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FRANCE: For Defense

6 minute read

Squarejawed, square-shouldered Premier Edouard Daladier is always chiefly interested in defense and so are many other Frenchmen. Last week the Premier was under pressures amounting to attack on the French internal and also on the French external front. He resolutely prepared his defenses, and in doing so was assisted by the British Prime Minister in person, the first working trip to Paris by an incumbent of No. 10 Downing Street since the days of James Ramsay MacDonald, the Laborite apostle of the League who generally only sped through Paris on his way out to Geneva or home. It was two kinds of war: first, strife fomented in France by outraged labor leaders; second, the next World War. Both wars Edouard Daladier discussed for as much as five hours without a break with Neville Chamberlain.

The two democratic chiefs, both of whom have been called “Fascists” by Communists, decided to defend their countries last week by:

1) Increase of French military forces in Indo-China and building of French supply bases to complement Singapore and Hong Kong, the British Far East strongholds of Democracy;

2) Approval of the Hitler-Daladier Peace Pact which complements the Hitler-Chamberlain Peace Pact (TIME, Oct. 10);

3) Purchase by France of 6,000 war planes, mostly in Canada on credits extended from London;

4) Unofficial expression by Neville Chamberlain of his resolve to persuade the House of Commons to vote national military conscription in the United Kingdom.

Any Frenchman would rather have a big British Army in existence than any other army, except the big French Army. The way in which things are looked at in France, even by the proletariat, made the defense moves taken in Paris last week important (not necessarily decisive) in the labor war which anti-Daladier zealots tried meanwhile to kindle, with some success.

General Strike. Apart from aliens, of whom there are in France on temporary permits or illegally over 3,000,000 persons (i. e., about 7% of all persons in France), French workers ran true to form last week. Their French leaders objected furiously to the recent series of decree laws introduced by Premier Daladier (with parliamentary authority previously voted and to be confirmed or withdrawn by Parliament) mainly for one reason: they claimed, justly in the main, that on their face these laws impose sacrifices which bear more heavily upon Labor than upon Capital. The businessman’s side of the argument is, of course, that these laws are intended to redress some of the undue wealth-destroying laws which Labor won under the “New Deal” Cabinets of M. Léon Blum (TIME, June 15, 1936, et seq.).

M. Blum is No. 1 politically in the French Left. No. 1 in a trade-unionist sense is M. Léon Jouhaux, General Secretary of the French General Confederation of Labor, with 5,000,000 enrolled trade unionists—many not French—whom he has to try to keep behind him. This William Green or John L. Lewis of France (and neither cap quite fits Jouhaux) is nearer to “Moscow” than is M. Blum. Earthy, cigar-chewing, big-eating Léon Jouhaux is out for what he can get, whereas intellectual, nervous, lean Léon Blum is akin in spirit to the Roosevelt New Deal and is always advocating in his newspaper that Mr. Roosevelt do something or say something epochal.

If Joseph Stalin has now decided to make trouble for the democratic governments of Western Europe by promoting general strikes and “World Revolution” (TIME, Nov. 21), and if there is anything in it for European trade union bosses not themselves Communists, Léon Jouhaux is going to get what he can.

Labor Boss Jouhaux might have chosen to order a General Strike when Premier Daladier broke up the French Popular Front (TIME, Nov. 7), or on account of the “rape of Czechoslovakia,” or immediately after Daladier announced his latest batch of decree-laws. In fact, a Labor leader chooses to general-strike when he gets a hunch he can win. It was on such a hunch that Labor Tsar Jouhaux acted last week. He has his desk in the control tower of the French General Labor Confederation’s renovated, seven-story Paris “skyscraper.” There last week he telephoned, telegraphed his labor-general-staff orders throughout France.

Vibrating to Jouhaux, mass meetings of workers convened all over the country. It was mobilization. The speakers had four whole days in which to whip up whatever unrest they could before the day set for the one-day Jouhaux General Strike.

Daladier’s Choice. Vigorous Daladier may well have judged that, if the game is to be nine-tenths bluff (as it often has been in France), he can first outbluff and finally outbargain Jouhaux. So-called “alarming reports” of French police last week “smashing” many “spontaneous” and “premature” so-called “strikes” in Lille (50,000 strikers), Billancourt (30,000), Valenciennes (8,000), etc., had their element of play-acting—but the play was new. It was not according to the “New Deal” script of Léon Blum, under whom as Premier one million workers were on strikes & sit-downs two short years ago (TIME, June 22, 1936). Premier Daladier took most drastic measures for Defense—or Civil War, if this week in France it should come to that.

With the decree powers voted him by the Chamber before it rose (TIME, Oct. 31), the Premier: 1) requisitioned for the State the principal 26.000 miles of railway in France and its rolling stock; 2) sent steel-helmeted Mobile Guards to take away from alien workmen their permits to work in France, telling them on Saturday that if they came back to work Monday and showed a disposition to work Wednesday (General Strike Day), they would get back their cards Monday; 3) put on the alert the General Staff, the Army and all engines by which the State might reasonably expect to crush (in blood, if it should come to that) the scheduled General Strike.

Veteran Appeasers. Some 5,000,000 strong, the French National Confederation of War Veterans this week viewed with such alarm the proposed General Strike of the French General Confederation of Labor, that it made two requests. It asked the 5,000,000 Laborers (i. e., Strike-Potent Jouhaux) to “reconsider the danger of general action which, pushed to the limit, would compromise the security of the nation.” On the other hand, it asked the State (i. e., Decree-Potent Daladier) to “seek all means of calming the nation’s emotions and of appeasing the social conflict.” To most Frenchmen the voice of those who have fought and might have died for France is vox populi—and Daladier is of course a World War veteran.

Specifically, the veterans suggested that the general strike be postponed on condition that Premier Daladier convene Parliament, a move he has successfully blocked for several weeks, on December 6 for a full debate and a vote of confidence, a course which might prove disastrous to Premier and Cabinet. To this proposal the General Confederation of Labor’s executive committee soon answered: “No.”

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