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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: « Mes premières armes de rédacteur »

by Gérard Le Puill, worker at Kléber in Colombes, shop steward, CGT (General Confederation of Labour) French trade union activist, twenty-six years old in 1968.

68 - Memory Takes Control Over Authority: "Forging my First Arms as a Journalist"

Translated Wednesday 23 April 2008, by Edward Lamb

I was making tires for Kléber in Colombes, whose Director, Paul Huvelin,
presided over the CNPF (National Council of French Employers), the former name of today’s MEDEF (Movement for Entrepreneurs of France). The production staff was made up of former country people like myself, having come mostly from the West and South West of France, or from Moroccan regions around Agadir. The strike gained momentum here and there. One Friday evening, I saw our neighbours of the SNECMA (Société Nationale d’Etudes et Construction de Moteurs d’Aviation) occupying their plant as I arrived for the night shift. With another young delegate, we waited for the union bosses on Saturday morning to ask them put out a call to stop work. We were, at that time, working a 48 hour, six-day week.

The sit-down strike began on Monday and we held out for a month. Organizing a picket line, I was surprised by the spontaneity of workers, who had, up until then, been reserved and cautious, volunteering for all sorts of tasks, assuming responsibilities, on each and every level, of a certain form of self-organisation of the struggle. The CGT elected a crisis committee, presided by a worker who had never been invested with the least union mandate. It was risky.

When the "Grenelle Negociations" suggested a nationwide proposal of a 10% pay raise for everyone, management wanted to limit the wage hike to 7.5% at Kléber because of the 2.5% raise that was accorded in April. We voted to continue the strike and had to last yet another ten days in order to obtain the 10% raise and the payment of 50% of strike time. Afterwards, management paid the white- collar workers 100% of the lost work time. That pay difference provoked a new strike lauded by l’Humanité, because it resulted in the payment of 100% of the lost work time for everybody. Beyond the immediate benefits, the 1968 social movement promoted an evolution towards the 40 hour work week, marked the end of the six day work schedule, and put a stop to the authoritarianism of petty foremen. Personally, on that occasion, I forged my first arms as a journalist.


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