Gallery of Saints & Sinners from our Daily Bleed...
Uprising, Paris & France 1968
May 14, 1968
When France awoke the morning after the "night of the barricades," the communists of the PCF and CGT found themselves faced with a wave of outrage at the of the young rebels. The PCF stepped forward to seize the mantle of "the party of order" from the hands of the encircled ruling Gaullist party. From the beginning the communists denounced the Nanterre & Sorbonne students as "provocateurs." The right blamed everything on the "Jew red" Nanterre anarchist student leader Danny Cohn-Bendit; the PCF was to support the government in banning Cohn-Bendit from France. But the PCF also had its own interests & methods.
In an attempt to both put itself at the head of the rising tide & calm the waters, the PCF called a 24-hour general strike May 13. In fact, strikes were to paralyze the country for over a month. This situation was extremely complicated. Some factories closed because the PCF union leadership wanted to keep "the ultra-leftist plague," as they called it, away from "their" workers & retain the initiative. For instance, the powerful revisionist leadership of the CGT union at the Billancourt Renault car factory near Paris thought that seizing the plant & chaining its doors tight was a good way to keep out student radicals. Nevertheless, some young workers climbed out onto the roofs to fraternize with the students. In other factories radical influences predominated among the strikers.
A wave of takeovers swept through the factories as the CGT, unable to prevent the occupations, struggled to control them. On the morning after the 24-hour general strike, the young workers at the Sud-Aviation plant near Nantes seized & occupied the factory, & with the Internationale blasting over the public address system, they imprisoned the management in the factory offices & fortified the plant against police attack. One day later, managers were seized at the Renault plant in Cléon & workers occupied the Renault plant at Flins. The imprisonment of the managers caused an uproar in the government, & the CGT sent a special delegation to intervene.
Within two weeks, more than 10 million workers had seized hundreds of factories, mines, shipyards, government offices, a nuclear facility & even at least one whole town. Wave upon wave of strikes cut off all public transportation, air, rail & sea service, communications and even the banks & the Paris stock exchange. In one of the longest strikes, 13,000 producers, journalists & technicians shut down the government-run radio & television, raising slogans like "The police on the screen means the police in your home." & at one point, the technicians responsible for communication between the Ministry of the Interior & police headquarters went on strike.
Paris--the heart of France--was paralyzed, and the whole country was in turmoil. Everywhere public officials were held up to ridicule.
A mood of autogestion (self-management) took hold. Some workers such as utility workers continued production, assuring regular supplies of gas & electricity for the community. In Cheviré workers refused to readmit managers to the plant despite an offered increase in monthly wages averaging 150 francs. One worker explained, "The managing staff has been away for two weeks & everything is going fine. We can carry on production without them." At the Atomic Energy Center in Saclay, the Central Action Committee organized production so that when gasoline was running low in the area, 30,000 liters were delivered with the compliments of the Finac strikes in Nanterre. In Vitry at the Rhone-Poulenc factories, workers established direct exchange with nearby farmers & made their own contacts with chemical workers in Western Europe.
In the city of Nantes, food & gasoline distribution, traffic control & other activities in the life of the city were conducted by an elected Central Strike Committee--which seized the town hall for six days & even developed its own currency.
- See Worker-Student Action Committees by Fredy Perlman & R. Gregoire (Detroit: Black & Red). Reflections on, & a critique of, the Paris uprisings of May 1968 by a participant who asks: "Why did we participate in the worker-student action committees? What did we think was happening when the general strike began? What was the basis for what we thought?" One of the better accounts of this significant event in radical history.