French postal workers' strike of 1909
From Notes from the Margins
The French postal workers' strike of 1909 was a strike originating in Paris in March 1909.
From Odon Por and F.M. Atkinson
- This process goes on in different countries quite independently of any theory. The great Post Office strikes in France are in everybody's memory. They have been denounced as barbarous manifestations of irresponsible egotism paralyzing the life of the nation wantonly and ruthlessly. But if we consider these strikes from the inside, we find a new point of view--the point of view of the Syndicalized Post Office workers.
- The employés were tired of being directed and dominated by a political department administered by politicians who had no comprehension of the work of the Post Office clerk, nor indeed of work in general. They proposed, then, to deal with technical questions themselves, and to eliminate the present political element in administration, which offended their practical sense and their intimate and profound sentiments of right. They struggled for the autonomy and freedom of labor.
- "The guarantee that this autonomy of labor will operate for the community lies in the fact that a demand for it advanced by the Post Office employés sprang from a professional sense of their effective worth jealously fostered, from a clear conception of economic relations, from a realization of the public interests and of the responsibilities connected with an industry of such national importance as the Post Office Service." (G. Beaubois, L'Organization Syndicaliste du Service des Postes, in the Mouvement Socialiste, April 1909.)
- For some years past the General Association of Post Office Employés of France has turned its attention to professional problems connected with its own service and administration. It has denounced the State as incompetent to run the department, and has occupied itself with technical reforms, with the improvement of the service, and has tried to awaken the professional consciousness of the employés, to give them a high conception of their work, and a dignity--the dignity of the conscious producer.
- Stimulated in this way, the employés have searched out faults in the complex mechanism of the service, have tried to neutralize mistakes due to the incompetent administration, to save money and labor--in a word, they have safeguarded the interests of the public. Many reforms have been originated by quite obscure clerks of humble rank, and through the professional group action of the employés many changes have been made to the public advantage.
- "The effective value of the organization suggests that without the officials now retained at high salaries the department could work better and cheaper, animated by a new life, enriched by the competency and devotion of the employés, whose work their Association succeeded in co-ordinating." (Monbrunaud: La Grève des Postes et sa portée sociale.)
- The strike of the Post Office employés, then, was only an incident in their genuinely Syndicalist training. It was more than an expression of their suffering under inefficient administration, it was the expression of their consciousness of ability to carry on the whole postal service through their own organization more efficiently in their own and the public interest.
- It is wholly wrong to say, as so many newspapers and magazines have lately declared, that Syndicalism is a crude method by which the workers try to capture an industry by reducing their own efficiency and output, by irritation strikes, by sabotage &c., until the industry becomes unprofitable to the management and must come to terms. These means have always been applied by labor organizations for obtaining concessions; Syndicalists also apply them under certain conditions. They are merely incidents in the struggle for victory over the capitalist class. But they do not explain or represent the fundamental characteristics and ideal of the Syndicalist movement, the collective efforts of the workers to raise the level of their competency in reference to their industries, and to use this increased competency for the benefit of the collectivity.
- Syndicalists perceive the tremendous difficulty of social progress. They know it could make no substantial difference to have a new social order with the human material of the present order unchanged. Accordingly they endeavor to combine the creation of the new society with the creation of the new man. They have a vision of a future in which social discipline will be evolved by the nature of the labor to be accomplished; of a future in which labor will be free and at the same time organized under an inner logical discipline voluntarily accepted. They firmly believe that the realization of such a future depends entirely upon their personal qualities and efforts, and upon their moral value. And so they consciously seek out ways of increasing the technical capacities of the individual worker, knowing that through this he will desire a profound change in the organization of the industries in particular and society in general. They are, therefore, intent on teaching the young workers all the details of their profession, in order to make them capable of taking the organization of production into their own hands.
- This has been very well expressed by G. Beaubois, a clerk in the French Post Office: "Syndicalists must take care of the technical, moral, and social perfection of the young workers; they must guide and advise them, and awaken in them the spirit of observation, the qualities of initiative and energy. They must efface the painful and repugnant features that accompany labor under the present organization of production. The problem of progress lies in saving work from monotony and routine, from fatality and servitude. In other words, the problem of progress lies in freeing work and ennobling it. To initiate every worker into the progress of industry and the marvels of human activity, to show them the usefulness of their efforts and the grandeur of their work--this is to give them a passion, a soul, a conscience.
- "The labor organizations should become paternal homes for the young workers, protecting them from all temptations and leading them into life. A revolution does not improvise itself, and it is necessary that in the industrial groups new ideas, new collective sentiments, should be born, and should develop and prepare the social change."
- This process of preparing the creation of the new society by the creation of new men and new industrial organisms with new functions--functions essentially different from those existing--is the basic tendency of theoretical and practical Syndicalism.