par Eric Vilain
One of the things that stands out to me reading your text is the extent to which the French union movement was already rather federalist. There were quite a number of unions in specific workplaces and industries, which then federated together. This is pretty starkly different to the Australian situation, where the unions are incredibly centralised. Some unions don’t have any branch structures or regular meetings, and the affairs of even small workplaces are managed by the central leadership.
Could you talk a little about the value of this basic federalism, and how it enabled you to carry out your work ?
It seems difficult to say how federalism came to the French Labour movement. I think Proudhon has something to do with it but not only. For historical reasons, the French workers opposed Jacobinism, and the socialist thinkers who advocated this option never had much success. Then there was the Paris Commune, repressed by the centralist state. After the Commune, bourgeois democrats tried to capture the Labour movement in order to promote the rapprochement between Capital and Labour but it didn’t work either. In other words, historical experience pushed the workers to demand to take care of their problems by themselves and this is what explains the extraordinary success of Proudhon, of which we have no idea today.