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  • Print publication year: 2001
  • Online publication date: July 2009

7 - “Above All We Are Syndicalists”


Chapter 6 described the development of the bourses du travail as decentralized labor “congregations” and the general strike as the equivalent of a covenant. That story drew to a close in 1895 when the unions first formed the CGT after having voted in favor of the principle of a general strike at the 1894 congress of Nantes. Yet, as the years between 1895 and 1902 would reveal, the realignment of the unions was not yet consolidated. As the unions shifted away from strikes between 1893 and 1898, the union movement became increasingly divided internally. The realignment of 1894 had been based on the bourses' role in linking unions together across partisan boundaries. But the decline of strikes between 1893 and 1898 led unions in two directions that undermined this cross-cutting role. First, as strikes declined, some unions substituted political action for economic action, which repoliticized the bourses (and violated the implicit covenant of union autonomy from partisan politics). Second, other unions moved toward a narrower craft sectoralism that saw its major institutional expression in the national trade federations rather than the bourses. These two factors turned the bourses into an internally divided faction of the union movement rather than its big tent.

With the return to strike activity after 1898, a renewed populism appeared among the unions.