Christian Trade Unionism since World War II – Paul Vignaux (1951)

Paul Vignaux

[Paul Vignaux, a Catholic trade unionist and medievalist, played a major role in the deconfessionalization of the CFTC. He was known for criticizing Maritain’s conception of Christian Democracy and for putting forward a “Scotist” political theory which allowed for Catholics to engage in politics and trade union activity in a purely secular manner. Moreover, he helped to managed the publication known as Cahiers Reconstruction: pour un socialisme démocratique, pour une culture sociale. He also influenced a large portion of the non-Marxist Catholic left (in contradistinction to the more “Pinkish” or “Red” Catholics–like the chrétiens progressistes.) For more information about him, see James Chappel’s Catholic Modern: The Challenge of Totalitarianism and the Remaking of the Church. For information on the dispute between him and Maritain, see So What’s New About Scholasticism?: How Neo-Thomism Helped Shape the Twentieth Century, specifically Wim Weymans’ chapter, Religion, human rights and democracy in post-1940 France in theory and practice: from Maritain’s Thomism to Vignaux’s secular realism.
The following text was published in Church and society: Catholic social and political thought and movements, 1789-1950, (1953) pp. 205-221.]

The French Experience

At the last elections for workers’ representatives on the Administrative Councils of the Social Security Boards (8 June 1950), the candidates offered by the Confédération Française des Travailleurs chrétiens  (CFTC) obtained 1,172,612 votes against 2,392,067 for those of the Confédération générale du Travail (CGT), and 832,934 for those of the Confédération Générale du Travail Force Ouvrière (CGT-FO). The CGT, the “old home of French labor, fell under Communist control after the Liberation. The non-Communist elements who seceded in December, 1947, make up the CGT-FO. The CFTC is the central organization of the Christian Trade Unions. Since 1933 when the German Christian union movement disappeared—it has not been reconstituted after World War II—the CFTC is the most important Christian workers’ movement in the world. Hence we propose a brief analysis of contemporary problems of Christian trade unionism in Europe on the basis of the French experience.


To follow recent developments and to grasp their significance, it is important to recall certain general conditions in the historical development of the European working class.

Christian trade unionism was the product of continental European conditions, and is not exclusively French. When a Catholic from the United States or the British Commonwealth asks one of his French, Belgian or Dutch co-religionists, “Why Christian trade unions?” it is not an adequate answer to point to the social doctrine of the Church which inspires these organizations. Beyond this fact lies the deeper one that continental Catholics have not been free to promote this social doctrine in the workers’ organizations which have existed in their respective countries. Roughly similar conditions in their national areas induced them to establish similar organizations. At the end of World War I, these coalesced into the Confédération Internationale des Syndicats Chrétiens. Up till that time, the French Christian workers had no central organization. In 1919 they federated in the CFTC in order to join the Christian International.

Trade Unionism of Christian inspiration, then, is framed in an international grouping of similar European organizations which provides it support. Today there is still a relationship between the CFTC and the Confédération internationale des Syndicats Libres. These bonds with Belgium and Holland, with Germany before Hitler and Italy before Mussolini, have not prevented deep divergencies among the various Christian groups, of which one must be noted: the Christian Trade Unions of the above-mentioned countries are completely committed to non-political or purely economic unionism; yet they could count upon the political support of at least a section of a powerful political party, Catholic or Christian Democrat, which frequently held posts in the government. It was only after much effort and at a relatively late date that a political party of this character made its appearance in French democracy. Its formation provided a note of novelty to the problem of the relation between the CFTC and the MRP, which arose after the Liberation.

The relations between the trade unions and the parties developed differently in France and in its European neighbors. At the dawn of the twentieth century, the CGT had affirmed its independence of all political parties. This was a distinctive characteristic which made it different from the other European labor confederatons, which were generally strictly bound to the Socialist parties. The old CGT, before the Stalinist penetration, was not “socialist by party, but by doctrine,” to borrow a phrase of Léon Jouhaux. Its leaders used the word “socialism” in the sense of “revolutionary syndicalism” before World War I; after that war, they equated it with “the syndicalism of reconstruction.” This syndicalism, frequently hostile to political personalities, was never narrowly isolated. It did not hesitate to intervene in political life, particularly when it considered that democracy was imperiled.

In the nineteenth century, the French working class movement had been closely associated with republicanism, and through it with anti-clericalism. It was “lay,” and even irreligious. This attitude was not primarily shaped by Marxist influence. Before falling under Communist control, the CGT was not too rigid in Marxian orthodoxy, as the Social Democratic workers’ organizations in the neighboring countries could be. It is the totality of this situation, and particularly the anticlericalism of the CGT leadership, which must be grasped in order to understand in what sense the founders of the French Christian trade union movement could reject the CGT and share the anti-Socialist position that we find at the root of Catholic trade unionism. In France, this anti-Socialism must be conceived, not in the strict doctrinal sense, but in all the characteristics of the early CGT, especially its anti-clericalism. [1]

When the first Christian trade unions were formed in the Belgian textile mills at Ghent or in the mines of the Ruhr, their founders were workers dissatisfied with the recently established ascendency of the Socialists over ancient working class organizations. Before they established a Christian trade unionism, these workers had tried to maintain a religiously neutral organization alongside the Socialist trade unions. This had been their experience before Rerum Novarum. It was also before that encyclical that the Syndicat des Employés du Commerce et de l’industrie was founded in Paris (1887). It was inspired by a Brother of the Christian Schools and enlisted some members of a religious association who wished to unite the Catholic white collar workers of Paris.

When one reviews the history of the different countries of Europe or of the different regions of France, it is not exactly correct to say with André Philip that Christian trade unionism “was not born of a workers’ revolt, but from a systematic effort to realize a social doctrine.” [2] One would be nearer the facts if one said that the movement stemmed from the need of a trade union organization among those wage-earners who, because of their religious convictions, did not feel themselves at home in the continental trade union movement as it had developed in the last quarter of the nineteenth century.

At their beginning, the Christian trade union members did not gain the support of the Social Catholics, who were still wedded to the concept of the “mixed union” which would gather employers and employees into one organization as in the Old Regime. It was only later, and by slow steps, that the Christian trade unions, which were autonomous organizations of wage-earners, could appeal to a Catholic social doctrine, elaborated after Rerum Novarum by the Semaines Sociales of France. [3] The atmosphere became more and more understanding of a working class movement to the degree that Catholics in France accepted political democracy with greater conviction.

Certain characteristics of the CFTC, strongly marked up till 1936, can be traced to the circumstances of its origin and early development: a tendency to organize groups which were explicitly Catholic—a condition rather rare in the French industrial world; the preponderant influence of the white collar workers, organized in the most powerful of its federations, the necessity for constant reference to Catholic social doctrine to justify itself against the charge of trade union pluralism from the “socialist” organizations and to defend itself against the criticisms, either violent or false, of the “Catholics of the Right” who were sympathetic with the employers. It is also important to recall the politico-religious struggles which, practically up till 1919 at least, had kept Catholics on the margin of the life of the Third Republic. This fact exercised a decisive influence on several generations, and notably on that which had founded the CFTC.

I have explained elsewhere [4] how the Christian trade union movement developed from its beginnings through the inter-war period and up till the winter of 1941. In this evolution, the social crisis of 1936 assuredly marked an important test: the CFTC succeeded in increasing its effectives sufficiently to avoid being submerged (it was only a trade union minority) in the enormous increase in membership of the CGT, which had just been rejoined by the CGTU. [5] This combined and augmented movement had adhered to the Popular Front, which was victorious in the elections of 1936. In the same year, the Christian trade union organizations managed to assert themselves vigorously in the widespread strikes; to maintain the right to join a minority union in the factories and mines; to recruit in several weeks thousands of new members in their places of work–members who were not necessarily practising Catholics; finally, to give a truly national scope to their confederation which till then had been a cluster of regional forces.

The successful meeting of this test placed the CFTC in a national and international context which must be understood to comprehend further developments, Among the national factors of growth, there must be noted the first influx of young militants trained in the Jeunesse Ouvrière Chrétienne (JOC). These young people had acquired in the JOC a most vivid sense of the autonomy, unity and collective destiny of the working class. In addition, there was the revival of the trade union structure by a group of university-trained youth who were alert to all the most recent efforts of Catholic thought and of social research. Finally, the CFTC benefited by the methodical analysis of the French social crisis, 1936-1938, of the United States New Deal, and of the conflict between free trade unionism and the corporate states of the Fascist type. Hence the ideology of the CFTC distinguished radically between its proposals and the corporativism which intrigued the Catholics of the Right and which prepared the social concepts of the Vichy regime. This intellectual growth in France was tied to two foreign experiences: the destruction of Christian trade unionism in Italy by Mussolini and in Germany by Hitler; the establishment by the Austrian Chancellor Dollfuss of state-controlled trade unions and the struggle between the forces of Franco and the Basque Catholic trade unions. In a Europe where only the western fringe retained a free labor movement. Socialists and “Christians,” despite their old opposition, had to face the same problems. Thus the conditions were prepared for a democratic working class resistance to the further expansion of Fascism.

It is not necessary here to analyze the circumstances and forms of the Christian trade union participation in the Resistance (1940-1944), but merely to sketch the results of this participation in its subsequent development. In refusing the Charte du Travail of Vichy, which was partly an imitation of the pseudo-trade unionism of the Fascists and partly an expression of archaic paternalism, Christian trade unionists did not merely reaffirm their irreducible opposition to every totalitarian regime. They equally divorced themselves from the traditionalism which still remained in certain Catholic social circles. This traditionalism included the ideology or sentiment of Counter-Revolution which could entertain a depth of hostility to free trade unionism and political liberty that is hard to imagine in English-speaking democracies. In taking its position against the Charter, the Christian trade unionists showed their independence of action toward the greater part of the episcopate. This was an important fact in a country where the majority, politically anti-clerical, traditionally wonders whether the loyalty of Catholics to democracy is not a pose of pure opportunism to be modified with the appearance of an authoritarian regime, apparently favorable to religion. By their opposition to the internal policy of Vichy, as well as their other work in Resistance, the Christian trade unionists forged new ties with those of other beliefs. At the Liberation, Christian trade unionism was accepted, without a trace of dissent, as one of the three currents of the French working class movement, the other two being the Socialist-syndicalist of Léon Jouhaux and his friends, and the Communist. Events had encouraged a considerable expansion of the last-named.

One of the founders of the CFTC and its Secretary General since its inception, Gaston Tessier, was a member of the National Council of Resistance. This was the clearest expression of the moral position acquired by the movement, a position that would help it surmount all the difficulties which appeared on the morrow of Liberation.


These difficulties did not fail to make themselves felt in the second half of 1944-1945. Units that were scattered by the war had to be reconstituted from the bottom. There was the need for implanting Christian trade unionism in areas previously impervious to its influence in the face of the formidable pressure of the CGT, now controlled in the key industries and the principal working class centers by its Communist directors. Perhaps the most remarkable success was achieved by the federation recreated in the nationalized Gas and Electricity industry by a young militant of exceptional ability, Fernand Hennebicq. In this field, the older majority union was led by a Communist who had been in charge of nationalization and who was Minister of Production. Hennebicq, who died before his thirtieth birthday in 1950, was only the most remarkable example in the CFTC of a new militant generation who could speak a common language with all trade unionists—a language so different from the traditional Catholic social idiom—and who could interpret the demands of French labor in a way that could compete progressively with the veteran Communist leadership.

These young men gave a new power to the CFTC. In the meantime, the current of trade union unity, which was less defined in France, led Italian and German Catholics to abandon plans to reconstruct their separate trade unions, which were once so powerful. This reduced Christian trade unionism to a phenomenon almost uniquely French, Belgian and Dutch. But the character of the French organization diverged more and more from the confessional type in vogue in the Low Countries and Flanders. On one point, however, a resemblance developed with these countries: a powerful Christian democratic party, the MRP, appeared and presented itself as the party of legal revolution (revolution par la loi). It was an attempt at a synthesis of the revolutionary aspirations of the Resistance and the juridical and moral tradition of the Social Catholics.

In the Congress of Liberation (September 1945), the young militants of the CFTC, unknown in the pre-war days and coming up from the Resistance and the JOC, took a minority position on two principal problems in an atmosphere of public debate, itself something new in the CFTC. These were the issue of the vigorous affirmation of the independence of trade unions with regard to political parties, and of the modification of the trade union organizational structure that would set up industrial unions to unite the white collar workers and technicians in metallurgy, the chemical industry, etc. with the manual workers in the same branches. Obviously the Federation of Clerical Workers, Technicians and Foremen, who were a powerful factor in the politics and thinking of the CFTC, opposed this reform.

The struggle for strict political independence, led by Fernand Hennebicq, was successful in the Congress of June 1946. Here it was decided that members of the secretariat and of the Confederal Bureau of CFTC could not unite their position “with the exercise of the office of deputy or councillor general, or with any function in the national or departmental leadership of a political party.” This resolution was adopted by 4,006 votes to 1,255 for a less rigorous resolution proposed by the Federation of Railroad Workers. [6] The same resolution had been defeated in the Congress of September 1945 by 2,112 votes to 1,341. The overthrow of the majority had evidently been the result of profound reasons since the electoral victory of the MRP did not at all deter the supporters of an absolutely clear distinction between trade union and political activity. Political and trade union leaders might have common ties of origin, but their responsibilities were different, and hence they must be sharply distinguished. The CFTC would not allow itself to be considered an organization under the thumb of the MRP. As a result, the Christian unions were unshaken when, in the years 1949-1950, there arose a profound discontent in the ranks of non-Communist labor over the policy of the governments of the Third Force, and even of the attitude of the MRP.

Two other debates stirred the Congress of 1946. The first, carried over from the preceding year, concerned trade union structure. Thanks to its old-established influence, the Federation of white-collar workers gained its point by 3,357 votes to 1,700. The minority in favor of industrial unionism had gained in one year from 21% of the votes to 33%. The debate was not resumed in the succeeding Congresses. Industrial unionism apparently must be realized by a spontaneous evolution, under the pressure of technical needs, and in keeping with the attitude of the diverse groups. Yet in every way, the influence of the factory workers and their combative approach has more and more marked the general policy of the CFTC.

The second of the great debates, unrolled at the Congress of 1946, which turned on the revision of the Confederation s Constitution, was curtailed, but the organization of public school teachers, (Syndicat Générale de I’Education Nationale), presented a resolution, which was unanimously adopted, to the effect that

limiting its action strictly to the representation and defense of the general interests of labor, the CFTC will decide its course with full responsibility and in full independence of all outside groups, either political or religious.

Thus trade unionism affirmed the exclusive trade union character of its activity, and clearly distinguished itself from Catholic Action by its objectives and its independence in regard to the ecclesiastical hierarchy.

A year later, the Congress of 1947 modified with near unanimity the declaration of principles of the CFTC, which had remained unchanged since 1919. These modifications, which accorded accurately with the views of the Syndicat Générale de I’Education Nationale, of a good number of the manual workers’ organizations, and of all the young militants desirous of eliminating every reference to religious doctrine or practice that might keep non-Catholic workers or non-practicising Catholics from their organizations, or who were simply anxious that a trade union should not make dogmatic declarations as though it were a branch of the Church, but merely elaborate, on its own responsibility, some technical solutions to material problems. The new declaration of principles set forth the fidelity of the CFTC to its origin in its opening formula:

The Confederation professes and is inspired in its activity by the principles of Christian social morality.

The movement then declares in precisely stated terms that it seeks a social transformation

not by the systematic development of class antagonism, but by an economic organization conceived in such a manner that the dignity and independence of workers and their groupings would be integrally respected.

No one could any longer confuse with an authoritarian corporatism the “democratic organization” of economic life which the CFTC advocates. A note of independence is struck on the question of trade unionism and politics:

“for the good order of public life, the trade union organizations must distinguish their responsibilities from those of political parties.” The Confederation “intends to preserve a complete independence in its activity in regard to the State, the executive bodies, and the parties.”

The formula of independence adopted by the preceding Congress is found again in the last passage of the declaration of principles, a document which placed Christian trade unionism in the tradition of the French working class movement, without injuring the continuity of development of the CFTC.

It is equally in the name of a traditional concept of French trade unionism, that of “federalism,” that the “minority,” composed ever since of the university leaders with the young directors of the manual workers’ unions, tried to change some of the confederal statutes at this time of revision. It proposed to reduce the governing powers of the Confederal Bureau, and enlarge those of the National Committee. The latter is the assembly of delegates of all the industrial or professional federations and of all the departmental unions, [7] with the latter traditionally enjoying in French trade unionism a position equal to that of the federations. This radical reform was not successful, but the margin between the majority and the minority was reduced to 2,610 votes against 2,017. This figure will appear remarkable to those who know with how much tenacity established situations and traditional positions are held in a trade union movement.

Let us continue to seek in the annual assemblies of the CFTC for signs of its development. The atmosphere of the Congress of 1948 would have been particularly strained, if there had not been added to the general report, an item proposed by a special commission called The Twenty-One. This text guaranteed trade union democracy and the rights of the minority in more precise terms, in an organization where previously basic problems could be settled nearly without debate, by an appeal to the feelings of unanimous fidelity, or by a simple reference to traditional formulas. Although this resolution had been attached to the general report, the latter could not be adopted by a show of hands as was customary. 35% of the delegates either abstained or voted in the negative, indicating by this act a new freedom of discussion.

In the course of this Congress, the Secretary General of the Federation of Metal Workers defined the essential position of the “minority”:

With the Liberation, there has been an increase of young people in posts of responsibility in the CFTC. These new elements have been trained in JOC or Resistance. We injure no one when we say that these young people bring with them the ideas of their generation, a generation that has indeed been trained in study clubs, but also has been initiated into new methods and conditions of action, and toward whom any patronizing attitude is no longer tolerable.

After having recounted the reforming activity of his friends, the young leader of the Metal Workers concluded in these terms:

We affirm again that for us trade union pluralism is not an end in itself, but a fact, which permits, in this present moment in the history of the working class movement in France, the freest expression and the better organization of the different tendencies, which is the instrument of that expression. We believe that we must work for the realization of that desire for unity which all workers have within them. Will it be possible one day? When? Neither you nor I can answer. But we feel that we must work in that direction. Already there is a means: unity in action and unity of action. With regard to the Force Ouvrière we do not forget that its members were with us in the strikes of November-December, that their schism was the manifestation of their will to remove politics from trade unionism. This will animates us as well. It appears that among the different trade union organizations, in so far as the F.O. has fought for that independence, the F.O. is nearer to us.

It is true that in the strikes of November-December 1947, the non-Communist minority of the CGT was separated from the Communist directed majority and formed the CGT-FO. This was the French reflection of the great crisis which, occasioned by the problem of American aid to Europe, separated the free trade unionists from the Communist groups with whom they had grown close in the great current of working class unity which characterized the war and after-war periods. The CFTC and the CGT-FO had adopted similar attitudes toward the Marshall Plan and the subordination of the trade union movement to the Communist Party. Many observers, chiefly foreigners, hoped to see in France the rapid realization of organic unity among the free trade unions. [8] That is why the position taken by the CFTC in regard to the FO provoked so much comment in the months after, the schism. Certainly the dominant conviction in the CFTC was that of the permanent and real value of Christian trade unionism, which had maintained its continuity throughout the many crises of the French working class movement. But many leaders of the CFTC, belonging to the “minority,” had welcomed with an evident and publicly expressed sympathy the foundation of the newly organized FO. Further, a cartel interconfederal brought them only partial satisfaction. Such a pact had been concluded by the CFTC with the FO and a third organization. [10] Its purpose was to force a lowering of prices by the government of the Third Force on the supposition that this decline would be more valuable than another rise in nominal wages. With the political drift to the Right and the employers’ reaction which accompanied it, the Christian leadership in certain industries, notably that of Gas-Electricity and Metallurgy, felt itself obliged to defend the working class by concerted action with the corresponding federations of the CGT. [11] This move surprised their colleagues. This move surprised their colleagues of the FO, who found it difficult to attempt common action with those organizations from which they had recently withdrawn. The unions of the CFTC, which had always maintained their own personality, risked less by such a move. Thus, despite all the clarifications that could be given them, the leaders of the FO determinedly abstained from this unity of action with the CGT, which the CFTC limited strictly to immediate economic demands, which prevented all political exploitation of the strikes by the Communists. Thus there developed, in quite a number of working class circles, a situation which had not been foreseen: the Christian labor leaders appeared more combative, and more unyielding to the employers, the political parties, and the inaction of government than their colleagues of the FO.

The Congress of June 1949 opened in this atmosphere, preceded, accompanied and followed by a widespread press campaign against the “unity of action” between the CGT and the CFTC. The campaign was directed particularly against the “minority” of the CFTC, its “left wing,” falsely confused with the Christian Progressives [12] by a large body of intellectuals who did not belong to the Christian trade unions. To the applause of the Congress, the three leaders who were considered the prime movers of the “left wing” presented a declaration of principles which rejected any possible overtures of the “Christian Progresives”:

We are absolutely apart from this group in doctrine and in its practice of relationships between Christianity and Communism. We reject its historical interpretation, its conception of the role of the Communist parties in public life and of the role of the USSR in international politics. We have always been, and we remain, unalterably opposed to any totalitarian deviation or utilization of the working class movement. And if we seem to have its method of approach to economic problems, this method has nothing to do with Stalinist Marxism

One of the curious characteristics of the intellectual situation in post-war France is the attraction of Marxism, and even Stalinism, at least as regards methodology, even on certain Catholics. [13] In opposition to this tendency, the leaders of the “minority” of the CFTC have published a series of studies which go beyond immediate trade union needs. [14] In these they have sought the minimum means, indispensable for active trade unionists at grips with economic problems, in the elaborate analyses prepared by Anglo-American economists on the national income and on full employment. They have stated their purpose as follows:

In this approach to economic questions, we have found a double advantage. We can direct the attention of the French working class to the factual aspects of the situation, to the heart of the national economy, with its overall problems, its community of interests, and its internal antagonisms. And we can place all this in a current of economic thought, opposed to the old ‘Liberalism’ of the employers, but compatible, according to the gravity of the problems, with proposals for the simple control of the flunctuations of a capitalist economy, or of the planning or nationalization of the economy, more or less advanced.

In the development of this work of research and education, the “Reconstruction” group has had many opportunities to acquaint the young French leaders with the economic and political activity of the American trade unions and of British Labor. Thus they have consciously demonstrated the achievements of the Western working class movement to workers who are under the constant ideological pressure of Stalinism, which dominates the whole atmosphere of their working environment. This effort has never been interrupted, even when, as in the strikes of the spring of 1950 some Christian unions fought alongside of organizations affiliated with the CGT. At that very moment, Reconstruction unsparingly denounced the Communist “campaign for peace” in a study prepared by a Christian leader classified as belonging to the “left wing.” He wrote:

We are not able to add our voice to that of the CGT, because the peace that we seek is not that which comes from the CGT.

The “left wing” of the CFTC is not in any sense a Communist-inclined group. This was clear in the autumn of 1949 and in the spring of 1950 and 1951, with the debates which preceded and followed the foundation of the Confédération internationale des Syndicats Libres. [15] The leaders who had wrongly been labeled “Communist-minded” worked hard for the adhesion of the CFTC to this new International, which all Communists and their sympathizers denounced violently as an “imperialist tool.” [16]

All know that, after the conditions imposed by the Congress of London, (November-December 1949), adherence to the CISL would have implied the renunciation of a specifically Christian International, the Confédération Internationale des Syndicats Chrétiens, in which the CFTC was tightly bound to the strictly confessional organizations of Belgium and Holland. Implicit in the problem is the frequently-noted intention of many in the CFTC to escape gradually from the isolation of the Christian trade unions which resulted from the original conditions of their development.

In the judgment of the press, April 1950 saw the National Committee of the CFTC divided, “with all the forces of the ‘left wing’” in favor of the CFTG joining the CISL, while the majority, grouped around Gaston Tessier, President both of the CFTC and of the Confédération Internationale des Syndicats Chrétiens, were determined to maintain a separate Chris¬ tian International. The minority obtained about 37% of the votes. The appeal to “fidelity,” issued by the most recent Congress of 1951, paradoxically supported by the suspicion of a part of the delegates toward the “Anglo-Saxon bloc,” reduced to approximately 32% the minority in favor of the CISL. The debate, in the presence of the Secretary of the Christian International, was significant for those observers who knew of the current attempts to reconstruct the Christian trade unions of Germany or to give a confessional character to the free trade unions of Italy. The position of the “minority” was clearly defined in the following resolution:

Since the CFTC has the duty to defend on the international level the interests of the French workers, the Congress should pronounce for the adherence of the CFTC to the Confédération internationale des Syndicats Libres.

Conscious at once of the global character of the problems and of the diversity of national situations, the Congress should declare that, while it preserves intact the personality of the CFTC, it choses [sic] adhesion as a gesture of solidarity with all the trade union movements which seek social transformation together with the maintenance of international peace and respect for the trade union, political and spiritual liberties.

In this spirit, the Congress should give specific support to the British working class effort for a collective economy in a democracy; to the fight of the American trade unions against uncontrolled capitalism; to the struggle of the German workers for co-management; and to the re-awakening of the working class movement in Spain.

As each one in the Congress realized, this resolution affected the entire orientation of the Christian unions. La Vie intellectuelle commented in June, 1951, [17] that the problem of the International revealed the opposition of two conceptions of Christian unionism:

“One affirms the idea of Christian trade unionism, desiring the maintenance of an International, even on the reduced base of several national bodies, but with the more or less precise hope of reconquest in Germany and Italy, of expansion in overseas territories, particularly in South America; the other conception begins with the fact that if the Christian trade union organizations have responded and do respond to the needs of workers in certain countries, in a certain historical situation, they have not been necessary in other situations and in other countries, even for Catholic workers—for instance in the English-speaking countries; in this case, why not accept the formula of the CISL: international unity with respect to trade union, political, and spiritual liberties; recognition of continued pluralism in national centers as it has developed from their complex and variable trade union history?

Contact after the Liberation with the English-speaking world of labor, principally the American, had convinced the minority favorable to the CISL that trade union organizations explicitly “Christian” were not the only method for the effective participation of Catholics in the working class movement. The postwar conditions which revealed to them a world different from the traditional European formulas, also created for Christian unionism a major role in France as the “largest free trade union organization.” Consequently they wished—without objection from the FO—to take their place in the free international trade union body as a representative of the French working class, confident that the influence of the English-speaking countries would assure respect for religious convictions.

This debate at the Congress of 1951 is connected with all the developments which we have traced since 1944. We can agree with La Vie intelletuelle:

If the circumstances emphasize the quarrel over the International, the discussion is obviously more profound. In a body such as Christian trade unionism, even more than in a movement like ‘Social Catholicism,’ the Christian inspiration is realized in an historical atmosphere, strictly determined in its ingredients and its thinking, to which belong a good part of the apparently doctrinal formulations which derive from tradition. As the situation is modified, the relativity becomes apparent: a certain number of white collar and civil service personnel and specially trained workers will accept the traditional formulas without difficulty and even with a feeling of security; but this will not be the case with others, particularly factory workers and university people, whose origins, training, and experience have posed altogether different problems than those of the popular religious study circles that were the principal source of the CFTC. That is why the traditionalist leaders manifest periodically that nostalgia for an atmosphere specifically Catholic, protected from the storms of our time, and in which, in their opinion, the CFTC should still find its most solid base for recruitment. But the entire history of the nation and of French Catholicism for the past twenty years at least has altered the conditions of trade union activity of Christian inspiration and has brought to the fore, in thought if not in deed, a good number of leaders who are certainly not of the faith, the doctrine, or the morality of their trade union brothers, but who share a common ‘social doctrine’. It is on the basis of the existing problems of French trade unions in general, and of the hope of resolving them, that the ‘minority’ leaders operate in the CFTC, which for them is specifically a non-spiritual movement which should surrender the religious tasks to the Social Secretariat and to Catholic Action designed for the working class. Which approach can be most efficacious in handling the “Communist problem , in the struggle against social reaction, and in the indispensible renewal of trade union thought in France? This is the essential question that is posed.

(July, 1951)

This is the question that will undoubtedly suggest itself to the readers of this essay. Is it possible for them to respond objectively?

There is no adequate answer in the legitimate satisfaction which the old leaders of the CFTC can feel today as they reflect on the present condition of their organization in comparison with the one of their youth. The generation of founders and the young ones who follow their thinking have been dominated by the problems of ralliement. The political work which the Ralliès have not been able to accomplish, and which they have pursued through the Chamber of the Bloc National, the Popular Democratic Party, and the MRP, the CFTC has achieved on the social level. It has placed and safely installed Catholics in French democratic institutions and thus it has borne witness to Catholicism in public life. From this point of view, the CFTC has succeeded. It has maintained itself as a representative organization in the crises of 1936 and 1944; its leaders form part of the working class representation on international labor organizations; the elections to the administrative boards of Social Security, the Conseil dEnterprise, and the Délégués du Personnel have established the principle of proportional representation which the CFTC has always supported, and they have brought it an increasing number of votes. It has an established position, a place among the prevailing 220 institutions. These are advantages which a body such as the Social Catholics, so long exiled from public life and legal influence, would naturally appreciate. It is from the same institutional point of view that French Christian trade unionism feels itself strong in the support of similar movements in Belgium and Holland, and is disturbed by the unity of the free trade unions of Germany and Italy. It glories in the bond of the Confédération Internationale des Syndicats Chrétiens, its memberships on international boards, and its possibilities for influence on the European Assembly at Strassbourg where the Christian democratic parties are massively represented. This apparent restoration of Christian social Europe with an anti-Socialist flavor, of which the German Christian labor leader, Adam Stegerwald, dreamed in 1920, this influence and this witnessing in institutions cannot obscure the profound crisis in French labor, which is apparent both to the younger leaders and to analysts who can raise themselves above institutional loyalty.

Is it not this crisis, the weakening of Socialism and traditional trade unionism together with the Communist upsurge, rather than its own effort, which has made the CFTC of 1950 the second largest labor Confederation and the first of the non-Communist organizations? One cannot avoid the question to which there is only one reply which the future will reveal: the mass of French workers no longer give their full support to the CGT, though they still back it with their votes. Hence we must pose the question this way: will it be possible to accomplish through the CFTC what was not realized through the FO: to offer to French labor in all its manifestations a free trade union leadership both on the factory level as well as on the national and international scale? In part, this would require a renewal of tradition, the tradition of old French trade unionism before the Stalinist seizure; in part, it would require an honest confrontation of the problems of the second half of the twentieth century in a nation which is having considerable difficulty in orientating itself in a new world which it has not made, and where it no longer feels itself playing a major role with heavy and exciting responsibilities.

To the statistics we have cited at the beginning of this essay might be appended others from the same elections which illustrate the trends in working class loyalties in the principal metallurgical centers: Maubege, CGT: 21,397; CFTC: 8,128; FO: 5,503; Longwy: CGT: 16,876; CFTC: 4,440; FO: 3,128 Montbéliard: CGT: 10,453; CFTC: 5,793; FO: 3,002; Saint-Nazaire: CGT: 8,158; CFTC: 7,410; FO: 5,611; Saint-Étienne: CGT: 38,656; CFTC: 21,343; FO: 8,741: Confirming these figures of June, 1950, in the majority of cases the elections to factory boards seem to have given the second place to Christian trade unionism in the key industries of metallurgy, construction, chemicals, Gas-Electricity, railroads, etc.

At the conclusion of the development which we have traced, we can find at least a few Catholic leaders at all levels of French labor. Today they are the leaders of a substantial and growing minority which the Communist CGT must take into account and which the working class regards with curiosity, and even with a new sympathy. This is adequate as a witness to Catholicism; it is still insufficient to decide the orientation of the mass of French labor, which is a capital factor in the future of Europe. This is the deliberately restrained conclusion of this historical analysis, which must not alter the personal hopes of the author.

Paul Vignaux

[1] Paul Vignaux, Introduction à l’Étude historique du Mouvement Syndical Chrétien, International Review for Social History, Amsterdam, II (1937), PP. 28-49.
[2] Trade Unionisme et Syndicalisme, Paris, Ambier, 1936.
[3] These Social Weeks were annual congresses of Catholics and Catholic organizations interested in social questions. Held in a different French city each year since the early part of the century, they have been called “travelling universities of Catholic social thought.”
[4] Traditionalisme et Syndicalisme-Essai d’Histoire Socale, 1884-1941 New York, la Maison Française, 1942. This volume contains an account of the relations of the Christian trade unions and the Social Catholics.
[5] Confédération Generale du Travail Unitaire, formed in 1921 by a Communist schism from the CGT.
[6] Before the Passage of this resolution, many of the officers of the CFTC, in their enthusiasm for the program of the new Christian democratic party, accepted positions in its ranks and had been elected to office.
[7] French trade unions are organized vertically into federations on an industrial or craft basis, and horizontally into departmental “unions”, or organizations of all members of the confederation working in a single department.
[8] In this connection, and subsequently in this essay, “free” means a trade union movement not dominated by Communist or other dictatorial powers.
[9] A working agreement for common objectives among various national trade unions without sacrifice of individuality.
[10]  Confédération Générale des Cadres, the organization of superintendants, engineers, and foremen.
[11] Autumn of 1948 and beginning of 1949. Copies of the text can be secured from Fédération des Syndicats de la Métallurgie, CFTC, 26, rue de Monthoon, Parix, IX.
[12] A group of young Catholics with Communist tendencies. [Note: An example of a Chrétien Progressiste would be André Mandouze–see: his Take the Outstretched Hand (1948).]
[13] I have examined some aspects of this attraction in an article in La Vie intellectuelle, November 1950.
[14] Reconstruction, founded in 1946. This excellent analysis appears monthly, and can be obtained from its editor, Ch. Savouillan, 59 rue Condorcet, Parix IX
[15] Known in the English-speaking world as the International Federation of Free Trade Unions, (IFFTU), established to counteract the Communist-controlled WFTU.
[16] Cf. Paul Vignaux, Une nouvelle fédération mondiale de syndicats, La Vie intellectuelle, January 1950, and the documents published in the same review in the issue of July, 1951.
[17] Une nouvelle minorité syndicale
[18] See the figures at the beginning of this essay.