Confédération Général du Travail

"General Confederation of Labour." Encyclopædia Britannica. 2004. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. 20 Aug. 2004.

France's largest labour-union federation. The CGT was formed in 1895 and united in 1902 with the syndicalist-oriented Federation of Labour Exchanges (Fédération des Bourses du Travail). In its early years the CGT was racked by ideological divisions between socialist, syndicalist, and other factions. The confederation advocated the use of collective bargaining and the general strike to gain economic ends, but it was also concerned with achieving more revolutionary social changes through class warfare. The CGT declined after syndicalists took control in 1906, but the organization began to grow again under the leadership of the socialist Léon Jouhaux, who served as its secretary-general from 1909 to 1947. By 1914 the CGT's leadership was sufficiently moderate to support the French government in World War I.

In 1921 the CGT expelled its more radical unions, which were led by anarchists, syndicalists, and communists. They responded by forming the Unitary General Confederation of Labour (Confédération Générale du Travail Unitaire, or CGTU), which fell under the domination of Moscow. The CGTU rejoined the CGT in 1936, when Communist parties and unions formed “popular fronts” with socialist organizations in order to jointly oppose fascism. By supporting the Popular Front government of the mid-1930s, the CGT won a number of victories, including a 40-hour workweek and an all-around wage increase ranging from 7 to 15 percent.

The CGT was banned by the Vichy government during World War II, and by the time the confederation reemerged in 1944–45, the French Communists had won enormous popularity by their Resistance activities during the war. In 1945 Benôit Frachon, a Communist, became co-secretary-general with Jouhaux of the CGT, and in 1946–47 Communists gained control of the CGT's administrative machinery. By this time the confederation had more than 5,000,000 members. But when Communist ministers were dismissed from the French government in 1947, the CGT sponsored a wave of strikes that alienated the CGT's more moderate socialist members. Under the leadership of Jouhaux, the socialists left the CGT in 1947 to form a new federation, the General Confederation of Labour–Workers' Force, in 1948.

Even without the socialists, the CGT was the largest and most powerful labour-union federation in France. It had far more members among production workers and blue-collar civil servants than did the other two principal French union federations. The CGT maintained close ties with the French Communist Party and was a member of the World Federation of Trade Unions. Its membership declined markedly from the late 1970s, however, along with that of the French Communist Party as both federations' core constituency of workers in heavy industry shrank.

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