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27th of May

Page history last edited by Daniel Carrie 2 years, 5 months ago

  

A number of events took place during the 27th of May with one of the most important events being the finalisation of the Grenelle agreements. 

 

What happened?

 

During the nation-wide crisis throughout May 1968, the Grenelle agreements were debated. The negotiations took place from 25th to 27th with a formal signing concluding on the 27th of May. The Grenelle agreements or as it is officially known as, le projet de protocole d’accord, were agreed at the Labour Ministry in the Rue de Grenelle. Negotiated between the trade unions, La Confédération Générale du Travail(CGT) and La Confédération Française du Travail (CFDT), a government team led by Georges Pompidou and minister Jacques Chirac, they were to be one of the greatest achievements post May ‘68.

Before starting the second day of negotiations, Pompidou came forward with a new strategy of 'playing each group against each other'. 'His purpose was divide and rule, thus he probed each leader for the soft spots in his bargaining position, hoping to find a way to cheapen the final bill'. This demonstrates Pompidou's lack of confidence in the discussions and his concern in coming to an ultimate agreement. (R, George, workers and communists in France: from popular front to eurocommunism, 1982, university of california press PG 199)

In reality, the discussions culminated in an increase of three francs in the basic hourly minimum wage, ‘a phased increase of 10 per cent in private sector salaries with parallel examinations of those in the public sector’, a gradual return to the 40-hour week, a mutual recognition of a 50% advance payable to those involved in the strikes and most importantly an acknowledgement of trade union activity and representation within individual companies. Pompidou, Georges Séguy and de Gaulle were all convinced that they had found an agreement that would be acceptable for the workers and felt that they could "begin work again without delay" (www.wsws.org).

 

 

The agreements were received in distaste by the workers of the Renault factory in Billancourt with 10,000 workers jeering at Séguy. They saw the agreement as a "provocation and refused to be bought off for a few francs" (www.wsws.org) and they had higher expectations for outcome of the negotiations, word of this got out across France and the majority of workers agreed that these talks were not acceptable for their demands and therefore they continued their strikes. The PSU, CFDT and the UNEF organised a huge demonstration of between 300,000 and 500,000 protesters at the Charléty stadium (a student sports ground) in a huge gathering on the outskirts of Paris. The marchers were carrying black flags and red banners as many supporters of the movement filled the seats of the stadium, instead of the usual sports fans who would sit in those seats, this was despite strong warnings against starting such demonstrations due to potential provocation. (Singer, 2008)  These protests showed a varying number of people, all from different groups protesting their ideas and desires for the outcomes they wanted to gain. It was increasingly clear as the speeches progressed that they did not know how to organise the revolution ; who should lead it and join. This further signified the fact that there was a growing lack of unity, something that would eventually lead to the collapse of the revolution. This coupled with the lack of unity from the left whilst attempting to organise a government was ultimately what led to de Gaulle maintaining his power. The police at this moment in time were incredibly frustrated with the whole event as they believed that the strikes, occupations and protests should have all blown over by this time. There were growing calls for the army to be brought in to put an end to the hostility, tensions and to restore order, as both the President and the Prime Minister were clearly failing to deal with the events in an appropriate manner. In addition, forces on the left were beginning to garner more support and organise themselves as an alternative to the current government. These events were significant because it shows how the workers and students were not satisfied with the terms laid out by the government whilst they were trying to come to an agreement with them to settle the disputes completely. It was a sign of their intent that they were certainly not going to accept anything less than the terms that they desired. They wanted to keep up the strikes and protests until a point, where the government realised they were not going to back down and finally provide them with terms that would be deemed acceptable. After having noticed that Pierre Mendès-France was spotted at the PSU, UNEF and CFDT led demonstration, the Parti Communiste Francais became very wary, as they viewed him as their enemey due to his strong western orientations. They felt that this was a clear warning that Mitterrand and Mendès-France were planning to create a government together and they would have no say in it. The left were clearly trying to organise an alternative government to the current one but it can be questioned whether they really did enough to put forward an adequate replacement, it seemed as though, just like the workers and the students, that they couldn't all agree on what they wanted.

 

Footage of grenelle accords and Charléty Stadium demonstrations ( Soure:https://youtu.be/HTmt6TqoW5s last accessed 27/03/18)

 

Why did the workers reject the Grenelle agreements?

 

There are many possible reasons for the rejection of the Grenelle agreements. Expert opinion differs with many laying blame to the greed of the workers and others considering the achievements to be inadequate.

The strikes of May 1968 were the biggest and longest in French history, spanning across the whole of the country and involving every sector. Considering this, the workers had expected more than what had been acquired in the negotiations. ‘And yet the immediate principal results of the Grenelle Accords, were a small augmentation in the minimum salary and the extension of union rights in the factories.’’ (Ross 2008)

This was not everything that the workers had been striking for. The horrible working conditions also played a significant role in the workers' protests. The Grenelle agreements can be viewed as confirmation that the working class cared more about qualitative than quantitative needs or that they were trying to get as much as possible out of it. (Reynolds 2011). That leads to the possibility that the workers were planning to continue to strike despite any advantages gained during the agreements. It could be said that the workers were desperate to attain as much as conceivable from the situation and as argued by Michael Seidman, (2004) ‘the momentum of the wave encouraged ambitious material demands’. It is also suggested by some that the rejection was the direct impact of a misunderstanding between two trade union leaders, Georges Séguy and Amié Albeher. It is said that before Séguy’s return from the Grenelle meetings, Albeher was centre stage. His role was to ‘warm up the crowd’ however, having not been informed of the results of the negotiations, he called for the strike to continue. The mistake of communication, though unlikely, could have a been a factor which provoked the workers to reject the accord. (Reynolds 2011) This highlights the problems within the trade unions, most importantly the lack of unity amongst them.

 

Not only were they not unified to the cause, the CGT were also out of touch with the workers. George Ross (1982) shows a statement which Séguy made to the press on the 27th of May:

“Our demands, which had long run up against the refusal of government and patronat, have been answered, at least partially. There remains more to do, but the demands have been dealt with in part and that which has been decided is not negligible. However, we can give no response without consulting the workers. It is out of the question for us to give an order for returning to work, since we never gave an order for a general strike”

This quote suggests Séguy was pleased with the results of the negotiations and was rather confident in their acceptance by the workers. This is a focal point in displaying the CGT’s inefficiency during the agreements and how unorganised they were. It significantly parades the division between the trade union and the workers and shows how the CGT were not listening to the workers' demands. The CGT and PCF’s plans for the workers to return to work was a failure. It was apparent that they had not expected such a negative response to the new concessions they had gained. The response of the workers to the agreements were not just a simple rejection, but rather a very agressive and hostile one, they shouted and booed over the top of Séguy whilst he was reading out the terms that they had agreed on. It was quite clearly a firm no, the attempt to solve the crisis and the workers returning to work had failed.

In a later statement made by Séguy, it had become clear that the CGT had lost direction and were ultimately being forced to switch positions by the workers. In the same afternoon Séguy contradicted his previous comments by claiming,

‘A precipitous movement to return to work would have deprived us of the possibilities of imposing new concessions on the patronat and government. The positive results of Grenelle ought to be a stimulant in the struggle to fill in their insufficiencies.’ (Ross 1982 pp 67-68)

After the disastrous reception at Billancourt, Séguy backtracked on his previous statements, claiming that he too believed Grenelle was not a success and not adequate. This shows how his position had become weakened. The CGT now stated that they did not want the workers to return to work and were calling for the strike to continue, a direct contradiction to earlier claims. The workers now did not trust the CGT to deliver their promises as shown by this statement made by a worker at the time taken from Kristin Ross (2008 pp.67-68),

'the problem at that moment was not one of making revolution, but rather that the CGT not sell out the strike. [Turning to Guy Hermier, a PCF deputy on the panel with her:] You went around from shop to shop in the factories, from factory to factory, telling us that the others had gone back to work, saying that it was all over. . . .'

Sideman (2004) suggests that by this point in the demonstrations many intellectuals such as Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir suggested that the workforce had now become radicalised and politicised. They wouldn’t accept the agreement or return to work due to ideas of revolution. They had new political power which they would use to achieve all the concessions they had previously desired. The baby boom, just after world war two, resulted in the workforce being significantly younger than previously, resulting in a new more politicised generation.

 

In the few days after the rejection of the Grenelle agreement France was effectively dissolved of a national government with cities such as Nantes run by strike committees instead of municipal or regional authorities in the last week of May as the French were given to think that anything was possible. The workers and students had stood up against the might of the government and for a short period of time, the government was in retreat due to poor organisation and a critical underestimation of the power the workers and students held. The inadequacy of the government was shown further by de Gaulle's retreat to Baden-Baden on the 29th May. 

 

Was Grenelle a failure or a success?

 

The Grenelle agreement can be seen as both a success and a failure. Though initially rejected by the workers, the Grenelle agreement can be deemed very significant in progression within the workplace. The agreements, which were ultimately passed on 1st June 1968, did a lot to help out the average worker. In terms of salaries and impact, the agreement can be viewed as a success. In Paris a 35% increase in the S.M.I.G could be seen and a 10% increase in wages in general (Volkoff 1970). Although the agreements did little to help the top earners in the country, it did much more to improve the lives of workers with lower incomes, foreign workers and women. You can still see the impact of Grenelle even today with the ‘Grenelle Environment’ which are negotiations that bring together the key players in the government almost 40 years after the May ‘68 crisis.The name of this agreement is taken from the original Grenelle agreements of 1968 in which the same key figures came together to discuss the concessions to be given to the workers. This highlights the huge impact that the agreements had, as their name is still being used to refer to important negotiations in France.

In many ways the Grenelle agreements can also be seen as a failure.  It was thought to be inadequate by the workers who had high expectations and deemed it a failure. Their primary function was to end the strikes and push the workers to return to work. However, this did not happen and the agreements did nothing to stop the unrest amongst the working class.

 

The negotiations were significant in showing just how serious the crisis of May 1968 had become. The Government were being forced into making concessions for the workers due to the large scale strikes happening across the country. There were shortages in every region, including food and fuel, which placed the country in a state of panic. The government had no choice but step in and heed to the workers demands. This shows the impact that the strikes and the rest of the May '68 had on both France and on the government. The Grenelle agreements demonstrate a turning point in May, with the Governments realisation that they had to step in and try to resolve this problem as it was not going to just 'go away'.

 

 

Bibliography

Reynolds, C., 2011. Memories of May '68: France's convenient consensus. s.l.: University of Wales Press. pp. 49. 

Ross, G., 1982. Workers and communist in France: From Popular Front to Eurocommunism. s.l.: University of California Press. pp. 196-203.

Ross, K., 2008. May '68 and it's Afterlives. s.l.: University of Chicago Press. pp. 67-68.

Singer, D., 1970. Prelude to Revolution: France May 1968. S.l.: South End Press. pp. 186-190.

Seidman, M., 2004. The imaginary Revolution: Parisian Students and Workers in 1968. s.l.: Berghahn Books. pp. 196

Schwarz, P., 2008. 1968: The General Strike and Student Revolt in France [online]. International Committee of the Fourth International. Available at: https://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2008/05/may2-m29.html. (20th March 2018). 

Serge Volkoff. (1970). les salaires en 1968, année de Grenelle. Parcourir les collections. unknown (unknown), 3-9. accessed on (28/03/2018): http://www.persee.fr/docAsPDF/estat_0336-1454_1970_num_14_1_1962.pdf

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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