What is the French CNT all about?

Monday 4 April 2005, by CNT-f

Confédération Nationale du Travail

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What is the French CNT all about?

The CNT is trying to engage in a different sort of trade unionism. Long ignored and marginalised, it is reemerging today strong in the knowledge that things need not necessarily get worse and that it is not too late to switch to a different approach...

For years and years we have been fed on illusions - industrial expansion, social progress, access to consumer goods for the waged... Trade unionism has picked up some bad habits : institutionalisation, parasitism, corporatism and lost its sense of solidarity.

Bedazzled by the economic miracle, wage-earners have steadily allowed specialist negotiators take over the management of their interests. Employers were only too happy to be faced with professional trade unionists rather than those troublesome, unpredictable wage-earners...

And then bang! Along comes the ‘crisis’ bogeyman, liberalism bounces back, the welfare State is on its way out and look where we are now : society is riven between the unemployed and seasonal workers on the one hand and the waged on the other. And the latter are faced with runaway profiteering, production quotas, deregulation, the extinction of the whole notion of public services, restrictions on social protection, economics lording it over all. All politicians, left or right, bear the responsibility for this situation.

The Third World is squeezed until it bleeds, the natural environment destroyed by industrial or nuclear pollution, there is cynical trafficking in arms and militarisation of society, massive profits for the fat cats and unspeakable misery for those who are denied even the basic necessities of life... Is this what we want? This ghastly existence is foisted upon us and at the same time we wage earners are asked to help manufacture it, and we can refuse to do that.

Because we are the ones who manufacture all the goods and provide all the services, we must gear these to the benefit of society as a whole rather than to fattening the profits or feeding the overblown ambitions of the few.

Which is why we reckon that trade unionism has to revert to what it ought never to have stopped being - revolutionary - which is to say, a vehicle for the dream of a fairer, more egalitarian, freer society.

So, in the short term, the CNT means to engage in a trade union practice that looks further than the timorous co-management of society as it presently stands. Naturally, the immediate interests of wage-earners have to be defended. But it is also a question of gearing up here and now for a different future by espousing a trade union methodology that discards the hierarchical outlooks that govern our present circumstances.

The CNT stands for activism in lieu of bureaucratisation, solidarity across trades boundaries in lieu of ghettoised interests, for a trade unionism freed of all political meddling.

The fundamental issue for the CNT is that people should decide things for themselves. At branch and trade union level, it is the general assembly that makes all the decisions : there are no watchwords parachuted in from outside, no ‘lines’ to abide by, no ulterior political considerations...

And this is a model that is applicable to struggles. It is for the wage-earners themselves to determine how their struggles should be conducted. Sovereign general assemblies of all concerned; no song and dance about trade union initials as the be-all and end-all; none of the deplorable petty-minded rivalries with which we are so familiar.

Nobody else does your work for you, so let nobody else make the decisions for you!

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