Fellow Travellers

BookFellow Travellers

Fellow Travellers

Communist Trade Unionism and Industrial Relations on the French Railways, 1914-1939

Studies in Labour History, 13


December 3rd, 2019


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An Open Access edition of this book is available on the Liverpool University Press website and the OAPEN library.

Fellow Travellers examines the shifting practices and strategies adopted by Communist militants as they sought to build and maintain support on the railways. In a period in which the Communist party struggled to establish a foothold in many French workplaces, activists on the railways bucked the trend and set down deep and lasting roots of support. They maintained this support even through the sectarian period of the Comintern’s shift to class against class, deepening their participation within railway industrial relations and gaining the experience of engagement with managers and state officials upon which they would build during the years of the Popular Front. Here France’s railway employees joined alongside their fellow workers in shaping a new social contract for workers, extending the principle of democratic representation into the workplace. While the Popular Front experiment proved shortlived, its influence was long lasting. In the post Liberation period, the key tenets of the Popular Front experience re-emerged within the nationalised SNCF, shaping the particular character of railway industrial relations – the peculiar mix of collaboration and hostile confrontation between management and workforce that continues to make the French railways one of the most contested sectors of the modern French economy.


'A thoroughly researched and original study that makes a valuable contribution on an important and under-researched subject.'
Professor David Howell, University of York

'Thomas Beaumont’s meticulous new book... not only stands as the first monograph-length study of communist railway trade unionism, but also offers a complex and nuanced portrait of interwar French communism more broadly... [Fellow Travellers] deserves to be read widely by historians of France, labour, and the left alike.'Robert W. Lewis, Labour

Author Information

Thomas Beaumont is Senior Lecturer in European History, Liverpool John Moores University.

Table of Contents

Table of Contents
Section TitlePagePrice
The Professional World of the Railway Workers13
Railway Workers and the Interwar Labour Movement16
Structure of the Book20
1. Railway Workers at War25
Class and Nation36
L’Impôt du Sang40
Working the Wartime Railways44
Contre les Compagnies, Pour la Nation: War Weariness and the Remobilisation of Opinion49
1917: Popular Attitudes to War49
The Cost of Living Crisis50
The National Union and its Programme53
The ‘Minoritaires’: Against the Sacred Union55
Conclusion: The Armistice59
2. Railway Workers and the ‘Après Guerre’61
Railway Workers and the ‘Spirit of 1919’62
Demobilisation and the Transport Crisis64
Bidegaray and the Majority Leadership66
May Day 191972
Reform and Revolution After 1 May74
Cheminots and the Metalworkers’ Strike, June 191977
Precursors to May: The Strikes of January and February 192082
May 1920: The Great Strike89
3. Railway Workers and the Communist Choice95
Railway Schism96
Bolsheviks and Syndicalists: The RILU and Divisions within the CGTU101
The Founding of the CGTU101
The Syndicalists and Moscow105
Party and Union115
4. Stabilisation125
Cheminot Unionism after 1921126
Stabilising the Railway Industry127
The Amnesty Campaign131
Red for Danger: Surveillance on the Railways134
The Railway Companies and the Professional World of the Cheminots136
Contesting Managerial Authority: Cheminots Rabkory139
5. International Connections147
Cheminot Internationalism147
Internationalism: The Soviet Union155
The Ruhr159
The Rif War168
‘Hostile Participants’: Communists and Railway Industrial Relations in the ‘Class-against-Class’ Era, 1928–1934171
Workers and the Depression172
Responding to the Crisis: The SFIO and the CGT179
Responding to the Crisis: The Communists181
The Path to Participation184
Beginning Participation190
Rationalisation and the Railways195
The Politics of Railway Safety203
7. Railway Workers and the Popular Front: From Victory to Defeat, 1934–1939213
Towards the Popular Front217
The Popular Front and the Railway Industry233
November 1938: Defeat of the Popular Front238
The Nazi–Soviet Pact243