the strike. In counting the majority of workers the desire for the strike was even more noticeable, since it was precisely in the large unions that the vote went strong for the strike.

The vote was counted on December 10, 1918, and was announced and held by the Metal Trades Council to use whenever they decided the time had come.

Meantime attempts at negotiation were continued. Failing to secure satisfaction, on Thursday evening, January 16, the strike was called to take effect the following Tuesday morning. The Tacoma Metal Trades Council took the same action.

The demands of the men were $8.00 per day for mechanics, $7.00 for specialists of semi-skilled mechanics, $6.00 for helpers with a scale of $5.50 for laborers, eight hours per day, and forty-four hours per week. This demand, however, was not final insofar as the vote was concerned and had there been a compromise offered affecting all men in the yards in the same proportion it would have been necessary to resubmit the vote to the membership for acceptance or rejection.

Many evidences point to the fact that it was the raise in pay for the lower-paid men which was most desired. Many of the skilled men were already getting more than the minimum asked under the new scale. They were, however, strong in their advocacy of the strike on account of the condition of the laborers. It is stated, on many good authorities, that Seattle businessmen, and especially Seattle landlords, had taken occasion to profiteer to a greater degree than in other places along the coast, and that consequently the cost of living in Seattle had increased far above that in Los Angeles and other California points. This bore hardest on the lower paid men.

The Conference Committee which had, conferred with the employers reported that the yard owners were willing to grant an increase to the skilled mechanics but not to the lower paid helpers. The men stood together in their unwillingness to accept such an agreement, regarding this as a bribe to induce the skilled men to desert their brothers. The shipyard workers came out and the yards closed down, making no attempt whatever to run.

Special reference must be made to the attitude of Charles Piez, Director General of the Emergency Fleet Corporation. During war time, while ostensibly admitting the right of the workers to bargain collectively with their employers, he informed the Seattle yard-owners that if they gave in to the demands of their workers, he would not let them have steel.

When the appellate board, which reviewed the decision of the Macy Board, ended in a deadlock, Piez told James Taylor president of the Metal Trades Council and local representative of the Seattle workers with the Macy Board that the men were free to deal directly with their employers. He later confirmed this statement by telegram to Mr. Skinner of Skinner & Eddy Corporation, and in an interview to Mr. Ashmun Brown, published in the Post-Intelligencer of January 24th.

But when the yard-owners and the workers took him at his word and entered into conference, he again threatened the yard-owners, this time with the withdrawal of contracts, in case they changed the wage scale.

This attitude continued throughout the strike. In a most perplexing manner one telegram from Mr. Piez stated that the yard-owners were free to make their own dealings with the men and that he had no power to prevent them: another stated that government contracts would be denied any yards which changed the rate of wages: still another stated that as far as he was concerned the government would not allow, even later, any raise in the war-time wages.

Throughout the strike, he seemed consistent only on one point-- that he would have no dealings whatever with the men until they had returned to work.

The strike of the shipyard workers occurred on Tuesday morning, January 2 1st. On the following evening, at the meeting of the Central Labor Council, a delegate body composed of representatives from all the unions in the city, including the unions of the Metal Trades, a request was presented from the Metal Trades Council, asking for a General Strike throughout the city, in sympathy with the shipyard workers.

This request was approved by the Central Labor Council and went out to the various unions to vote on, as they hold the final authority in case of a strike of their members. On the following Sunday, a meeting of executive officers of local unions was held which recommended to the Central Labor Council that the General Strike, if it should be favorably voted upon, should be governed by a Strike Committee, composed of three delegates elected from each striking union, and that this General strike Committee should be called to meet on the following Sunday.

By the next Wednesday meeting of the Central Labor Council, so many unions had declared their intention to strike, that the suggestion of the executive officers of unions was accepted and a General Strike Committee called to meet on Sunday morning, February 2nd, at 8 o’clock. This General Strike Committee composed of delegates from 110 unions and the Central Labor Council, held the ultimate authority on all strike matters during the time of the sympathetic strike.

Some of the striking unions
The completeness with which the unions of Seattle voted for the General Strike came as a surprise to many unionists. Union after union sacrificed cherished hopes, “in order to go out with the rest.” The Longshoremen’s Union, in which, after many vicissitudes, the Truckers had at length combined with the Riggers and Stevedores, had just put through a closed-shop agreement for the waterfront of Seattle which was seriously imperiled and in fact, broken down, by their participation in the General strike.

The Street Car Men were 100 per cent organized, after a long and bitter fight which had included a street car strike. They were looking forward at last, at last, after a year of waiting, to some fruit from their labors. Poorly paid, and with long hours, they expected a decision to be handed down from the Supreme Court of the State, and on the very day after the date set for the General Strike, which would assure them a substantial advance in wages. All this seemed to them endangered. Yet a majority of them voted in favor of standing with the rest of labor. And although the Street Car Men were later among the first unions to go back, at the orders of their executive committee and an international officer, yet even the most radical union men, knowing the pressure under which they labored, were inclined to urge:

“Don’t be too hard on those boys: they risked a great deal.” Many weak unions, knowing that they risked their jobs as individuals and their existence as unions, yet took this chance and went out with the rest. Among these were the Hotel Maids, the Cereal and Flour Mill Workers, the Renton Car Builders.

Over against these were the votes of the old and conservative unions, unused to indulging in sympathetic strikes or “in demonstrations.” The most unusual was perhaps the vote of the Typographical Union, a union whose control of its own jobs has been for years so strong that strikes have fallen into disuse in its organization. Yet it gave a majority vote in favor of striking, although its strike was not allowed by its International, as it failed to get the required three fourths votes.

The Musicians’ Union, another conservative union, took two votes. It was almost 5 to 1 against the idea of the General Strike, but 6 to 1 in favor of striking with the rest of organized labor, in case the others decided to go out. In other words, it stood for solidarity even against its own preferences.

The Carpenters’ Union, 131, an old, conservative union, which has become one of the “big businesses” of the city, due to its ownership of a very profitable building, voted for the strike by a majority of “better than 2 to 1. ” “There was no one down there haranguing us, either,” said one of the members. “We wouldn’t have stood for it. We took a secret ballot and decided to strike; and then we put our fate in the hands of the Strike Committee and stuck till the end.”

The Teamsters’ strike is remarkable because of the great pressure under which they labored. It is stated that 800 calls came into their office during the strike, from members of their own and other unions, complaining that fuel had given out and that they could not get any heat on account of the strike of the Teamsters. Many people realized for the first time how this union, which handles the transportation of freight in a modern city, is at the basis of all the city’s activities.

These are only a few of the unions striking; others will be mentioned in connection with activities which they carried on. But these are sufficient to show the great variety of crafts which sank their own interests for the sake of the sympathetic strike in Seattle.

It is interesting to note, in passing, that among the few unions which did not go on strike were various groups of government employees. Workers in the Post Office Department stated on the floor of the Central Labor Council that the regulations were such that they practically faced jail for striking. Thus for the first time, the Labor Movement in Seattle was brought face to face with the fact that government ownership may mean, not greater freedom for the workers but greater rigidity of regulations, and less freedom for the individuals employed than does even private ownership.

Four days before the strike actually took place; the meetings of the General Strike Committee began. With their first session on Sunday, February 2, 1919, authority over the strike passed from the Central Labor Council, which had sent out the call, and from the Metal Trades Council, which had asked it, and was centered in a committee of over 300 members, elected from 110 local unions and the Central Labor Council, for the express purpose of managing the strike.

The first meeting was called to order at 8:35 in the morning, and continued in session until 9:35 that evening, with short intermissions for meals. From this time on until the close of the strike, there were meetings daily and at almost all hours of day and night, of either this General Strike Committee, or of the Executive Committee of Fifteen to which it delegated some of its authority. The volume of business transacted was tremendous; practically every aspect of the city’s life came before the strike committee for some decision.

A general strike was seen, almost at once, to differ profoundly from any of the particular strikes with which the workers of Seattle were familiar. It was not enough, as some of the hasty enthusiasts declared, to “just walk out.” The strikers were at once brought face to face with the way in which the whole community, including their own families, is inextricably tied together. If life was not to be made unbearable for the strikers themselves, problems of management, of selection and exemption, had to take the place of the much simpler problem of keeping everyone out of work.

The strikers had no quarrel with the city of Seattle or with its inhabitants, of whom they themselves and their families comprised perhaps half. They had no particular quarrel with the city government, and most of them took pride in the municipally owned light and water and garbage systems, the municipal car line and the public port. While they were doubtless deeply touched by that spirit of unrest and desire for a new world which is sweeping the world today, they had no definite revolutionary intentions.

Consequently the problems of what should be done about the water supply, the lighting system, the hospitals, the babies’ milk supply, came before a committee of quiet working people whose stake in all these things was as great as that of any persons in the city and who, while they intended to make a tremendous and solid demonstration of sympathy with their brothers in the shipyards, had at the same time no desire to wreck the city’s life.

They realized that they were undertaking something new in the American labor movement; they were not quite certain where it would lead; but they felt themselves strong enough to handle whatever problems might arise.

The Committee Organizes
To make the problem harder, the General Strike Committee was not, like the Central Labor Council, composed of delegates who had experience in working together. They were a new group, a very large and unwieldy mass of unacquainted individuals, upon whom, almost at once, great and momentous questions descended.

The quantity of business transacted and the businesslike attention to many aspects of complicated questions, is shown in the minutes of the committee, and indicates a much higher level of efficiency and business-like methods that could normally be expected from such a large governing group.

The morning session of the first day was taken up with passing on credentials. Eighty unions, in addition to the 21 unions of the Metal Trades, presented acceptable credentials at this meeting. A few other unions were added later, making 110 in all.

All unions which had voted to strike, or which belonged to a district council which was striking as a unit, were granted three delegates. A few of the officials of the labor movement were granted seats in the meeting by special vote. Several irregular credentials were turned down. The first appearance of the inevitable problem of the relation of the strike to the city authorities occurred when the Garbage Wagon

Drivers asked for permission to explain why they had voted against the strike. They stated that Dr. McBride, the health commissioner of Seattle, had told them that they must take care of the hospitals and sanitariums, subject to penalty under the law. They had not known whether the strike committee would make any exemption in favor of these emergency needs, and so had voted not to strike. Later the Garbage Wagon Drivers’ delegates were seated and certain exemptions were made in the interests of health.

Another fundamental problem which raised its head in this first meeting was the opposition of officers of international unions. The stereotypers stated that one of their international officers was in the city and would probably try to force them back to work. They wanted to know what support the unions of Seattle could give them in case their international officers supplied men to fill their places and otherwise disciplined them. The committee declared that the sympathetic strike would not be called off until the stereotypers were reinstated in any positions lost as the result of striking.

The date on which the strike should be called came in for much discussion, it was finally decided to fix the following Thursday, February 6, at 10 a.m., and to ask Tacoma and Aberdeen to postpone the general strike, which they had ordered, until the time agreed on by Seattle. An executive committee of fifteen was next appointed to work with the metal trades committee in formulating a plan of action, and to present this to the Central Labor Council on the following Wednesday evening. Almost at once other motions made this committee permanent and instructed it to consider all questions of exemption that might arise in the handling of the general strike. The decisions of this committee were at times subject to appeal by the General Strike Committee, but in practice, repeal was not found necessary Committees on publicity, on finance and on tactics were also appointed, and many other minor matters of business were disposed of Among these were the forwarding of a resolution to Washington, D C, demanding the removal of Mr Piez of the shipping board, and the adoption of a resolution that no officer or committeeman should receive any salary during the strike.

Just at the close of the meeting two slogans were suggested. “We have nothing to lose but our chains and a whole world to gain” was rejected in favor of “Together We Win.” The unions of Seattle were declaring in favor of labor’s solidarity; they were not declaring in favor of the well known phrases of the class war.

Executive Committee Organizes
Even while the first meeting of the General Strike Committee was going on, the newly appointed Executive Committee of Fifteen met and prepared for business. Brother Nauman, of the Hoisting Engineers, was elected chairman, and Brother Egan, of the Barbers, secretary. Three subcommittees were appointed to consider exemptions from the general strike order, under three main heads: Construction, Transportation, and Provisions.

Committees on miscellaneous exemptions, on grievances and on general welfare were also appointed.

The Cooks Union reported at this time that their arrangements for feeding the strikers and the public were well under way. The executive committee decided upon daily meetings. As a matter of fact, so many and so important were the matters brought before them that they found themselves compelled to meet more than once a day.

First Exemption Granted
On the following day, Monday, the Committee of Fifteen met again. Before them came a delegation from the Firemen’s Local 27, whom they had requested to appear. After some discussion the committee requested the firemen to stay on the job. This was the first exemption granted in the strike. It was followed by many more.

The transportation subcommittee was instructed to arrange for the necessary forms of permit and signs to designate the autos and trucks used by organized labor in carrying on the necessary activities of the strike. Here again the necessity of exemption was recognized.

C.R. Case, head of the department of streets of the city of Seattle, was the first department head to appear before the committee to state city needs. He pointed out the fact that the water supply of Queen Anne Hill and West Seattle depended on electrical help from the City Light and Power. He also stated that large quantities of food in cold storage would spoil if the power system did not run, and that without the street lights the city would be a prey to lawlessness and disorder and thuggery. He mentioned the needs of gas in hospitals and laboratories, and the need of transportation for the various city institutions.

The ‘Committee of Fifteen’ realized what they were facing, if a strike were carried through without exemptions. They appointed a special hour on the following day at which they requested heads of city departments to appear and state their needs, and they expressed as the sense of the committee that they cooperate with these heads in every way possible.

Organization of Laundry Workers
One of the neatest little bits of team work between four different organizations came up for approval at this first meeting of the executive committee of 15. The Laundry Drivers’ Union had at first voted not to strike, but later changed their vote. They had a great deal to lose in any strike, as they had built up laundry routes with much patience and the effort of many years. They were working under an agreement with the Laundrymen’s Club, the organization of laundry owners.

There was also in Seattle a Mutual Laundry, owned by organized labor, and the question of its operation came to the fore. After consultation between the laundry drivers and inside laundry workers, it was proposed that hospital laundry only should be handled; that a certain number of wagons should be exempted and furnished with signs and permits to serve the hospitals; that one laundry should be agreed on as the one best qualified to handle hospital laundry and should be allowed to operate under a permit, with a sign, “Hospital Laundry Only, by Order of General Strike Committee.” This laundry should not be the Mutual Laundry, which did not care to handle hospital work.

The laundry workers served notice to their employers to take no more laundry, as it could not be finished, and then requested the Committee of Fifteen to allow them to work a few hours past the time of the calling of the strike, in order that the clothes already in the plants should not mildew from dampness.

A note from the Laundry Owners Club, accepting the Washington Laundry as the one to be exempted, was also submitted, together with the rest of the requests from the laundry drivers and laundry workers. It was a well-thought out program, indicating complete agreement with the entire laundry industry, and it was accepted by the Committee of Fifteen.

The Problem of the Butchers
The meat cutters presented an entirely different problem from that of the laundries. Ir of a complete organization of the industry, they had a small and struggling union, organized in a few shops, but unable to gain an entrance into some of the big markets which were controlled by the representatives of the packers.

If they should strike, and withdraw their men from the little shops, which had dealt fairly with the union, were they not penalizing their friends and strengthening their enemies whose non-union shops would be running full blast?

The somewhat original and interesting solution proposed by the Committee of Fifteen was that that the meat cutters should strike with the rest of labor, and should then contribute their time without charge to supply the public with meat through certain specified union shops, demanding only that the saving of their wages be deducted from the cost of meat. In the end, the strike of the meat cutters was incomplete, due to the handicap they labored under.

Law and Order Committee
By Tuesday noon, still two days before the strike, the need of a law and order committee was felt to be pressing, and the Committee of Fifteen appointed a committee of three to handle this matter. An advertisement was placed in the Union Record asking that labor union men who had seen service in the United States army or navy come to a meeting to discuss important strike work. This was the beginning of the famous Labor’s War Veteran Guards, who did such splendid service in preserving order during the strike.

Demands for Exemptions
Demands for exemptions came in thick and fast on Tuesday, now that the strike was actually looming near. The proposed meeting with heads of city departments never came off, but requests from several public officials came in formally for exemptions. These were referred to their appropriate committees, considered, returned with recommendations, and either granted or rejected. In some cases a conditional grant led the Committee of Fifteen into the position of actually prescribing the conduct of certain lines of activity. Here are a few selections from Tuesday’s minutes:

“King County commissioners ask for exemption of janitors to care for City-County building. Not granted.”

“F.A. Rust asks for janitors for Labor Temple. Not granted. (The committee was playing no favorites: it is worth noting, however, that a few days later, when the Co-operative Market asked for additional janitor help because of the large amounts of food handles for the strikers’ kitchens, their request was allowed.)

“Teamsters’ Union asks permission to carry oil for Swedish hospital during strike. Referred to transportation committee. Approved.”

“Port of Seattle asks to be allowed men to load a governmental vessel, pointing out that no private profits are involved and that an emergency exists. Granted.” (Note: This was on a later date.)

“Garbage Wagon Drivers ask for instructions. Referred to public welfare committee, which recommends that such garbage as tends to create an epidemic of disease be collected, but no ashes or papers. Garbage wagons were seen on the streets after this with the sign, ‘Exempt by Strike Committee.”

Drug Stores—Prescriptions Only

“The retail drug clerks sent in statement of the health needs of the city. Referred to public welfare committee, which recommends that prescription counters only be left open, and that in front of every drug store which is thus allowed to open a sign be placed with the words, ‘No goods sold during general strike, Orders for prescriptions only will be filled. Signed by general strike committee.’

“Communication from House of Good Sheperd. Permission granted by transportation committee to haul food and provisions only.”

This is by no means all the business that came before the Committee of Fifteen in a single afternoon. An appointment of a committee of relief to look after destitute homes, the creation of a publicity bureau, an order that watchmen stay on the job until further notice, and many other matters were dealt with and after this eventful afternoon there followed a night meeting at 10 p.m.

To Fix an End for the Strike
Should a final limit be fixed to the general strike? Or should it start to end--no one knew where? This as the question discussed on Tuesday evening by the executive meeting. Many of the older members of the labor movement frankly dreaded the general strike. They saw in it even such possibilities as the complete disruption of Seattle’s labor movement. They urged that a definite time limit be fixed to the sympathetic strike, with the threat to repeat it unless action was secured on, the difficulties of the Metal Trades. Foremost among those urging this limit was James Duncan, secretary of the Central Labor Council, and F. B. Ault, editor of the Union Record.

The executive committee of the Metal Trades was at first reported as having approved such a time limit, but after they had conferred with their general conference committee, which refused to agree to the proposal, the Metal Trades Council sent word shortly after midnight that they had no request to make. They also stated that the mine workers of the state would be asked to strike and that the State Federation of Labor would be requested to co-operate with the strike.

The move to fix a time limit to the sympathetic strike consequently failed.

Take Over Printing Plant
On Wednesday the same grist of requests for exemptions and for directions came before the Committee of Fifteen. The Trade Printery asked for exemption on the ground that it was printed material needed by the various unions. The request was denied, and the Trade Printery was asked instead to turn over its plant to the strike committee, to be run by printers giving their services. To this the Trade Printery agreed.

The day before this offer was made the Equity Printing Co. offered to put its plant at the disposal of the strike committee, volunteering free labor. This offer was favorably considered by a sub-committee, but rejected by the Committee of Fifteen.

The auto drivers were given permission to carry “mail only” on the Des Moines road. They were also allowed to answer emergency calls for hospitals and funerals, provided those calls came through the Auto Drivers’ Union.

Ministers Appeal
The Ministerial Federation sent representatives to see the Committee of Fifteen on this day. After submitting the resolutions which they had already sent to Mr. Piez and Woodrow Wilson as evidence of their sympathy with labor’s cause, they formally requested postponement of the general strike for one week to give a chance for peaceful settlement. They were given a rising vote of thanks for their interest, but their request was not granted. The telephone girls were requested to stay on the job temporarily.

The school janitors’ request to remain on the job was refused, and they ware referred to the Engineers’ Union, which on the following Saturday allowed them to return. Bake ovens at Davidson’s bakery were allowed to operate, all wages to go into the general strike fund. This was the usual policy adopted when union men were allowed to work for private employers in a matter of public emergency.

The question of city light
The eventful Thursday drew near. One most important matter was still unsettled--the question of city light. At the request of the Committee of Fifteen, Mayor Hanson came to the Labor Temple to a night meeting for conference on the subject. The meeting convened shortly before midnight, and the mayor arrived after midnight, remaining until 3:30 in the morning of Thursday.

The electrical workers had voted to strike without exemptions. On the day before the strike an interview purporting to be from Leon Green, their business agent, appeared in the morning paper, announcing that not a single light would burn in Seattle, and that the telephone system, the newspapers and every enterprise depending on juice” would cease to run.

“No Exemptions”
To the question, “How about hospitals, where people may die for want of light,” Green was stated to have replied, “No exemptions.” The same answer was made to the question of the automatic fire alarm system. More than any other one event during the entire strike, this front page report of Green’s intentions aroused both fear and resentment, not only among outsiders, but within the ranks of organized labor as well.

The mayor, who had previously taken no sides, announced that city light should run, even if he had to bring in soldiers to run it. Appeals were made to the public for volunteers to run the city light plant. And meanwhile the general public, uncertain of the outcome, laid in supplies of oil lamps and candles.

The electricians took the ground that a complete tie-up would shorten the duration of the strike. In answer to this the city authorities stated that the shutting down of city power would shut off the water supply in West Seattle and on Queen Anne Hill; would mean the spoiling of large quantities of food in the cold storage warehouses, while the darkening of the streets would inevitably lead to disorder, and the shutting off of lights from the hospitals might mean many deaths.

All committees much concerned
The various committees dealing with the strike were all deeply concerned. The Committee of Fifteen requested the electricians to allow enough electricity to operate the fire alarm system; they also appointed a committee of three to formulate a solution of the electrical supply problem, and called for a late night meeting to make final decision.

At the same time the conference committee of the Metal Trades, charged with the conduct of the original strike of the shipyard workers, called into conference the three men who been appointed by the electrical workers to handle their part in the strike. At first the committee of electrical workers stood firm for a complete shut-down, but when it was evident that the representatives of the Metal Trades were much opposed, they finally consented to allow exemptions if a committee on exemptions could be installed in the city light plant, with authority to state what parts of the system should be allowed to run.

First Conference with the Mayor
At this point A. E. Miller, chairman of the conference committee, called up Mayor Hanson on the telephone and asked him to join the conference. The mayor came over at once to the Collins building and announced that city light and city water should not be interfered with. He refused to recognize any committee on exemptions, but finally, after a long discussion, consented to meet with such a committee and take up with them, section by section, the various parts of the lighting system, in an effort to prove to them that no part of the system should be shut down. A committee of three went over to the mayor’s office, but a deadlock occurred at once on the question of street lighting, which the committee of three refused to allow.

Upon this the Engineer’s Union announced to the mayor that if the electricians left they would operate enough of the plant to supply hospitals and other public needs.

Midnight Meeting With Mayor
All the various pieces of consultation and planning on the subject of city light, which had started spontaneously in different quarters as soon a the Green interview appeared in the paper, came to a head in the midnight session of the Committee of Fifteen, called the night before the strike at the Labor Temple. The subject under consideration had been recognized all day as the most serious problem which had yet arisen, involving questions of relations with the city government, as well as the relations between individual unions and the general strike committee. In addition to the Committee of Fifteen, representatives of the electrical workers, the engineers and the conference committee of the Metal Trades were present.

The mayor, invited at a late hour by telephone, appeared shortly after midnight, and reiterated his statement that city water and city light must run. He said that he would prefer to run them with the union men, but that he would run them with soldiers from Camp Lewis or Bremerton if necessary. He added that he did not care about the other public utilities. The car line was not essential; in fact, he might even have the men given a lay-off so that they would not lose their civil service rating. But light and water, he stated, were needed for public health and public peace.

The mayor finally left at 3:30, and the Committee of Fifteen voted, after his withdrawal, to order the electricians back to run the city light plant, with the exception of the commercial service. A committee was appointed to announce this decision to the mayor, who, when called on the telephone, said he would be in his office at 8:30 in the morning.

In the end the city light plant ran without interruption, as far as was apparent to the citizens of Seattle. A month after the strike a member of the strike committee of the electrical workers, when asked how this happened, made the following statement: “The matter of city light was a bluff between Green and Hanson. We had the operators in the sub station only partially organized and could not have called them off if we had wanted to. We could and did call out the line men and meter men, who responded. But their absence made little immediate difference, and they went back before the strike was called off.

The engineers were in a better position than we to close down city light, but this they declined to do, and only called off their men after it was sure that the city light could run anyway.”

It was perhaps a rather inglorious explanation of a matter which caused so vital a stir. But, however much bluffing entered into it, a few facts stand out as interesting. First, that the executive committee of the strike, believing that it had the power to shut down city light, ordered that all city lights should run except the commercial power. This is important because it shows the temper of mind in the executive committee. Second, that up to the time when the strike was actually in full swing, Mayor Hanson was not the “revolution quelling strong man” that he has been announced as since, but a worried and busy mayor, not sufficiently familiar with the details of his light plant to call Green’s bluff and endeavoring for many hours in midnight session to argue the strike committee into saving city light from serious inconvenience. It is perhaps not so thrilling a picture, but it is a more human one.

On Thursday at 10a.m.
The strike had been called for Thursday at 10 a.m. At that hour the street cars began to pull for the barns, the workers all over the town left their tasks, and the strike was on. Some crafts had stopped before the hour set. The cooks had been on strike all the morning, and were working hard preparing food for the strikers’ kitchens.

According to the business press of the city, Seattle was “prostrate. According to an admission in the morning paper, “not a wheel turned in any of the industries employing organized labor or in many others which did not employ organized labor.”

Regular A.F. of L. Strike
Some 60,000 men were out on strike. The strike was called, organized and carried through by the regular unions of the American Federation of Labor, acting regularly by votes of the rank and file. It was a strike in the calling and conduct of which, contrary to statements made widely throughout the country, no I.W.W. had any part.

Yet the strike affected more organizations than those in the American Federation of Labor. Organizations of the I.W.W. also struck at once, and sent word that if any of their members proved unruly, they themselves would put them out of town and keep them out; as they intended to show the A. F. of L. that they could co operate in a strike without causing disorder. Since no disorder of any kind occurred in Seattle in connection with the strike, it will be seen that they were as good as their word.

Japanese Strike
Among the other organizations striking were the Japanese barbers and restaurant workers. In fact, all the Japanese section of the city was closed up tight and remained closed. The response of the Japanese workers added greatly to the good feeling between them and the American workers, and they were invited to send delegates to the general strike committee, but without vote.

As has been said, the strike was from the beginning to the end under the firm control of duty elected representatives of regular AFL unions, and any other organizations which had also struck had no voice or vote in its conduct.

Many Individual Strikers
How many individuals, unconnected with any organizations, struck just out of a feeling of fellowship for labor will never be known. But there were many of them. In the nature of the case, word is only heard of a few, an elevator boy in an office building of conservative business men, two laborers working for a landscape gardener, and hundreds of other sporadic cases of this type occurred. Persons of this kind had not even a union to protect them in securing their jobs again, yet they struck out of a feeling of sympathy, and a desire to be “a part of the general strike of Seattle’s labor movement.”

Second Meeting of General Strike Committee
Two hours after the strike began the general strike committee held its second full meeting, Thursday at noon. An avalanche of business descended upon it. For three and a half days the Executive Committee of Fifteen had been the authority in strike matters. Now at last the strike was on and the general committee met to survey its handiwork. The greater part of the first session was devoted to attempting to unwind the tangles of the city light situation, which is elsewhere described.

Exemptions Referred to Executive Committee
The regular grist of request for exemptions began to the general committee to come in to the general committee, but was soon found to be too burdensome for so large a body to deal with. It was finally directed that all exemptions should go first to the Committee of Fifteen.

A few typical instances of the type of exemption asked for from the general strike committee are as follows:

Seattle Renton Southern asks permission for transportation in carrying mail. All motions made on this were tabled. Co-operative Market says that the milk supply is short, and the farmers have offered to deliver it if permission is granted. This was referred to the joint council of teamsters. The longshoremen ask permission to handle government mails, customs and baggage. Permission is given for the mails and customs. The postal clerks ask that enough taxi company’s cars be exempted to give them transportation over the city. This was refused. The icemen ask for exemption in transporting ice to hospitals and drug stores. This was referred to the joint council of teamsters.

Meanwhile words of greeting and help came from nearby towns. Tacoma had called her strike at the same time as Seattle. Various unions in Renton also struck. Everett sent a d to state that if any work was sent to Everett from Seattle, they would call out their men. The mine workers from Taylor offered financial assistance.

The Renton mine workers, being affiliated with the Seattle Central Labor Council, struck. Other organizations of mine workers sent good wishes and the statement that they stood ready to strike if the movement was made statewide.

Meanwhile the Committee of Fifteen had been called upon for additional minor exemptions. They granted permission to the street car men to appoint six of their watchmen for the car barns. They gave permits to the plumbers and steamfitters for seven men to act in emergencies only under the direction of the Plumbers’ Union. These details are of particular interest in showing the closeness with which the city was tied up, and the inevitable result in placing power in the hands of the strike committee over many aspects of the city’s life.

I. W. W. Cards Recognized for Meals
On Friday morning a new issue came before the general strike committee. A committee from the Transport Workers, an I.W.W. organization, appeared to protest because their “red cards” were not recognized at the strikers’ commissaries. At these eating houses the general public paid 35 cents, while men with union cards were admitted for 25 cents. The general strike committee voted that all union cards, regardless of affiliation, should be recognized in the eating places.

This instance of a tendency to cut across the barriers that existed before the strike also came out in discussion concerning the Japanese workers, who had struck in unison with the Americans. After much discussion between those who wished to offer the Japanese full representation on the general strike committee and those who wished only to send a committee to confer with them, it was finally decided to invite them to have seats in the general strike committee, but without vote.

The Mayor Makes Demands
Twenty-four hours after the strike began came the pre-emptory demand of the mayor that the strike be called off. It was perhaps the very completeness and success of the strike, together with the alarm of the business men that brought him to take this aggressive attitude.

At all events, Mayor Hanson, who 36 hours before had spent long hours conferring with the Committee of Fifteen regarding the city light, suddenly adopted a different position. He issued a proclamation to the people announcing that he had plenty of soldiers to maintain order; he sent word out by the United Press throughout the country that he was putting down an attempted Bolshevik revolution. And he sent word to the general strike committee that he wished at once to see their representatives.

To these represent he declared that unless the strike was at once called off he would reopen all industries, using soldiers and declaring martial law if necessary. The time first fixed by the Mayor was Friday at noon, but as it was noon before his communication finally reached the general strike committee he deferred the hour till 8 o’clock Saturday morning.

Already there were members of the committee who had been from the beginning in favor of a limited strike. But, according to the statements of committee members, this action of the mayor’s solidified resistance. This view of the mayor’s intrusion was given by Ben Nauman the following Wednesday at the Central Labor Council:

“Ole attempted to call the strike off at noon of Friday, and said that if we didn’t do it he’d declare martial law. Then he said that unless we declared the strike off Saturday morning he’d declare martial law. We didn’t declare it off, and Ole didn’t declare martial law. Finally, he made many of the members of the committee so mad we couldn’t declare it off ourselves.”

The picture of the calling off of the strike given by Mayor Hanson to the press of the country was dramatic enough. It is significant that it was not printed in the press of Seattle; it was not for “home consumption.”

According to the accounts that went around the country, “the Central Labor Council, which is composed of the heads of the various unions, is controlled by the radicals. Labor tried to run everything.

“We refused to ask exemptions from any one. The seat of government is at the City Hall. We organized 1,000 extra police, armed with rifles and shotguns, and told them to shoot on sight anyone causing disorder. We got ready for business. “I issued a proclamation that all life and property would be protected; that all business should go on as usual. And this morning our municipal street cars, light, power plants, water, etc., were running full blast. “There was an attempted revolution. It never got to first base.”

Lost His Head
This was the account of the Seattle strike sent out by the mayor of Seattle. Later, the president of the Port of Seattle said of Mayor Hanson, in a speech in Washington: “He is a pretty good fellow, and a mighty good advertiser. But he lost his head completely. He spent $50,000 of the taxpayers’ money for extra policemen which were never needed. Tacoma spent no money and Tacoma had no trouble.”

How the Mayor Shifted His Ground
It was not until the second day of the strike that Mayor Hanson under the pressure of business men finally took sides against the strikers. Two days before the strike he took James Duncan, secretary of the Central Labor Council, and Charles Doyle, its business agent, out to lunch at Rippe’s Cafe, paid for the dinner, and talked over the coming strike in a most friendly manner.

“Now boys,” he said, “I want my streetlights and my water, and the hospitals. That’s all. I don’t care about the car line or the other departments.” Perhaps it was the very completeness of the strike, or perhaps the pressure from meetings of business men. Or perhaps the tilt with Green over city light had angered and unnerved him. At any event, on Friday morning he issued a proclamation to the citizens, announcing that he had 1500 policemen and 1500 soldiers and calling upon the citizens to go about their business as usual.

He also called up James Duncan and said that the strike must close by noon. When Mr. Duncan replied that this was impossible, he asked that the Executive Committee of the Strike should come to his office at once. He was told that this message would be transmitted but that the committee was very busy and might be unable to come as a body.

The Executive Committee sent a sub-committee of six members to confer with the mayor. The mayor urged them to call off the strike, saying that if the matter could be settled locally they had won “hands down,” but that Mr. Piez must be seen, and that “that group” had already double-crossed the city and were probably double-crossing the shipyard workers. He offered that if the strike were at once called off, to “lock up his desk and go to Washington with them, to try to get the wages of the lower paid men raised,” a demand which he declared to be just.

In case the strike was not called off, he threatened martial law. The committee replied that they were not afraid of martial law, and if that was the mayor’s next card, they had still other cards themselves. The gas workers had n been ordered out, and the mine workers of the state were ready to go out.

“If you want the strike to spread, declare martial law,” they said. “And furthermore, you don’t know how the boys in Camp Lewis will stand on the question of strikebreaking.”

“By G-, said the mayor, “if they are not loyal I want to know it.”

“If you want to see the streets of Seattle run with blood to satisfy your curiosity about loyalty, we don’t” replied Mr. Duncan.

The committee suggested that if they could meet with representatives of the Conciliation Board, the latter might be able to present some offer that they could make to the men as a reason for going back. Consequently the mayor called J. W. Spangler, a banker, and Rev. M. A. Matthews, down to the office, as representing a group of business and civic organizations.

Mr. Spangler said that he must report to “his people;” a further conference was then set for 8 o’clock in the evening.

Tone Seems Changed
When Mr. Spangler returned that evening, his tone had changed. Whereas in the afternoon he had called the labor men by their first names, he was now very short, stating that “his people” took the stand that this was a revolution and they would not deal with revolutionists. He admitted that he himself was “not fooled” and did not consider it a revolution, but that “his people” did; and that they refused to dicker in any way until the strike was called off.

“That’s final, is it, Spangler?” said Hanson, and on being told that it was he said to the Strikers committee: “Then that’s all there is to it, boys.”

From this time on the mayor definitely sided against the strikers. He threatened martial law; he issued his statement to the press of the country branding the strike a revolution. The interpretation of his action given by the strikers since that time has been that he tried, like a good politician, to play both sides, but when it became necessary to choose, he sided with the business group. After the strike was over, when employees of the city were being penalized for having taken part in it, and when officials of the Central Labor Council went to the mayor to intercede men, he remarked:

“You think we couldn’t run an open shop town here if we wanted to,” clearly indicating that he had dropped his attitude of conciliation toward the Seattle labor movement for one of hostility.

The Fateful Saturday Morning
Many striking inaccuracies occur in the announcement made to the press of the country by Mayor Hanson. “We refused to ask exemptions from anyone” he proclaimed. The fact was that he had been conferring regarding exemptions for several days.

“I issued a proclamation and this morning all our municipal street cars, light, power plant, water, etc., were running full blast.” The only effect of the mayor’s proclamation was that seven cars began to run on the Municipal car line.

The water, power and lights had been running from the beginning. On Saturday morning, the time when the mayor called upon business to resume under his protection, business simply did not resume.

The main car lines of the city were not running. A picture taken of Second and Pike streets, one of the busiest corners of the city, at 9 o’clock on Saturday morning, shows a deserted city. Teamsters, trucks and autos were absent. The restaurants were closed.

What Did Stop the Strike?
What did stop the strike, then, if the mayor’s proclamation had so little effect? Pressure from international officers of unions, from executive committees of unions, from the “leaders” in the labor movement, even from those very leaders who are still called “Bolsheviki” by the undiscriminating press and, added to all these, the pressure upon the workers themselves, not of the loss of their own jobs, but of living in a city so tightly closed.

Saturday morning at 8 o’clock, the hour specified by the mayor for the reopening of industry, saw the General Strike still in full swing. The strike committees were still discussing exemptions, and sending delegates to other cities to explain the strike and ask for support.

But the Executive Committee of Fifteen was seriously considering a resolution for calling off the strike. It was realized that in some form or other the city would have to resume some activity soon. On Saturday afternoon this committee brought in to the General Strike Committee resolution fixing Saturday night as the close of the strike. This had been passed by a vote of 13 to I in the Executive Committee, one member being absent and one voting against it.

The resolution follows:

WHEREAS; the unparalleled autocratic attitude of Charles E. Piez, General Manager of the Emergency Fleet Corporation, in refusing to permit the shipyard ?! and employees of this community to enter into a mutually sati agreement as to wag and working conditions (which would not add to the government cost one penny) so aroused the indignation of all unionists in Seattle as to cause them to express that indignation through the medium of a general strike; and

WHEREAS; it has been recognized that the objectives of such a strike would be extremely limited and consequently no good could be accomplished by continuing such a strike indefinitely; and

WHEREAS; on the 7th day of February, 1919, the Executive Strike Committee was in session deliberating upon the advisability of calling off said strike on the ground that its object had been fully attained through the unprecedented demonstration of solidarity and the encouragement to the workers in other ship building centers to further co-operate; and

WHEREAS; the ill-advised, hysterical and inexcusable proclamation of Mayor Ole Hanson tremendously embarrassed the committee in carrying out its plans, by reason of the fact that it suggested coercion; and WHEREAS; martial law having been suggested and threats made to throw the military forces of this nation in the balance on the side of the employing interests; and

WHEREAS; thirty thousand shipyard workers have been on strike for a period of sixteen days, and sixty-five-thousand workers have been on strike for a period of three days without so much as a fist fight or any other minor disturbance; now, therefore be it

RESOLVED; that we recommend that the Executive Committee for the general strike, recommend that the general strike, excepting the shipyard workers, be called off at 12 midnight, Saturday, February 8, with the understanding that all persons, who went on strike return to their former positions, holding themselves in readiness to respond to another call from the General Strike Committee in case of failure to secure a satisfactory agreement of the Metal Trades’ demands within a reasonable length of time; and, be it further

RESOLVED; that Organized Labor of this community express to the Mayor, anti all others, its deep regret at the action taken, and announce as law abiding citizens they have no fear of martial law or any other acts of intimidation used by those pr to represent the public, but who in reality are representing anyone class; and further be it

RESOLVED; that we take this opportunity of expressing to the strikers our deep appreciation and admiration for the splendid spirit and order maintained under the most trying and aggravating circumstances.

Not Yet Ready to Quit
All afternoon and all night the discussion raged in the General Strike Committee. Many of the most prominent men of the labor movement, including the persons who have since been denounced by Mayor Hanson as “leaders of revolution” argued most strongly in favor of ending the Strike.

In spite of their arguments, however, after a discussion which lasted until 4:12 in the morning, the voting of the General Strike Committee showed such an overwhelming defeat of the resolution that it was unanimously decided to continue the strike. It was obvious that the Executive Committee of Fifteen and the old-timers in the labor movement were more cautious than the larger committee just elected from the rank and file.

But the break had already begun to appear. Whether the recommendation of the Committee of Fifteen was merely a wise forecast of what was about to happen, or whether their action and the uncertainty about the closing of the strike gave encouragement to the thought of returning, by Monday morning, when the General Strike Committee again met, several unions had gone back to work, under orders from international officers or from their own executive committees, in many cases hastily called and without full attendance. In no case is it recorded that this return was taken by the rank and file.

Most important of these unions were the Street Car Men and the Teamsters. The former reported that they had returned by order of their Executive Committee on recommendation of an international officer, but that they would come out again if called by the General Strike Committee.

The Teamsters had also returned on recommendation of the joint Council of Teamsters, but the rank and file had called another meeting for Monday afternoon at which it was predicted that they would go out on strike again.

An incident in connection with the return of the Teamsters to work is enlightening, as it shows what results may happen through a minor personal friction. On Sunday evening Auditor Briggs, international officer of the Teamsters’ Union, appeared before the Committee of Fifteen and stated that he had tried to gain the floor both in the Central Labor Council and at the General Strike Committee and had been denied admission. He stated that it was as a result of this attitude toward him (an A.F. of L. representative and international officer) by the persons responsible for the strike that he had ordered the teamsters back, and that he might have acted differently if he had been treated by these bodies as the Committee of Fifteen had treated him.

Roll Call on Monday Shows Some Missing
A few other scattering unions were found missing from their places when the General Strike Committee met on Monday morning. The Barbers had gone back, instructed thereto by a meeting of their Executive Committee.

At this meeting a member of the Lady Barbers was also present, arriving late, and through this fact some confusion arose, a few of the Lady Barbers going back to work without the knowledge of their officers. The majority, however, led by their own Executive Committee, remained out.

As a matter of fact all the women’s unions showed a strong feeling of loyalty toward the strike, many of them outlasting the men of the same craft.

The Stereotypers were also back at work, reporting that they had been under severe pressure from their international officers, but had only gone back on the report made to them on Saturday night, that the strike was being called off.

The Auto Drivers, Bill Posters, Ice Cream Drivers, and Milk Drivers were not present and were reported as having returned to work. Some of these Organizations belonged to the Joint Council of Teamsters and were included in the general order that was issued by that body.

It was reported that the newsboys had been ordered back by a small meeting of their Executive Committee, at which not even a quorum was present, but that they were holding a general union meeting that evening to settle the question. All other unions were still out on strike and many of them voted enthusiastically to remain “to the last ditch.”

A few unions, while sticking to the strike, reported that it might involve them in great hardship. The Sailors’ Union for instance, felt that by striking they were placing the Seaman in jeopardy. The Hotel Maids stated that, since they were a small union with much competition from non-union girls, they stood to lose their jobs.

At the end of the Monday morning session the Executive Committee of fifteen again submitted a revised resolution, calling for all unions which had returned to work to go out on strike again, in order that all might return in a body the following day, Tuesday at noon. The resolution was passed almost at once by the General Strike Committee. The voting was confined to the “allies” or sympathetic strikers, the shipyard workers not being granted a voice.

The text of the resolution was as follows:


WHEREAS, this strike committee now assembles in the midst of the general understanding of the true status of the general strike; and

WHEREAS, the Executive Committee is sufficiently satisfied that regardless of the ultimate action that the rank and file would take, the said committee is convinced that the rank and file did stand pat, and the stampede to return to work was not on the part of the rank and file, but rather on the part of their leaders.

(However, be it understood that this committee does not question the honesty of any of the representatives of the general movement.) Therefore, be it

RESOLVED, that the following action become effective at once, February 10, 1919:

That this strike committee advise all affiliated unions that have taken action to return their men to work, that said unions shall again call their men to respond immediately to the call of the rank and file until 12 noon February 11, 1919, and to then call this strike at a successful termination, and if developments should then make it necessary that the strike be continued, that further action should be referred to the rank and file exclusively.

In the evening the Teamsters reported that a meeting of the rank and file had unanimously voted to strike, again till Tuesday noon in accordance with the recommendation of the General Strike Committee.

It was generally expected that the Street Car men would also strike again, since they had reported on Sunday to the Committee of Fifteen that their Executive Committee had full power to call them out again, if it seemed needed in the interests of solidarity, and since they had reported on Monday to the General Strike Committee that they would go out again if called to do so by the General Strike Committee. It took, however, some hours to summon a meeting of the Street Car Men’s Executive Committee, who were at work; and when they were called together, they stated that a meeting of the men to decide on the matter could not be held in time. Consequently the street car men did not come out again.

The meeting of Newsboys took a vote and decided to remain on strike till Tuesday noon. So also did the meeting of Auto Drivers.

It will be noticed that all cases in which the unions voted on the question were decided in favor of the request of the General Strike Committee, while all in which the Executive Committees or the International officers took action, were decided against the General Strike Committee.

This fact was apparent from the beginning of the strike to its close that it was not a strike engineered by leaders, but one voted for, carried on, and kept up by that part of the rank and file that attends union meetings or takes part in referendum votes. The influence of recognized “leaders” was in every case on the side of greater caution and conservatism than was actually displayed.

Among the pieces of constructive organization carried on during the general strike was the supplying of milk to babies by the milk wagon drivers’ union, the handling of hospital laundry by joint agreement between the laundry drivers, laundry workers, and laundry men; the feeding of strikers and many of the general public by the provision trades, and the maintaining of public peace by the Labor War Veteran Guard.

Milk Stations for Babies
The arrangements made by the laundry drivers and laundry workers for handling hospital laundry are related elsewhere. The milk wagon drivers at first attempted to make a similar type of agreement with the milk dealers or dairy owners. They worked out a plan for neighborhood milk stations all over the city, and for downtown depot stations from which delivery might be made to hospitals.

This plan was submitted to the employers. It was soon felt by the union that the employers were attempting to direct the operation of the plan in such a way as to gain credit themselves in relieving the milk situation of the city. Furthermore, the plan of the employers involved opening of downtown dairies only, which the union believed would leave thousand babies, and especially of th classes, unable to get milk.

The milk wagon drivers’ union therefore withdrew from the attempt to work together with the employers and established through their own organization 35 neighborhood milk stations all over the city. The employers meantime combined together and operated one pasteurizing plant at which they themselves did the work, and from which they distributed milk to the various dairies in the city. For this distribution they applied for exemption of one truck, and the milk wagon drivers’ union endorsed their request to the general strike committee. The hospitals were required to come to these dairies for their supply of milk.

Arranged all Over Town
The dairies thus supplied by the milk dealers were only eleven in number, so located that it would have been impossible for the mothers of Seattle to secure milk unless they owned automobiles. The milk Wagon drivers therefore chose 35 locations properly spaced throughout the city, secured the use of space in stores, and proceeded to set up neighborhood milk stations.

The stations were announced as open from 9 to 2, but the milk was always gone before noon. The amount handled increased as the days went on until about 3,000 gallons were handled in the various stations. The first day the supply ran noticeably short, especially in some parts of town, but by the third day of the strike the irregularities were ironed out and the supply was more adjusted to the need.

The milk was brought into town by the small private dairymen, whose dairies were near the city and had consequently been thoroughly inspected by the board of health, it was raw milk, pure, and authorized for babies. Each dairyman was given the address of a different milk station and made his deliveries direct. The over-supply at some and the under-supply at others was changed the second day by a small amount of delivery handled by the milk drivers’ union between stations.

Union Loses Money
The men at the stations gave their services free, and as a result the union stood to make a small profit on their activities in spite of the loss in efficiency which always occurs when a new system is put into effect.

But this gain was more than offset by heavy losses in connection with the supply of milk to the strikers’ eating places. The estimate of the number of people who would have to be fed was much heavier than the number of those who actually came, some 3,000 gallons of milk ordered for these kitchens was never required, and as the milk drivers’ union had contacted for this with the farmers they stood the loss. The milk came from farms and could not have been transferred to the milk stations, because it was un-inspected and not usable for babies. A loss of $700 was therefore sustained by the milk wagon drivers’ union as part of their contribution toward m an emergency in the city of Seattle.

The union has, however, gained in an understanding of the milk problems of a large city, and in ability to do the teamwork of co operation whenever, in the inevitable development of industry, t is seen desirable to handle the milk of the city as a co-operative unit.

Feeding the Strikers
The heaviest and most complicated job of organization fell to the provision trades, charged with feeding the strikers and such members of the general public as desired to patronize the strikers’ commissaries.

The restaurants of Seattle are almost 100 per cent organized. When the vote of the cooks and assistants, the waiters and waitresses threatened to close them down the restaurant owners took the matter philosophically. Many of them offered their kitchens to the cooks for the preparation of food for the strikers and some offered their entire establishments to the unions for the duration of the strike.

It was realized that the feeding of people through a few large restaurants would be much simpler and less expensive than feeding them in specially arranged halls. But for various reasons the offer of the restaurant owners was refused. Chief among the reasons was the fact that to take a few restaurants and omit others would be unfair to the owners who were omitted.

One restaurant owner said to the union: “Sure, take my whole place and run it. When you boys get through I’ll have some business.” The truth behind this remark made it impractical to take some restaurants and leave others. In a few of the outlying districts, where it could be done without discrimination, an occasional restaurant was taken over in its entirety for the duration of the strike, with the cons of the owners.

Open Twenty-one Eating Places
Some 21 eating places were opened in various parts of the city. The food was cooked in large kitchens, the use of which was donated by various restaurants, and was then transported to various halls where it was served, cafeteria style. The original plan called for each person to bring his own eating utensils, but this caused so much dissatisfaction that large quantities of paper plates and pasteboard cups were bought, together with small quantities of dishes, tin cups, knives, forks, and spoons.

The trials of the commissary department were many. It had to organize the supply of a large but quite unknown number of meals. It faced difficulties in securing provisions, in transporting cooked materials, in bringing the volunteer cooks to and from their homes. Each of these problems depended on the working together of people who had not had time to become welded into a complete organization.

Delay was experienced on the opening day from many causes. Some of the kitchens promised were withdrawn at the last moment, and the cooks and provisions sent there had to be taken elsewhere. The arrangements for transporting cooked food from one place to another did not work perfectly. In many places the first meal of the day was not ready until 4 or 5 in the afternoon. When it arrived there was only the smallest possible supply of dishes, and the patrons had not noticed the order that each must bring his own. There was no corps of dishwashers to keep up the meager supply of dishes until the waitresses’ union, assisted by patrons, leaped into the breach and organized this very necessary branch of service.

Many of the strikers had been without food all day, as the restaurants had not been open for breakfast. Consequently on the first day there was a certain amount of inevitable grumbling from hungry men. By the second day, however, the difficulties were much reduced and meals began to appear with regularity.

Zeal and Sacrifice under Difficulties
The amount of zeal and sacrifice of many of the cooks deserves special mention. It was expected that they would be taken to and from their work by the auto drivers’ union, but these arrangements did not always work at first, and men who had labored 12 to 14 hours at the hardest kind of work sometimes found themselves faced with a five mile walk home, and another day on the morrow of the same kind of labor.

Through all these difficulties the commissary committee, consisting of William Hinkley, Bert Royce, William Wilkening, and Harry Nestor, with the special assistance of Fred Leandoys, business agent of the cooks, made persistent headway. They had greatly overestimated the number of people that would need to be fed, for many people stayed at home for one or all meals. In the end they were serving 30,000 meals a day with little trouble or friction. It was a task magnitude of which only those can appreciate who have attempted to feed even a thousand people with a completely new organization of personnel and facilities.

There was some confusion as to the price of meals. It was at first reported that union men should pay 25 cents a meal, and the general public 35 cents. Different modifications took place in this order, sometimes without reaching all the eating houses. On the final day the price was 25 cents to everyone.

This covered a full and very substantial meal of beef stew, with large chunks of beef and whole potatoes and carrots, spaghetti with tomato sauce, bread and coffee. On some days the menu was varied by steak, or pot roast and gravy, in place of the stew. It will be seen that the diet chosen was by no means an inexpensive one, especially as every person was allowed as much as he could eat.

Money Loss of Kitchens
After the strike was over and the committee of the Metal Trades who had guaranteed the bifls added up their accounts they found a loss of some $6,000 to $7,000.

Nearly $1,000 worth of bread was left on the last day and had to be given away. Over $1,000 had been spent on equipment, and $1,500 for trucks to haul the food from place to place. In addition to this the first day of the strike showed a loss, for this day alone, of over $5,000, due to the difficulties of getting started and the spoiling of so much food which soured before the next day. Much of this was due to the number of meals that would be necessary, and much of it to the fact that a few hours was not long enough to get the machinery of transportation and operation into running order.

“If the strike had lasted four or five days more,” states Bert Swain, secretary of the Metal Trades Council, “we would have come out even, and after that, reduced the price. Another time there should be some one caterer at the head for the buying of supplies, and some one person in charge of transportation. We did not realize how large a feature of the job the transportation work would be.”

It was the universal testimony that never had strike been carried on so peacefully as the Seattle general strike. “Sixty thousand men out and not even a fistfight” was the way one labor group expressed it.

The city was far more orderly than under ordinary conditions. The general police courts arrests sank to 32 on the first day of the strike, 18 on the second, and 30 on the Monday morning report for Saturday and Sunday. Not one of these arrests was due in any way to the strike.

Maj. Gen. Morrison, who came over from Camp Lewis in charge of troops, told the strikers’ committee which called upon him that in 40 years of military experience he had not seen so quiet and orderly a city.

Reasons Given for Order
What was the reason for this order? Mayor Hanson says it was secured by his extra police. “They knew we meant business and they started no trouble” he declared, in the pronouncement sent broadcast through the country. “While the business men and the authorities prepared for riots, labor organize for peace.” Such is the statement of a reporter from a near-by city, who came to get a first-hand view.

Robert Bridges, president of the port of Seattle, wrote a letter to the Central Labor Council in which he declared that “it was the members’ of organized labor who kept order during the strike. To them and to no one else belongs the credit.

“It was a great spiritual victory for organized labor,” he declares, “a victory that cannot be taken from you not withstanding many assertions that others than yourselves were responsible for preserving that peace and order.”

He alluded to the show of force and the calling in of the troops as “an aggravation” rather than a help, tending to give labor the impression that violence was expected from them. “Notwithstanding these extraordinary precautions, which were an extreme aggravation to them, the members of organized labor restrained themselves and went about their way quietly and peaceably. I sincerely hope that this will establish a precedent for future strikes.”

The View of the Business World
There is no doubt that large numbers of business men in Seattle believed the view that has been sent broadcast throughout the nation, that it was the action of Mayor Hanson in bringing in machine guns, increasing the police force by six hundred men, and deputizing some 2,400 citizens of all varieties with the right to carry guns, that stopped a bloody and violent revolution in the Northwest. This is the time honored method of the authorities, and the business world as a class believes in it, and expects machine guns to prevent violence.

Bitterness among Business Men
Bitterness was great in the business world. Some reasons why it was greater among them than among the strikers may be touched upon later; here we will merely quote the statement made to the writer by a prominent public official who was mixing much with both sides:

“It is only necessary to mix among the business men of this city and then among the strikers, and hear their remarks, or even watch their faces, to find out which ones have murder in their hearts!”

It was a commonly noticed fact that women on trains running into Seattle, or in clubs, or in gatherings of other kinds, expressed the view that those strikers ought to be stood up against a wall and shot down.” Two weeks after the strike, a prominent businessman remarked to friends: “If that strike had lasted a few days longer, there would have been some people hung.” The expectation, even the desire, to see the streets run with blood, was heard constantly in business offices.

“I had four hundred requests for guns,” said one proprietor of a hardware store, “and not one from a laboring man, as far as I could judge them.”

Two thousand four hundred citizens, according to the mayor’s statement, were given authority to use stars and guns. The process by which this authority was secured is thus described by two young men who were deputized:

“We went into an office and held up our hands and someone mumbled some oath or other and they pinned a star on us and turned us loose.”

One responsible business man who secured a star in order to “protect his property” relates overhearing two “young kids” who had just been deputized, and who were openly exulting in the hope of “potting a striker.”

Soldiers Brought In
In addition to the armed men thus turned l somewhat irresponsibly in the city’s streets, soldiers were brought over from Camp Lewis. These were, however, hardly seen at all by the citizens, as they did not appear on the streets in any numbers.

It was fortunate for the city of Seattle that the soldiers came under the charge of a man like Maj. General Morrison. Vested, in the absence of President Wilson from our shores, with the right to declare martial law if he deemed it necessary, he appeared to wish to conduct himself in such a manner as to bring no censure from the president for hasty action. To a committee of strikers who called upon him to ask about the mayor’s threat of martial law he replied that if any martial law was necessary, he himself would declare it, and it would be no bluff when he declared it.

Two facts deserve comment in connection with the calling in of the Soldiers One is that the high pile of “literature” about the strike which had been furnished Maj. Gen. Morrison to give him “information” contained not a single page of authentic statement from the strikers.

Denunciations in un-tempered language from small business sheets, together with unauthorized dodgers, some of which seemed to come from the I.W.W., were there in abundance. The whole collection tended to foster a belief in the revolutionary character of the strike but not one single copy of the official announcements published by the strike committees; and not a copy of the Union Record or the strike bulletin, of which over 100,000 had been sent broadcast. The major general did not even know of the existence of the Union Record, the official organ of the Central Labor Council, and the paper which has the largest circulation of any newspaper in the Northwest. Who compiled the collection of “information” for him is not known, but its intent was obvious.

A second interesting fact is that when the writer of this history called upon the successor of Maj. Gen. Morrison, to secure information regarding the calling in of the troops such information was not available. The officer in charge stated that he was not authorized to inform the people of Seattle either the number of men sent over, nor at whose request or order they had been sent, nor for what purpose they were in the city, whether to guard government property or to give general aid in case of trouble. It thus appears that military authorities may be quartered in an American city, and the people of that city be denied the right to know at the time or afterward for what purpose or at whose request they have come and what they propose to do.

Labor Organizes for Order
Meanwhile the strikers “organized for peace and order.” They realized that they had nothing to gain and everything to lose by a riot in the streets. The tone of the editorial comment in the Strike Bulletin and the Union Record, both before the strike and after,, a marked absence of bitterness and a prevalence of good humor.

“A machine gun may be a good argument, but it does mighty little execution where there are no crowds” was one little squib to discourage the forming of large groups in the streets.

“Wild rumors are floating around. Be careful how you believe them. The worst of these tales yesterday was that the strikers had blown up the city water dam. Whoever started this is responsible for much unnecessary mental anguish. The strikers are not blowing up anything." So runs another of the “Strike Notes.”

“Keep quiet. Let the other fellow do the quarreling,” was another slogan passed around. The Strike Bulletin commented favorably on the use of public libraries which had increased with a tremendous bound during the strike, and urged small community sings and recreational gatherings for the purpose of “making the most of your leisure time.” And it ended: “This is fine weather for a vacation, anyway.”

Editorials on “Keep Smiling” poked gentle fun at the self-important new youthful deputies who pushed their way through crowds at the Labor Temple, and urged the workers to remember that “when you were 18 you thought you ran the world,” and not to grow angry at the youths.

Labor’s War Veterans
In addition to this constant stream of propaganda in the interests of quietness and order, a group of some 300 union men who had seen service in the U. S. army or navy were organized into Labor’s War Veterans. F. A. Rust, head of the Seattle Labor Temple Association, an old and tried and rather conservative member of organized labor, was at the head.

In an interview with the mayor before the strike, Mr. Rust was told that he could have his men deputized and given police authority if they would come down and be sworn in. He refused this suggestion.

“We think it will reassure the public to know,” he said, “that we have no guns. We know that we can keep order in our own ranks without the use force, if there is any shooting done, it will not be by us.”

“We Have No Guns”
Scrawled across the blackboard at one of the headquarters of the War Veterans Guard ran the words: “The purpose of this organization is to preserve law and order without the use of force. No volunteer will have any police power or be allowed to carry weapons of any sort, but to use persuasion only. Keep clear of arguments about the strike and discourage others from them.”

The method of dispersing crowds was thus described by one of the volunteers: “I would just go in,” he said, “and say: ‘Brother Workingmen, this is for your own good. We mustn’t have crowds that can be used as an excuse to start any trouble.’ And they would answer: ‘You’re right, brother,’ and begin to scatter.”

This was the method used in dispersing the crowd that gathered when the first unsuccessful attempt was made to start the municipal car line, One of the guards reporting on this stated that, “the regular police didn’t get in until we had the crowd moving, and then they came over Swinging their sticks and saying ‘get out of here.’

The “Shooting” Star
One of the “aggravations” mentioned by Mr. Bridges as tending to provoke disturbance, but which failed to cause any trouble because of the methods used by the Labor’s War Veterans Guard, was the action of the Star, a Scripps paper, which, until the advent of the Union Record, had been the largest paper in the Northwest. Its circulation by the time the strike occurred had been almost cut in two.

With the help of men who worked under the direct order of international officers, the Star published a small issue on the afternoon of the strike, and sent a boy to the Post Office corner to dispose of them. A large and somewhat irritated crowd gathered. A hurry call sent to the headquarters of the Labor Guard brought out several men who succeeded in quietly dispersing the crowd.

Then one of the Labor Guard talked to the boy, explaining what scabbing meant. The youth declared that he would stop if he could get back to the Star office, whereupon the guard hailed a passing automobile belonging to a union man and sent the boy with his papers to the paper that sent him out.

On the following day the Star again printed its paper with a cordon of police drawn up at both ends of the street. The papers were passed out by police and were sent into the residence districts in machines full of armed guards. The strikers made at no time any attempt to interfere. The episode seriously injured what remaining popularity the Star had with the workers of Seattle. It has been alluded to in spontaneous cartoon and comment, as the “shooting Star.”

A Permanent Gain
The Labor War Veteran Guard was organized with two headquarters, each with a chairman and secretary in charge for eight hour shifts day and night. The men in charge were in every instance exceptional appearing individuals, the kind one instinctively classes as “leaders of men.” The groups acting under them were loyal labor men, most of who could have received from $5 to $6 a day as special police, if they had acted under the police department instead of volunteering their service for labor. But they believed in the “big idea” behind the Labor Guard, which one of them expressed thus:

“Instead of a police force with clubs, we need a department of public safety, whose officers will understand human nature and use brains and not brawn in keeping order. The people want to obey the law, if you explain it to them reasonably.”

The Labor War Veteran Guard co-operated with the police force and worked without friction with them. How long this would have lasted cannot be estimated, since, of course, the fundamental principles underlying the two groups are dissimilar.

The Labor Guard is to become a permanent organization in Seattle for the purpose of preserving order in labor’s own ranks, during strikes, parades, public meetings and similar events.

Some misunderstanding, intentional or otherwise, was caused by the interpretation given by the daily press to the editorial in the Union Record which spoke of “opening up more and more activities under our own management. This was held to presage a violent overturning of government and a seizure by force of property in the city.

As a matter of fact, without disturbance or disorder, more and more activities in Seattle have opened under the management of labor; and the move in this direction seemed to be only a beginning. A month after the strike, when this was written, union after union is talking cooperative stores of various kinds.

These range the simple desire to start the cooperative workshop in which members of the same union hall co-operate to produce--to more elaborate schemes for enlisting groups of unions in starting a department store. The barbers union is talking of a chain of co-operative barber shops. The jewelry workers have already opened a store on the Rochdale plan. The steamfitters and plumbers are carrying on a flourishing grocery business.

The interest in “our own activities” has been tremendously stimulated by the strike. Both money for starting movements and money for patronage come easily. The members of organized labor have had the experience of working together and they appear to want more of it.

Some of the unions, like the cooks, milk wagon drivers and laundry Workers, have had the experience during the strike of co-operation on a large scale. These particular organizations are not announcing plans for co-operation at present, as their relations with their employers are satisfactory. But it is evident from the tone of discussion that the rank and file in these organizations feel a new sense of power to organize and manage activities of their own craft or industry. They are ready to use it, when occasion comes.

Cooperative Markets Stimulated
The Cooperative Meat Market grew greatly during the strike. It had three shifts of men working to supply the strikers’ kitchens. On the first Friday in February, during the strike, this concern did a cash business of $6,257, including over $3,000 worth of meat bought by the strikers’ kitchens. The contrast of this with the first Friday in January, when the cash business was $2,126, or with the entire month of January, when the business was $37,000, shows the big gain during the period of the strike.

How much of this gain will be permanent cannot be told. Of course, the strikers’ kitchens are no longer supplied, but the increase over the January sales, even after the strike terminated, is still noticeable. Some of this no doubt would have come through natural expansion, but the strike called attention more quickly.

The Co-operative Grocery, (Rochdale plan) traces its sudden growth not only to the strike, but to a raid conducted on its office a week before the strike, during which the books were seized. Before that time, the business ranged from $250 to $500 a day; but the first Saturday after the raid a record of $1,100 was established. During the strike, the business was still nearly three times what it had been before the raid.

Membership in the grocery organization, which involves a $10 entrance fee, also increased 70 per cent during this period. Much interest started in outlying districts, and plans are now discussed for a large number of branch stores.

In Tacoma, the interest in Rochdale stores also reached a climax, resulting in the establishing of three such stores in a space of two weeks. At the same time, the Sheet Metal Workers’ union opened a cooperative shop owned by their organization, and the auto-mechanics laid plans and raised money for an auto repair shop owned by the union, while the painters and decorators are getting a similar project under way.

The Pipe Trades Grocery
One of the most enthusiastic developments of the General Strike was the profitless grocery run by the steamfitters and plumbers. It was started to furnish provisions to strikers at wholesale cost plus the overhead cost of handling. Rent was secured free from the Union Record, striking steamfitters gave their time without charge, and the organization advanced a preliminary $1,500 to buy goods. On the first day the store was crowded with customers and has remained so ever since.

Then the steamfitters went into various unions and sold “grocery tickets,” entitling the recipient to $5 worth of groceries. With receipts from these tickets, together with another $1,500 advanced from the organization treasury, and $2,100 from the plumbers, they had capital enough to buy out a $15,000 business on a prominent corner.

Already (a month after the strike) they are buying potatoes, eggs, butter, meats and milk direct from the farmers, and expect before long to get flour direct from the co-operative mill. They are doing a business of $1,800 per day. When the strike of the shipyard workers is over and the steamfitters and plumbers go back to work, those who are retained to care for the store will be paid wages. The plan is at present to pay $8 a day to everyone employed from the manager down, this being the wage demanded by their trades.

Striking Against Their Own Plants
Undoubtedly the business of the various union-owned activities in Seattle would have received a larger boost, if it had not been for the policy pursued by the strikers of “striking against their own plants.” For when the capitalistically controlled industries of Seattle were shut down, no discrimination was shown by the strikers; the union owned activities also took a vacation.

The underlying reasons for this were many. Among them is the fact that the workers, striking as crafts, were naturally in the position of employees, not owners, in each particular union-owned industry. To a janitor, the Labor Temple association was as much of an “employer of labor” as was the City-County building.

But the main reason was that the vast majority of the workers, not contemplating revolution, knew that after the strike they would still have to do business in a business world. And the standards of fairness in that world demanded that they should not unfairly favor one of two competing concerns, if they hoped to deal satisfactorily with both of them.

There was even talk of closing down the Cooperative Market, but the need for food prevailed over this idea. However, the Mutual Laundry shut down; the Labor Temple went without janitors, except for volunteers; and the Union Record stopped for a day and a half.

This shut-down caused more protest from the strikers than any other in the closing of industries. The Union Record was “their paper;” many of them hoped to see it sweep the others from the streets as the only paper issued. The craving for news, for printed matter of any kind Connected with the strike, became very urgent. It was a need almost greater than that for food.

The plant of the Union Record, under the direction of the Strike Committee with a volunteer force, published for free distribution a “Strike Bulletin,” a small two-page sheet without advertisements and with no telegraph news service except such as bore directly on the strike.

On the afternoon when it was given out, streets surrounding the Union Record office were jammed with a crowd of perhaps 5,000 people. Even the efforts of the Labor Guard were insufficient to keep them away. But the Strike Bulletin served only to aggravate the desire for reading matter, and on Saturday, the third day of the strike, after the Star had disregarded the strike by sending out papers on wagons with armed police, and after the Post-lntelligencer had managed to issue a four-page sheet which was given away at its own doors, the General Strike Committee directed the Union Record to start printing again. At the same time, the General strike Committee assumed full responsibility for the fact that the paper had not been published.

The grounds for closing down the Union Record are given by its editor, E B Ault, and board of directors, as follows “Since the strike was not revolutionary in intent, the conduct of the official organ of the Central Labor Council was a matter for careful consideration. The printing trades on the other papers had been asked and were expected to strike in concert with all the other trades.

After the purposes of the general strike had been served these men were expected to go back to work in the offices from which they had walked out, and the management of the Union Record felt that it would be unfair business practice to take advantage of their competitors by operating during the strike, and also felt that it would make it much harder for the printing trades to return to their work with continued amicable relations with their employers.

“Then, too, news is as much a part of public service as transportation, and since transportation was stopped news naturally should have been stopped in order that the community might know what labor solidarity really meant. The needs of the workers could be and were served by the issuance of a strike bulletin carrying all the essential developments of the day.

“The policy of the management of the paper was explained to the executive committee of the general strike committee and met with the approval of that body. That it was justified has been proved by the fact that the circulation of the paper has increased tremendously since the strike, and by the further fact that the opponents of organized labor have not been able to point to any unfairness on our part in 0 the strike.

There were no arrests during the strike for any matters connected with the strike. There was, as the strikers liked to remark, “not even a fist-fight.”

But no sooner was the strike over than the county authorities sent out and arrested thirty-nine members of the Industrial Workers of the World, on the charge of being “ring-leaders of anarchy.” Some of these arrests were accomplished by raiding the IWW headquarters, and then stationing a plain clothes man in the office of the secretary to arrest all members as they came in to pay their dues. Most of the members were soon released, only a few of the more prominent being held.

The Socialist party headquarters was also raided and the Socialist candidate for the city council arrested. The Equity Printing Plant, a co-operative printing establishment, the stock of which is owned by various organization of workers and many industrial workers, was raided, its manager arrested and the plant closed. Later the plant was allowed to reopen, for eight hours daily under the constant surveillance of policemen. The policemen opened the plant in the morning, locked it up at night, and supervised its operation during the day. A marked falling off in business was stated to be the result.

The cause given for all these arrests was the passing out of leaflets during the strike, which were alleged to have been prepared by the IWW or radical Socialists and to have been printed at the Equity Printing Plant. Chief among these was a dodger entitled “Russia Did It,” urging the workers to operate their own industries.

The arrested men had no connection with the Central Labor Council or with the General Strike. They claimed, however, that they were arrested because of a desire of the authorities to prosecute someone on account of the strike, and that they, being undefended by any union, were the easiest victims. They asked the central Labor Council to come to their defense.

A committee of the Central Labor Council was appointed to investigate their case, and reported that in its opinion no one of the leaflets on which charges were passed gave any evidence of anarchy or desire for violence, but were rather socialistic in their teaching. They alluded especially to the setting of a policeman in the Equity Printing Plant, together with the remark of the chief of police that he did this because “he got tired of what they were printing” and his further remark to a protesting committee that if any more committees came to see him he would close down the plant entirely.

Declaring that an “invasion of fundamental rights had taken place,” through unlawful raids and arrests, they announced that “fundamental rights do not go by favor, and when they are denied to one they are denied to all.”

While expressing their opposition to the IWW as a dual organization, and urging workers everywhere, in the interests of solidarity, to join the regular labor movement, they yet recognized the existence in this case, of “one common enemy.”

Their recommendation was adopted by a practically unanimous vote: “That the Central Labor Council immediately takes up the defense of these men, in order that the fundamental rights involved in these cases which are necessary to our own existence, shall be preserved.”

There the cases stand at present (March 6) with several workers, presumably members of the I.W.W. arrested on the charge of criminal anarchy in connection with the strike, and the Central Labor Council coming to their defense because “fundamental rights are involved.

From coast to coast the newspapers declared that the General Strike in Seattle was lost. The Seattle newspapers announced the same fact; the workers were creeping back to work downcast, that they had lost their strike. The press then proceeded to offer them many bits of advice and admonition, chiefly that they must “clean house” at once, and get rid of their radical leaders.

But strange to say, except for an occasional note of regret, the workers of Seattle did not go back to work with the feeling that they had been beaten. They went smiling, like men who had gained something worth gaining, like men who had done a big job and done it well. The men went back, feeling that they had won the strike; although as yet there was no sign from Washington that Piez would relent on a single point.

They went back laughing at the suggestion that they “clean house of their radical leaders who had tried to make a Bolshevik revolution.” They knew quite well that these same leaders were the men who had counseled caution and moderation, who had urged them to fix a time limit, and had later urged a return before the individual unions should start back, one at a time. They knew that these “radical leaders” were really more conservative than the voting rank and file that goes to meetings: and they were amused at the attempts of the press to make them believe otherwise. They had chosen the strike themselves, and it had been a great experience.

Hardly a word of regret was heard from the men who had lost five days’ pay for a cause, It was the men whose business had been hurt, the men who had expected riot and found none, who told them they had “failed.”

So it is worth considering for a moment, to what extent was the Seattle General Strike won--or lost?

What Was the Strike For?
What did the workers expect to gain? What were they striking for?

It is easy, once we have had an experience, to analyze the complex motives that went into it. But reasoning and analysis cannot take place before there is an experience to learn from. There had never been a General Strike in this country. None of Seattle’s workers had ever lived through one. So it is not surprising that we should be able now to see the fact that many varied motives and reasons entered in the Seattle General Strike, and that we had not had the experience at the time to state to ourselves very clearly just what we wanted or expected.

Some were striking to gain a definite wage increase for their brother workers in the shipyards. Some few, a very few, were striking because they thought “The Revolution” was about to arrive. But the vast majority were striking “just for sympathy,” just as a show of solidarity. The extent to which they were also moved, half- consciously, by the various forms of labor’s upheaval going on throughout the world, cannot be estimated, consciously perhaps, not very much; but unconsciously and instinctively, a great deal. Strikes and upheavals were in the air.

For a Definite Gain?
Those who struck for a definite aim; the raise of the wages in the Shipyard, did not gain their aim. It is true that men were hurrying here from Washington, D.C., to look into matters. It is true that some gain may the end be influenced by the strike. But the sympathetic strikers went back to work with Piez still interfering in the local situation.

Possibly one of the reasons they did not gain a definite end was that no end was stated quite definitely and simply enough. And perhaps one lesson that other cities may learn from the experience of Seattle is this: “If you are striking for a definite aim, and refusing to come back until you have gained it, make your aim so clear and simple that everyone in the city will know the one man on whom to bring pressure, and what one act to demand of him.”

If the strikers had said: “We are remaining out until Mr. Piez definitely and publicly states that he will leave Seattle employers and employees alone to bargain together over their own affairs,”--if they had asked anything so simple as that it is quite possible that the worried business men and the general public of Seattle would have been led to concentrate their annoyance on Mr. Piez until he gave into this definite demand.

But what they were asking--a raise in wages in the shipyards--was not something which either Mr. Piez alone, or the Seattle shipyard owners alone, or the Seattle Chamber of Commerce alone could give them. It was something that demanded joint action by several different people.

And consequently the persons in the community who felt the ill effects of the general strike had no immediate outlet for their grievance. They felt that they were being annoyed and punished for something which was not their fault and about which they had the power to do nothing. This fact undoubtedly accentuated the feeling of bewildered bitterness in the business world. They could see no constructive plan in the strike. They naturally jumped to thoughts of revolution and disorder.

For Revolution?
Those workers, of whom there were probably few, who thought “the social revolution” was ready to start in Seattle, were also doomed to disappointment.

Probably hardly any of the so-called “leaders, accused by the press of trying to start Bolshevism in America, believed that the revolution was at hand. Such belief as there was occurred in isolated cases in the rank and file and was expressed by the disappointed youthful cry of the boy in the Newsboys’ Union: “I thought we were going to get the industries.”

The men who had been longer in Seattle’s labor movement, even those among them who look forward to “the revolution” ultimately, were quite certain that it was not coming now. They knew that it was not coming because the majority of Seattle’s workers did not have the intentions or the past experience on which revolution is built. And yet, while no revolution occurred and none was intended, the workers of Seattle feel themselves, because of their experience, in the position of men who know the steps by which an industrial revolution occurs.

An editorial in the Union Record, two weeks after the strike, discusses the workers’ government just arising in Belfast, and draws comparison with the Seattle general strike. “They are singularly alike in nature. Quiet mass action, the tying up of industry, the granting of exemptions, until gradually the main activities of the city are being handled by the strike committee.

“Apparently in all cases there is the same singular lack of violence which we noticed here. The violence comes, not with the shifting of power, but when the ‘counter-revolutionaries’ try to regain the power which inevitably and almost without their knowing it passed from their grasp. Violence would have come in Seattle, if it had come, not from the workers, but from attempts by armed opponents of the strike to break down the authority of the strike committee, over its own members.

“We had no violence in Seattle and no revolution. That fact should prove that neither the strike committee nor the rink and file of the workers ever intended revolution.

“But our experience, meantime, will help us understand the way in which events are occurring in other communities all over the world, where a general strike, not being called off, slips gradually into the direction of more and more affairs by the strike committee, until the business group, feeling their old prestige slipping, turns suddenly to violence, and there comes the test of force.”

To Express Solidarity?
We come then to the last of the reasons entering into the general Strike reason which was the simplest and the most important. The vast majority struck to express solidarity. And they succeeded beyond their expectations.

They saw the labor movement come out almost as one man and tie up the industries of the city. They saw the Japanese and the IWW and many individual workers join in the strike, and they responded with a glow of appreciation. They saw garbage wagons and laundry wagon going along the streets marked “exempt by strike committee.” ‘Hey saw the attention of the whole continent turned on Mr. Piez and the Seattle shipyards.

They learned a great deal more than they expected to learn--more than anyone in Seattle knew before. They learned how a city is taken apart and put together again. They learned what it meant to supply milk to the babies of the city; to feed 30,000 people with a brand-new organization. They came close for the first time in their lives “to the problems of management.”

They went back proud of themselves for the way they had come out; proud of themselves for the way they had kept order under provocation: glad to have gained so much education with so little comparative suffering; glad to have worked shoulder to shoulder with their fellow unionists on a lot of big problems; and a bit relieved, to tell the truth, that no one had been raided, no one shot and that the labor movement of Seattle was still “going strong.” For they were quite aware that they had held in their hands a weapon which might have exploded in any one of a dozen different directions. They were glad to find themselves able to use it, to examine it and to lay it down without any premature explosions.

And that is why they went back from the “glorious vacation” feeling that they had won. Not perhaps exactly the things they had set out to win, but something better. At any event, whether this be the explanation or not, the fact remains that the workers went back, most of them, not feeling defeated, but feeling quite reasonably successful, glad they had struck, equally glad to call it off, and especially glad to think that their experience would now be of use to the entire labor movement of the country as it makes its plans for the Mooney general strike, by giving the necessary information of just what happens in a community when a general strike occurs, what problems arise, and how one city met them. And, for the giving of this needed knowledge and education, the labor movement of Seattle rejoices to know that both its successes and its mistakes will be of equal advantage to the labor movement of the country.

Text taken from

  • 1 Root & Branch note: As the leaflet “Russia Did It”, circulated during the Seattle General Strike (referred to in the text but never quoted), put it: “The Russians have shown you the way out. What are you going to do about it? You are doomed to wage slavery till you die unless you wake up, realize that you and the boss have nothing in common, that the employing class must be overthrown, and that you, the workers, must take over the control of your jobs, and through them, the control over your lives instead of offering yourself up to the masters as a sacrifice six days a week, so that they may coin profits out of your sweat and toil.”
  • 2 Root & Branch note According to one of them, Strong, the general strike would probably not have occurred if they had been in town “They were terrified when they heard that a general strike had been voted.... It might easily smash something--us, perhaps, our well- organized labor movement.” They went along with the General Strike because it was happening and in the hopes of controlling where it went and bringing it to a speedy conclusion. The established union leaders never did manage to gain control of the strike, but they had more and more influence as the strike went on. Strong also pointed out that as soon as any worker was made a leader he wanted to end that strike a score of times in those 5 days. "I saw it happen. Workers in the ranks felt the thrill of massed power which they trusted their leaders to carry to victory. But as soon as one of these workers was put on a responsible committee, he also wished to stop ‘before there is riot and blood.’ The strike could produce no leaders willing to keep it going. All of us were red in the ranks and yellow as leaders.”
  • 3 which only one, They Can’t Understand, was reprinted by Root & Branch


Juan Conatz

9 years 2 months ago

In reply to by

Submitted by Juan Conatz on January 11, 2014

Does anyone know if this was issue #5 of Root and Branch?


9 years 2 months ago

In reply to by

Submitted by Hieronymous on January 11, 2014


It's from the 1975 paperback edition Root & Branch: The Rise of the Workers' Movement (edited by Root & Branch), published by Fawcett Crest, most of which got pulped.

Juan Conatz

9 years 2 months ago

In reply to by

Submitted by Juan Conatz on January 11, 2014

Hmm..The book, which I have, says it was published in 1975. I've seen a date of 1972 for this Seattle thing, though. Most of what is in the book was previously published in the journal, so either the 1972 date is wrong, or it was published as #5 or it was a standalone pamphlet.


9 years 2 months ago

In reply to by

Submitted by Hieronymous on January 12, 2014

It's not in issue #5, so it must've been in both a stand alone pamphlet and later in the book. Perhaps pamphlet #5?


8 years 4 months ago

In reply to by

Submitted by ben. on November 19, 2014

The title page of the Left Bank Books version says "Root & Branch pamphlet 5", and that it was printed in 1972. Left Bank did editions in 2009 and 2013.

Thomas G

8 years 4 months ago

In reply to by

Submitted by Thomas G on November 28, 2014

This text is really interesting. I am currently translating it into French as it's never be done. The history of workers movement in the US is not very well-known in France. In reading this leaflet, I had the impression that the Seattle General Strike was, to a certain extent, the American "Commune of Paris" with no violent and deadly struggles.


4 years 1 month ago

In reply to by

Submitted by syndicalist on February 3, 2019

The 100th anniversary is right upon us

I don't want to change my lifestyle - I want to change my life

1972 article from Root & Branch on the issues affecting women workers, and exposing some myths of the feminist movement, like sisterhood instead of class antagonism.

Submitted by madashell on February 22, 2007

Note: I originally published this (in Hysteria, a woman's newspaper in Boston) only under my name, but when people asked to reprint it I had a crisis of conscience. I felt that Steve had contributed so many of the ideas that he should be the co-author. Besides, to do such would break the rules. Three other women also helped - Liz Fenton, Meryl Nass, and Lillian Robinson. (They really did.) The "I's" and "me's" refer to me, however. -- P.H.

It seems clear to me that the women's movement in Boston hasn't really been doing much this year as compared to last year. I think that the reason behind this is that people have tried very hard not to think about what they were doing, and have therefore become encased in dogma. I also feel that people have settled for reforming their lives instead of changing them.

These things work together -- the dogma, the jargon, the elitism: they entrap us and prevent us from seeing our real enemy.

First I'm going to talk about the problems that women who work for wages confront and then I'm going to describe the myths in the movement that have been taking up our energies.

When one considers the perenially popular question of What am I going to do with my life?, one realizes that the difficulty of finding an answer has a lot to do with this society. Although there's clearly a lot of work to be done, it's very hard to find a job, particularly one that you can stand. Even the better-paying jobs, the ones that require a college degree, are ones in which one takes orders and carries them out or sometimes passes them on to underlings. One does what one is told. (As my mother's favorite saying goes, Snap to it.) And if one's suggestions are not ignored, they are incorporated into your orders.

(Of course, one can't do exactly and only what one is told or else the job won't get done. Machines break down and emergencies occur. But there is always a limit to how much initiative you're allowed to take.)

A waitress's job is not to serve food, it's to make profits. This becomes abundantly clear when the waitress gives some food away.

You may think your work is creative but just try challenging your job definition. You never get to choose what you want to do -- much less choose your wages.

We are what we do with our time. If one is a waitress eight hours a day, and spends those eight hours hoping for oblivion, then one is a person who spends half of her waking life wishing that she weren't there at all. If that is what one's job is like, then it is, practically speaking, futile to consider oneself a secret girl revolutionary, or a sensuous woman, or a loving mother or a hip chick. In the reality of those eight hours, one is stepped on. But, although most people find it less painful to deny this reality, we are interested in doing away with the pain altogether.

Many middle-aged people will tell you how hard they have worked (which is true) and say I did it all for the kids. In other words, they were hardly even alive at all.

One's labor disappears before one has even finished, into other people's profits and other people's fame. One is always either a screwer or a screwee or both. And that's how we spend most of the hours of our lives. (And this account doesn't even deal with those natural catastrophes of capitalism: depressions, recessions and repression and a major war for every generation in this century.) The work that we do keeps the whole system going. If it weren't for the rest of us, the Rockefellers would starve.

It is when we do away with the bosses that we will be able to be somebody -- to have our lives.

A revolution will only happen in this country when the mass of people become so disgusted with things and cause so much trouble (like strikes) that the line between the owning classes and these would-be expropriators becomes very clear. The revolution is when the workers actually take over their factories and offices and restaurants and department stores and hospitals, etc. and kick their managers and administrators out and start running them again.

The liberation of the working class is the job of the workers alone.--Marx

To my mind the two essential points that the above makes are:


  • People have to organize themselves into groups, e.g. all the nurses and aides on the hospital floor who are willing to talk back to the doctors, or a group of friends who are willing to talk back to the doctors, or a group of friends who are willing to talk about personal problems and help each other out.
  • The important thing is seizing power, and the most important power to be seized is control over production. This process ranges from No, you are not going to talk to me like that to No, I'm not going to work that hard to No, it's not yours anymore, it's our factory now.

    (A book which elaborates on some of these ideas in much greater detail is Workers Councils by Anton Pannekoek. [...] A pamphlet which describes what happened during the Hungarian Revolution in 1956 is Hungary '56 by Andy Anderson [...].)

    It seems to me that the women's movement in Boston has been backing away from this idea of groups of people seizing power. Of course, this idea does undercut some popular day-dreams. One woman I know has said that becoming a radical made her a better worker. At lunchtime, the other women in the office would read glamour magazines, while she read the Old Mole (a Boston underground paper). Nothing bothered her anymore, because although nobody knew it, she was a secret girl revolutionary.

    Besides cutting out a lot of exciting fantasies of being a guerrilla fighter in the Rockies, the idea of groups of people personally taking power is also scary. It's hard to talk back to the boss. I'm afraid of people I don't know, and have an extremely hard time talking back to piggy types, like managers. It's easier not to deal with them. This scheme of revolution does not leave radicals out, because radicals can and should be instigators. But real action will come only when the masses of unpolitical people start to move, to organize their anger in a major way.

    Myths in the movement
    I think that the women in the movement have spent a good deal of time this year chasing after myths. The myths have gradually calcified into dogma, and opposing ideas have not been dealt with kindly in meetings.

    I'm going to talk about those myths which I find most objectionable, and then I'm going to propose some types of activities which I think would lead people in a better direction.

    The myth of sisterhood
    Now, a lot of us are very lonely. That's endemic to American society. In fact, it's not just us, often our parents are lonely too, but they have TV. So changing the thrust of our rhetoric from all women are oppressed to all women are sisters made us feel reassured. However, it didn't work for long.

    I, not unlike other women I've spoken to, know about 200 Bread & Roses women by sight and about eight well, only one of whom could be called a heavy.

    When I went to the dance held in October to raise money for the women's center, I freaked out. There were all these women whom I recognized (but who didn't seem to recognize me) and they were dancing together, talking together. I desperately wanted them to talk to me, wanted them to dance with me because I really believed all the rhetoric about how these women were all my sisters, how when the chips were down, they were the one group who really had my interests at heart. But now I realize that that just isn't true. (Incidentally, I've talked to several other women who have had similar crises of anonymity.)

    I'm not trying to say now that we should all go out and try and make it real: I am not saying that we should put our whole hearts and souls and guilty consciences into finding women who are lonely, and forcing ourselves to be their friends. I am not saying that we should guiltily try to make ourselves match up with the ridiculous rhetoric.

    What I am saying is that the qualities of trust, support, and free conversation which so many of us miss in our lives will only start appearing in groups of people who are tied together by specific bonds, like ordinary groups of friends of long standing, or a group of salesgirls who have started talking back to the boss, or for that matter, a group of executives trying to break an industry-wide strike. Our common oppression as women just isn't enough. I think that 90% of the people in this country are oppressed and exploited by the ruling class; yet when I walk down the street they don't feel like my sisters and brothers.

    We shouldn't promise people answers to all their personal problems as if we had these answers, because it just ain't so.

    Another myth in the movement is that being a lesbian is the only revolutionary way to order one's sex life. The phrase woman-identified woman makes me very uptight. It is frequently used to imply that because a woman has a relationship with a guy, she can't possibly be as much in earnest as a woman-identified woman. Furthermore, she is supposedly condemned to be under his thumb and can be expected to go around selling out and shitting on her sisters.

    Gay liberation is certainly a good thing in that it is useful for the people involved; it wreaks psychological havoc in America; it can teach everyone a lot about sexuality; and it is of course good for women to feel that they don't have to be absolutely dependent on men as sexual partners. However, I think that a lot of women have been misled into thinking that one isn't really committed to the women's movement unless one is gay, or that a gay relationship is going to be so much more ultimately groovy than any other sexual relationship they've ever had. A few of them may turn out that way, but good sexual relationships just aren't enough. One still is caught in daily life: going to work, or enduring school, or raising a kid.

    I think that we're all oppressed by this society in ways that we can't stand, and I think that if lesbians didn't lay so many trips on straight women about how being gay is so much better (and being more oppressed=better, in movement jargon), those women might feel less defensive and spend more time fighting their real enemies.

    Another popular idea around town is that the essence of liberation is a liberated lifestyle. (I think the essence of liberation is power over one's life.) A lot of women have been taking karate courses, for instance. Now while I certainly think that having a healthy body and knowing how to fight (if only against a single unarmed opponent) is good, it's not as great as is often claimed. The same goes for car mechanics courses. Since women have long been denied access to a certain type of knowledge, like mechanical skills, they decide that it will make a real difference if they start to learn these things. However, these courses start becoming a substitute for political action. If the only activities engaged in are skill classes, art courses, and exercise groups, the women's movement starts to look like a less refined version of the YWCA. It is not that these activities are bad; it's that they don't add up to power.

    In other words, stomping through the streets in your workboots, knowing that you can kick some guy's balls in, is a very good first step. But actually doing something is what's really important. And even more than that, getting together with others in your situation and taking over that power is what counts.

    As for communes, even if you can get them to work (which isn't easy) you are still stuck with the original problem of what to do with your life.

    Pornography, censorship and puritanism
    I don't find it strange that young boys and girls want to know what their own and others' bodies are like, and what sex is like, nor do I find it repulsive that both women and men often like to talk about and engage in sexual activity.

    While it is true that most pornography is degrading to women, it does not immediately follow that we should try to ban smut from the newsstands. I think that any left-wing censorship campaign encourages the right wing in this country, and doesn't help to derigidify our own thinking either. (Maybe what we need is more female pornographers.) We also need greater acknowledgment that the way people's minds work is not always nice, wholesome and pure.

    Maybe what we need is more women writing about, doing photography about, drawing pictures about, sexual desires and fantasies towards men and other women.

    Another kind of puritanism in the movement that is also common is the way that it is fine to talk about gay sex or about being fucked over sexually, but just plain enjoying sex with a guy isn't as permissible.

    I'm not the only woman who's been made to feel ashamed of being genitally oriented.

    Some women who've had disillusioning experiences in the women's movement have started saying the NOW is much more on the right track - After all, at least they're actually doing something instead of bullshitting all the time. That is true, but the same thing can also be said for the Democratic Party.

    NOW's members are mainly well educated and relatively privileged. They see themselves as being prevented from making it the way they deserve to. The difference between them and many other women is that most women either realize that they're never going to make it or that they don't want to. Congresswomen, advertising executives, businesswomen and college professors are not the kind of slots that are open to most women. So while I don't think that there is anything wrong with an oppressed group trying to get a bigger piece of the pie, I don't think that we're talking about the same pie. They want to get rid of some of the more neanderthal notions which are keeping them out of the executive suite -- I would much rather blow it up.

    There is also the question of tactics. This system has a lot of leeway in it for making reforms -- but not for making real changes. If one female academe who's three times as well qualified as any men around wants a professorship, she can fight it in the courts. (Among other things, she can afford a lawyer and afford to wait as many years as it takes.) The system can give way to avoid a scandal. But if large numbers of women in a city decide that they want pay equality with men, either their employers will pay off the judges -- or the judges will deliberate and decide in all good conscience that the law just doesn't apply because of some technicality. You can certainly win little battles pleading in the courts -- but you can't win the big ones.

    What we need is activities which tend to get lots of women together in groups that can take some action: like women in a hospital kitchen who tell the manager that if he wants them to work faster, he can do it himself. What we don't need is an organization that will say, Stop that! If you don't behave, Congress won't pass the law we've been lobbying for.

    Third worldism
    Another strange thing about the movement is that here we all are living in one of the all-time Pig States, where thousands of people have been involved in all sorts of spontaneous expressions of disgust (like anyone who thinks that last year's Harvard Square riot had very much to do with Bobby Seale -- which was the organizers' intention -- just wasn't there), yet politics usually means talking about the NLF or the Panthers and very rarely just about us. A lot of the reason for this is historical: five or more years ago most of the white New Left was centered around elite schools, and a natural upper class disdain of the masses (plus disdain of those who fancied themselves upper class) combined well with the empirical evidence that the masses of Americans were well indoctrinated with racist and anti-communist ideology. Naturally, leftists felt very isolated and many looked to countries like Vietnam, Cuba and China for inspiration. That seemed to be where things were happening. However, a lot of things have changed since then, and you'd think that we would have learned by now that what a Communist Party does in an agricultural country is not exactly the best model for activity in the United States.

    The women's movement, the GI movement, the increase of wildcat strikes, strikes in high schools, have all involved a lot of people who had different backgrounds from the original new leftists. It should be clear that large numbers of people in this country are dissatisfied with the present situation. Also the events in May 1968 in France, the widespread strikes in Turin, Italy for the past several years, the recent uprising in Poland would give us an indication as to waht a revolution in an industrialized country would be like. But instead of finding out about these European events, the underground papers, including the women's papers, hang on Madame Binh's every word.

    I think that the direction the student movement took has a lot to do with why as soon as we move away from the immediate issues of husbands and boyfriends we generally are supporting and mimicking other people's battles -- not fighting our own.

    Most of the issues the student movement picked to fight about -- war research, complicity, expansion, ROTC -- important issues, to be sure -- didn't deal with the university as a school -- classes and professors, except for a few exceptions like the Berkeley Free Speech Movement. It wasn't as if we thought that students liked school -- the social phenomena of many students dropping out and wanting to drop out, cutting most of their classes, attempting suicide, and spending a whole year of their university carer stoned, are familiar to us. We even knew that a major factor in the big and prominent actions like Columbia and Harvard was that students were so disgusted with school that they would go along with most any issue in order to express their anger. We knew that students were treated like subhumans, relegated to the lecture hall, brainwashed and machined to fit into their slots. However, we rarely faced those issues directly (nor did we try to understand what the nature of those slots was) -- we were afraid of being liberal. We passed up the opportunity to encourage students in intransigence to the system in their personal lives in order that we could enlist their bodies in our campaign to kick ROTC or the CIA or some other such thing off campus. (I would suspect that black student struggles had a tendency to a different character. They at least were usually fighting their own battles, not somebody else's.)

    We never sufficiently realized that this is a capitalist system -- that we and the other students were going to get out of school and go to work for wages (if we could get jobs); we didn't directly fight the purpose of school, which is to make sure that we would have all the requisite technical skills and no more, that we would follow orders, that we would never refuse an assignment, even if it involved murder, and to throw enough academic fog in our minds so that we could never understand what was going on. The point of our classes was to make us believe in the Keynsian reformed version of capitalist exploitation, the B.F. Skinner updated version of psychology, the new relevant version of religion, the inviolability of ART, the Walt Rostow humanist version of imperialism and our own innate superiority over all those beneath us and our innate inferiority with regard to all those above us. The university made sure that we would carry those ideas around in our heads and never trust our own feelings.

    Changing our lives
    The United States is a very industrialized capitalist country in which the overwhelming majority of people work for wages and are therefore exploited by the owning and ruling class -- i.e. they are part of the proletariat even if they're engineers and look middle-class. The radical movement is not necessarily a collection of the fiercest fighters. People in this society are always fighting back. At the very least, they continually gripe among themselves. Usually, they also talk back to their bosses and call in sick when they're not. Most people try not to work as fast as possible and discourage others from doing so. Sometimes they go out on union called strikes or, better yet, on wildcats.

    Women have been talking back to and fighting with and walking out on their men since time immemorial. We all know that students hate school, cut up in class and daydream. There is a lot of generalized opposition in this country. The movement is that group of people who say, Your (our) discontent has a more general cause than just that particular boss, husband, school. The movement is also a group of people who think that the anger should be organized, that targets chosen and who sometimes feel that they have a personal stake in upping the ante. So, given that, who are we, and what should we do?

    The Proletariat is Revolutionary, or it is Nothing -- Marx

    Those of us who work should deal with that situation. We should object to the ways that we are being screwed and get together with the other employees: I talked back to my boss and wasn't fired; I stopped worrying about not being an efficient waitress; All the women on the line learned to embarrass the hell out of the foreman by discussing their menstrual periods.

    If talk doesn't work, we can take part in action -- sabotage: my boss was a bastard and his account books will never be the same; erase your company's computer with a handy home magnet; and wildcats: we all got sick of the job - on the same day; the customers were pouring into the restaurant for lunch, when all of us waitresses told the manager we had been working too hard and were all going to take a break.

    This whole article has been talking about mistakes we have been making and directions we should be taking. Since it was written in the midst of things it is neither perfect nor complete (notice the omission of any extended discussion of the family). However, I think that the major points are correct. What we need is a lot more debate and a lot more thoughtful activity.

    Fight dirty -- Life is REAL.

    Published by New England Free Press and Root and Branch c. 1972

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