The 1941 miners' strike in northern France: from a dispute over soap to armed resistance

Article English OPEN
Cushion, Stephen (2006)
  • Publisher: Socialist History Society
  • Subject: HIS

In Northern France in 1941, while under German military occupation, 100,000 miners went on strike from the 27th May to the 9th June. This strike not only cost the German war machine half a million tonnes of coal, but also had long-term consequences for the development of the Resistance in the area. Starting from a dispute with their employers over working conditions, the reality of living under Nazi occupation soon gave the struggle a political dimension, convincing the miners that their social aspirations were inextricably linked to the outcome of the war, thereby preparing the ground for what was to arguably become the most active underground resistance movement in wartime France.\ud In organising a strike to resist the employers' offensive in the mines, rather as they might have done in times of peace, the miners showed everyone, themselves included, that the defeat of Nazi Germany was an essential prerequisite for any social progress. They thereby started a process that built a Resistance movement in the region that everyone had to recognise as second to none.\ud Given the overwhelming level of collaboration amongst the French employing class and the way they used the German authorities to repress their employees, rather in the same way as other groups of employers elsewhere used their own native fascist organisations, the social question cannot be disentangled from the national question. Those who would keep the analysis of the Second World War restricted to a conventional war between two rival power blocks have only understood half the problem. The question of democracy and the struggle against fascism cannot be forgotten as a Nazi German victory would have meant the smashing of all working class organisation and this gave workers on the continent another motivation to resist and also gives the analysis of the war another complication. The collaboration of the employing class gave the Second World War an element of civil war which many commentators wish to forget. \ud The strike gives valuable insights into the process whereby workers in struggle under repressive regimes move from industrial action to the armed struggle and parallels miners' actions in the Ludlow and Harlan County strikes in the USA, the Asturian Miners in 1934 and the Bolivian miners in the 1950s.
  • References (5)

    7 For more on the national position of the PCF at the start of the occupation: NOGUÈRES Henri, Histoire de la Résistance en France, Laffont, Paris, 1967 ( Volume 1) COURTOIS Stéphane, Le PCF dans la Guerre, Editions Ramsay, Paris 1980 TILLON Charles, On Chantait Rouge, Laffont, Paris, 1977

    8 PANNEQUIN Roger, Ami si tu tombes, Le Sagittaire, Paris, 1976 p90

    9 PANNEQUIN Roger, Ami si tu tombes, Le Sagittaire, Paris, 1976 p88

    10 ESTAGER Jacques, Ami entends-tu, Editions sociales, Paris 1986 p35 Le MANIER, Yves, Le parti communiste dans le Nord-Pas-de-Calais de la crise des années trente à la grève des mineurs de 1941, Bulletin d'Information MEMOR, no 35, Lille, 2002

    11 DEJONGHE, E & LE MANIER, Y, Le Nord-Pas-de-Calais dans la main allemande, La Voix du Nord, Lille, 2000 p266-275 1940. In January 1941, at Pit number 7 of the Escarpelle mine, all the mineworkers arrived half an hour late for work.

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