The Nobel Peace Prize 1951
Nobel Lecture*, December 11, 1951
Fifty Years of Trade-Union Activity in Behalf of Peace
It will certainly come as no surprise to you when I tell you that one of the most moving, as well as one of the happiest, moments of my life occurred on the evening of Monday, November 5, 1951. A reporter whose initiative I have already commended to the French Broadcasting System, eager to satisfy his professional conscience by extracting a sensational statement from me, came to inform me at a somewhat late hour that the Nobel Peace Prize Committee of the Norwegian Parliament had just bestowed on me one of the most renowned and flattering distinctions that this world can offer.
Perhaps he was disappointed by my reception and by the way in which I immediately identified myself with the working classes and their trade unions when I responded to the award of this prize, which reflects so much honour on its founder, on those whose mission it is to confer it, and on him who receives it. But I can assure you that not for the briefest instant did I believe that it was I alone who was the recipient of this great reward.
I have never ceased to do my utmost to be the faithful interpreter and devoted servant of the ideals of peace and justice upheld by out trade-union organizations, and at such a solemn moment it was natural for me to regard myself simply as their representative. I speak as their representative now as I review for you their constant efforts to hasten the advent of an era of peace for which all men long and in which, to borrow the words of Jean Jaurès1, "mankind, finally at peace with itself" will pursue its own destiny in joy and harmony.
My emotion was, nonetheless, great. Neither my friends nor my family, who should know me better than anyone else does, have ever doubted the strength of my nerves. They would be more likely to reproach me - and sometimes with less than kindly truculence -for a calmness that some of them call placidity. True enough, nature has endowed me with a fair measure of patience and composure, yet I should be lying if I told you that, having seen the reporter off on his way to make his deadline, I fell peacefully asleep. That evening, all that night, I waited in vain for a slumber that wouldn't come.
And during those long hours I was assailed by many memories. I saw again the house where I was born, which disappeared in 1898 with the abattoir of Grenelle. I was not quite two years old when my parents left it and, after a brief stay in the country, made a home in Aubervilliers. This town so near Paris where I spent my youth was the Aubervilliers of the end of the last century. Being at that time more than half agricultural, it scarcely resembled the industrial city of today. It afforded us children wide-open spaces, covered with grain in the summer, and it gave us the clear waters of the Courneuve River flowing nearby where we spent many pleasant hours of bathing and swimming.
This almost rustic life made me a sturdy and stable man, and, despite the unpretentiousness of our family life and its hazards, I look back on those days with considerable pleasure.
However, it was at Aubervilliers that I felt for the first time the hard consequences of the struggle of the workers for improvement of their living conditions. These had a considerable influence on my future.
My father, a veteran of the Commune2, his convictions and his fighting spirit unbroken by the defeat of the workers in 1871, took an energetic and untiring part in the strikes which set the workmen of the match factory where he worked against the management of the company prior to its becoming nationalized. The courageous efforts of my mother, who resumed her job as a cook, were not enough to compensate us for the loss of my father's wages, and it was during one of these strikes that I had to leave elementary school before I was twelve to work at the Central Melting House in Aubervilliers.
My parents, and especially my mother, encouraged by the director of the local school which I was attending, wanted in spite of everything to send me to a National School of Arts and Crafts so that I could later become an engineer. I was keen to study and had some natural mechanical ability, and so I entered the Colbert upper primary school. Less than a year later, because of a reversal of the family fortunes, I was forced to leave and go to work in the Michaux Soap Works. From this time on, except for one more attempt at schooling when I spent a year at the Diderot Vocational School, I was, at the age of fourteen, completely caught up in the hard life of the industrial worker.
When I was sixteen, I became a member of the trade union at the match works where I had rejoined my father. I did so without question. My father's vigorous example and my own experience led me quite naturally to participate in the worker's movement. I had suffered personally from the social order. My school work, my intellectual gifts, my eagerness to study, had all come to nothing. I had been brutally compelled to leave the upper primary school and even the vocational training school and to become a wage earner of the humblest order.
This day has been set aside for all countries to celebrate the anniversary of the adoption by the United Nations General Assembly of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights3. And with a passion fired by these memories of an adolescent deprived of the right to realize his full intellectual potential, I wish to express my own conviction that, thanks to the action of true trade unionists and sincere democrats, all the sacred and inalienable rights of man will henceforth be recognized without reservation and that man will be able to exercise these rights without hindrance.
The feeling of having been unjustly treated drove me to spend much time in the library of the Aubervilliers libertarian group, one of the few places where I could escape intellectually from my situation. Reading the books that I found there reinforced my feelings of rebellion against the established order and against social injustice.
I propose now to review the progress of trade-union activity for international peace. To this end I shall disregard all its other aspects, but first, in order to stress by a personal example its positive results with regard to the protection of the workers' health, let me give you the reasons for the first strike in which I took part. I participated in this strike not simply as a member of the trade union but as its administrative secretary; in other words - to give you an exact idea of my functions and responsibilities in this humble office - I drafted the minutes of meetings of the trade-union council, of the general assemblies, and sometimes of delegations. I do not think that I owed this mark of confidence to my worth as a trade unionist; I owed it, more likely, to my having received a less sketchy education than that of my comrades: the great school reforms of the Third Republic had not yet been in existence ten years.
Instigated by the National Federation of Match Factory Workers4, itself adherent to the C.G.T. which had been established in 18955, this strike involved the whole trade corporation and aimed principally at prohibiting in the manufacturing process the use of white phosphorus, which constituted no small danger, particularly to the dental health of the personnel. The strike lasted over a month, but it led directly to the calling of the Bern Conference which prohibited the use of noxious substances6. This first success naturally could not fail to encourage me to persevere in trade-union action, which at the same time satisfied both my urge to work against iniquity and my youthful need for tangible achievements.
Another consequence of the same strike was the bringing into use of the "continuous" machine, as it was called, which increased production as it eased the drudgery of the workmen. This led me to understand that trade unionism, the instrument of working-class liberation and of social change could, and indeed should, be also an instrument of industrial progress. Nor did it take me long to see therein one of the most effective means for freeing the world of the always menacing specter of war.
Why should I not state openly, Ladies and Gentlemen, the fact that the first manifestation of the trade-union struggle for peace, and particularly the French trade-union struggle into which I threw myself with all the ardour of my youth, was antimilitaristic in thought and sometimes also in deed? Is not one of the greatest sins against the spirit that of knowingly concealing the truth? And would it not be ridiculous to reproach the trade-union movement with having confused cause and effect? Sociologists worthy of the name never make the mistake of reproaching primitive peoples for their belief that the sun moves round the earth. We too, through lack of knowledge and of sufficiently mature reflection, mistook the visible outward appearance of the phenomenon for the phenomenon itself. I would add that my memory of that period, perhaps because of the mirage which the passage of the years evokes, is that of a great enthusiasm, undoubtedly sparked more by irrational hope than by any constructive will; but that fervour makes me feel all the more bitter about the atmosphere of indifference, fatalism, and resignation that has persisted up to the present time on our continent, a continent which two wars seem to have ravaged morally as well as physically. An orator once exclaimed: "When war breaks out, its principal victims are always the people." He was more right than he knew. Not only does war kill workers by the thousand, nay, by the million, destroy their homes, lay waste the fields which took them centuries of effort to cultivate, raze to the ground the factories they built with their own hands, and reduce for years the standard of living of the working masses, but it also gives man an increasingly acute feeling of his helplessness before the forces of violence, and consequently severely retards his progress toward an age of peace, justice, and well-being.
Oh yes! we were full of enthusiasm back in 1900. Nothing, no matter what it was, seemed impossible to us then, and we had every reason to believe it. We felt already that after Viktor Adler, Wilbur Wright was going to give us wings7.
On completion of my military service, I went back to the factory and to the trade union. From here on, however, I am going to take myself out of the story of the movement - not because our paths diverged, indeed they intermingle after 1909 - but because trade unionism, despite its close initial connections with libertarian individualism, is essentially and by definition a collective work.
A moment ago, I mentioned in passing the creation in 1895 of the Confédération générale du travail (C.G.T.). It replaced the National Federation of Trade Unions [Fédération des Syndicats et Groupes corporatifs ouvriers de France], which had been founded in 1886. Actually, unity of the workers under the C.G.T. was not completely achieved until 1902 when, at the Montpellier Congress, the Federation of Labour Exchanges (Fédération nationale des Bourses du travail) was incorporated in the C.G.T. as the Division of Labour Exchanges. However, during this period in which the unity of the working classes was being consolidated, the C.G.T., in its annual congresses, had already gone beyond questions of organization and corporate claims and as early as 1898 had taken its stand in favour of general disarmament:
"The Congress (the motion stated in a somewhat antiquated style) considering all peoples to be brothers and war to be mankind's greatest calamity, [and]
Holding that armed peace leads all peoples to ruin through the increase in taxation required to meet the enormous expense of standing armies,
Declares that money spent on the perpetration of acts suitable only to barbarians and on the support of young, strong, and vigorous men for a period of years would be better used for work serving humanity, [and]
Expresses the wish [voeu] that general disarmament take place as soon as possible."
In 1900 and in 1901, the C.G.T. progressed from theoretical declarations to practical considerations; it decided that "young workers about to undergo conscription should be put in touch with the secretaries of the Labour Exchanges of the towns in which they are to be garrisoned", and agreed in principle to the setting up of a Serviceman's Fund.
Today these declarations and decisions seem very mild. We must not forget, however, that they were accompanied by a significant antimilitaristic agitation which had found solid support in the impassioned propaganda for a retrial of the Dreyfus case8. This was opposed with equal vigour by militarists whose affinity with a discredited Council of War laid open the army and particularly its officers to fatal, if unfair, suspicion as far as democratic opinion was concerned.
All the C.G.T. congresses, which took place biennially after 1902, were deeply concerned with action in support of peace. At the outbreak of the Russo-Japanese War9, the 1904 Congress, held at Bourges, declared: "At a time when two nations are at each other's throats, re-enacting on a wider scale the slaughter of the past for the greater good of the ruling classes and exploiters who enslave the proletariat of the whole world, this Congress... censures the ignoble attitude of the governments of the two nations concerned, which, with the object of finding an outlet for the mounting discontent of the proletariat, appeal to chauvinistic passions and unhesitatingly organize the death and assassination of thousands of workers in order to safeguard their own privileged position."
The international sky was increasingly overcast, and the attitude of the unions stiffened. The 1906 Congress approved "all programs of antimilitaristic propaganda", and that of 1908 contemplated replying to a "declaration of war with a declaration of a revolutionary general strike". The Congresses of 1910 and 1912 confirmed these resolutions and strongly protested against repression, but 1912 was the year of the Balkan War10 and, in view of the rivalries which began to make themselves felt and which threatened to spread the conflict even farther, a special conference held on the first of October decided to call a congress whose sole objective would be to combat the menace of war. The motion passed was a true indication of the confidence of the trade-union organizations in their growing strength. To stop the governments from being drawn any further down the slope to the yawning chasm of fire and blood, the Congress affirmed its resolution to take revolutionary action in the event of military mobilization.
We would gain a false impression of the importance and effectiveness of labour action if we confined ourselves to the motions passed at its congresses. The trade unions, far from being content with these declarations, established international liaisons and supported every policy based on pacification and understanding. Between 1900 and 1901 the C.G.T. and the English working classes together contributed to bringing about the Entente Cordiale11. To gain an idea of the value of this contribution, it is necessary only to reflect upon the tension which followed the Fashoda incident12 and to thumb through the collections of satirical publications of those days.
At the time of the Agadir incident13, on July 22, 1911, a delegation from the C.G.T. left for Berlin, and in the following month a trade-union delegation from Germany arrived in Paris. The French and the German proletariat were uniting their efforts to try to avert war.
These occasional international contacts were not, however, the only ones to be established between the various national trade-union organizations. Several international workers' congresses were held after the abolition of the workers' International. One met in Zurich in 1895 and one in London in 1896, bringing together delegates of the trade unions and representatives of socialist-minded political parties. In London, the French delegation included, among other trade unionists: Fernand Pelloutier, the Guérard brothers, and Keufer14. The results of this cooperation - or confusion, as the more critical historians would have it - were not outstanding, and the idea of a purely trade-union international organization first came up at the Congress of Scandinavian Trade Unions in Copenhagen in 1901, thanks to the direct contact among fraternal delegations. The proposal came from Legien15 who represented the General Committee of German Trade Unions. It was decided to request the various national organizations to attend the Congress of German Trade Unions at Stuttgart in 1902. The organizations of Germany, Great Britain, Austria, Belgium, Bohemia, Denmark, Spain, France, The Netherlands, Italy, Norway, Sweden, and Switzerland responded to the appeal and approved the proposal to organize international trade-union congresses which would take place at more or less regular intervals. Their mandate remained limited, at first extending only to the compilation of common statistics, the exchange of information on legislation affecting labour, and eventually to solidarity in the event of important strikes. Nevertheless, the first international link had been forged, and it was later strengthened in Dublin in 1903 by the creation of an International Trade-Union Secretariat.
Without formally withdrawing from the Secretariat, our French C.G.T. suspended the payment of its contributions in 1904 after the Secretariat had refused to include the question of antimilitarism in the agenda for the Conference of Amsterdam. I would not go so far as to say that the French trade unions attached greater importance to the struggle for peace than the others did; but they certainly seemed to take it more to heart.
Relations were renewed following the C.G.T. Congress in Marseilles in 1908 and the Secretariat's acquiescence to the demand that the calling of truly international congresses be included in the agenda of the next conference.
This, the fifth Conference, took place in Paris and included some spirited debates - quite spirited, in fact. Having become its secretary, I was the spokesman for the C.G.T. I recently referred to this meeting in an article, and I think I can do no better than to quote its opening words, for they pinpoint not only our own position but also that of the representative of the American Federation of Labour.
"I saw Gompers16 again (I wrote) on the evening of September 1, 1909. It was the second day of the International Conference of Trade-Union Secretariats. All day I had been asking for a true international congress, and I had had to ask with a certain amount of vehemence. At the end of the afternoon session, after we had won the majority over to the argument of the French C.G.T., Gompers, who represented the American labour unions belonging to the A.F. of L. [American Federation of Labour], came over to me to express his deep satisfaction !"
There were two more conferences, the first of which was in 1911 at Budapest where this time the A.F. of L. participated officially and the Industrial Workers of the World17 unofficially. The second was in Zurich in 1913. An attempt at an expanded conference, leading to the international congresses which we had in mind, was made on the latter occasion by appealing to the International Vocational Secretariats. The resolution adopted in Zurich recommended that the trade-union organizations of all countries study the possibility of setting up an International Federation of Labour, whose aim "would be to protect and extend the rights and interests of the wage earners of all countries and" - I emphasize this last part of the sentence - "to achieve international fraternity and solidarity".
The trade-union movement was emerging from its infancy and beginning to be aware of the magnitude of its future. In Zurich it no longer thought of itself as the expression of a single social class; the international solidarity which it was trying to bring about was already something quite different from the solidarity of workers in time of strike - all that had been envisaged up to that time. The dramatic events which its development precipitated were soon to hasten its maturity.
Men of my generation will never forget the last days of July, 1914, least of all those who tried to build a dike against the onrushing sea of blood. After July 27 our C.G.T. never ceased trying to achieve the impossible. To leaders still adhering in spirit to the old motto of "Ultimate Right", which kings used to engrave on their cannons, it opposed the common sense of the man in the street. "War", it cried, "is no solution to the problems facing us; it is, and always will be, the most terrible of human-calamities. Let us do everything to avoid it." On Friday, July 30, the C.G.T. cabled the supreme appeal to the International Secretariat, beseeching it to intervene by "exerting pressure on the governments".
Alas! As we all know, these desperate efforts were in vain!
This disaster did not force us to abandon our ideal; on the contrary, from the very first months of the conflict, it led us to define precisely the conditions for its realization.
In fact, at the end of 1914, the A.F. of L. took the initiative of proposing to hold "an International Conference of National Trade-Union Organizations on the same day and in the same place that the Peace Congress would be held, in order to help restore good relations between proletariat organizations and to encourage participation with the Peace Congress in laying the foundations of a definitive and lasting peace". Le Comité confédéral of the C.G.T. accepted this proposal and itself issued a manifesto to all the trade-union organizations. I believe that the major portion of this text has become less dated than all of its predecessors. It concludes by demanding: the suppression of the system of secret treaties; an absolute respect for nationalities; the immediate limitation of armaments on an international scale, a measure which should lead to total disarmament; and finally compulsory arbitration for the settlement of all conflicts between nations.
These ideas were soon well on their way. The milestones were to be the Conference of Leeds in 1916, that of London in September, 1917, and those of Stockholm and Bern in June and October of the same year.
At Leeds the idea of an international labour organization appeared in a trade-union text which also drew attention to the danger to the working classes inherent in the existence of international capitalist competition. In the report made on behalf of the C.G.T. we affirmed that the Peace Treaty should, in accordance with the spirit of workers' organizations, lay the first foundations of the United States of Europe. In London there was strong support for the idea of the League of Nations itself, along with all its corollaries: general disarmament preceded by limitation of armaments, and compulsory arbitration, both of which the C.G.T. had advocated three years previously.
At Stockholm in June, 1917, the representatives of the trade unions in the Central European and Scandinavian countries declared their complete agreement with the decisions taken at Leeds and even expressed their congratulations to the union organizations of the Allied countries and most particularly to the C.G.T. Another International Conference of Trade Unions was called at Bern for the beginning of October, 1917, by the Association of Swiss Trade Unions. The national organizations of Germany, Austria, Bohemia, Bulgaria, Denmark, Hungary, The Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, and Switzerland were represented, and they confirmed the resolutions adopted at Leeds and London.
The Inter-Allied Labour and Socialist Conference which took place in London in February of 1918 was perhaps even more important. Our French organization delivered a memorandum there containing, certainly, many ideas that had already been voiced before, but in it we also demanded the creation of a supranational authority, the "formation of an international legislative assembly" and "the gradual development of an international legislation accepted by all and binding all in a clearly defined way". We were ahead of our time, far ahead in fact, since thirty-three years later these proposals have still not been put into effect. The Conference requested that "at least one representative of socialism and of labour should sit with the official representatives at the official Peace Conference". This request, which was reiterated by the C.G.T. on December 15, 1918, in more or less identical terms, was granted by two governments; in consequence, Gompers and I were attached to the delegations of the U.S.A. and France in the capacity of technical experts. We collaborated in bringing our efforts in behalf of the trade-union movement to bear on the elaboration of the Treaty, particularly insofar as Part XIII18 was concerned. The working classes were becoming more and more sharply aware of the complex causes of international malaise.
I shall quote two clauses from that part of the Treaty which gave birth to the International Labour Organization and to its permanent instrument the International Labor Office whose activities and tangible results I need not recall here. The two clauses of the Treaty read as follows :
"Whereas, The League of Nations has for its object the establishment of universal peace, and such a peace can be established only if it is based upon social justice;
And whereas, Conditions of labour exist involving such injustice, hardship, and privation to large numbers of people as to produce unrest so great that the peace and harmony of the world are imperilled; and an improvement of those conditions is urgently required..."
From 1918 on, trade unionists were to express from the platforms of their congresses the workers' desire for peace through a rational organization of the world. The meetings of the International Labour Office and even the general Assemblies of the League of Nations, several of which were to have many sessions, were to excite universal interest in their proposals. The trade-union organizations nevertheless continued their autonomous activity. After the International Conference at Bern in February of 1919 and the Congress of Amsterdam in July of the same year, the International Trade-Union Secretariat was replaced by a true International Federation of Trade Unions19 which immediately acquired over twenty million members. One of its first acts was an appeal to International solidarity to alleviate the terrible misery prevailing within Austria; and the Austrian workers escaped famine, thanks to the many trainloads of supplies sent by various trade unions and cooperative societies. The second intervention of the F.S.I. was on behalf of the Hungarian trade unions, whose liberty was being threatened.
Some have forgotten - for forgetting is as blissful as ignorance - that the F.S.I. intervened with equal vigour on behalf of the Russian workers; its representatives, O'Grady, Wauters, and later Thomson, actually lived in Russia until 1923 in order to supervise the distribution of food and medicines sent by the Federation. Furthermore, it is not distorting history to say that it was largely through the efforts and propaganda of our International Federation that the government of the U.S.S.R. was recognized by the majority of the great powers.
However, the trade unionists did not confine themselves to mitigating the cruel consequences of war. They sought the means to establish a stable peace, emphasizing that it should be founded on a basis of worldwide economic and social stability. In fact, the majority of the proposals ultimately put before the League of Nations originated in the international congresses of the International Federation of Trade Unions and in the World Peace Congress which the latter convened at The Hague in 1922. We asked for the organization of exchanges, the circulation of manpower, the distribution of raw materials, and the prohibition of private manufacture of arms for international circulation.
It was at about this time that the League of Nations set up a Temporary Mixed Commission for the purpose of studying methods for dealing with international traffic in armaments, munitions, and war matériel20. The opinion of the workers now carried such weight that the Commission included three representatives of the workers from the Governing Body of the International Labour Office. A convention was drawn up on June 17, 1925, in which the principle of supervision, as opposed to that of simple propaganda, was recognized, thanks to the efforts of the labour members, of whom I was one. However, not all of our suggestions were followed; we had, for instance, requested internationalised supervision, the auditing of the books of business enterprises, proper measures designed to prevent influencing the press and the setting up of international cartels, together with the standardisation of national inspections.
It is curious to note - somewhat bitterly - that the principle of internationalised supervision always meets with strong opposition. Yesterday it came from the private manufacture of arms, today from armament itself I remain convinced, as do my comrades of the C.I.S.L 21, that we cannot talk seriously of general, or even of partial, disarmament, without accepting the need for effective international surveillance.
At the Economic Conference of 1927 I was again spokesman for the trade unions. The principal arguments in my statement of May 5, were as follows :
"On behalf of my comrades, representing the workers, I would like at this International Economic Conference to pay tribute to the recognition of the high ideals which the trade-union movement has always defended.
It is the opinion of the labour organizations that economic collaboration between peoples is a necessity. Immediately after the war during the armistice period - in February of 1919 - in examining the conditions necessary for peace and exploring the possible bases on which to found the League of Nations which was still on the drawing board, so to speak, the labour and socialist conferences, meeting simultaneously in Bern, emphasized the necessity of giving the League of Nations precisely that economic foundation which our chairman, Monsieur Theunis22, called for yesterday.
…In 1924, we declared that the organization of a definitive peace requires not only the institution of a law of peace but also that of an economy of peace... No true peace can be established... so long as quasi-military strategy is applied in economic relations. What is needed is a committee for economic cooperation."
On May 23, the last day of the Conference, I voiced the sentiments of my friends when I said: "We have been bold in criticism, too timid in constructive action."
Three years later, with the idea of concerted economic action in mind, the Conference sent a questionnaire to the member states of the League of Nations. The French government instructed the National Economic Council to work out the essentials of the French answer. I had been representing the C.G.T. on this council since its foundation in 1925, and I investigated the practical means of assuring the most satisfactory conditions for the distribution and optimum utilization of European raw materials among the various nations. Expressing the thoughts of my comrades, I suggested, among other means, the organization of an international information service on inventories, on production, and on the needs of the various countries for raw materials.
We also took an active part in 1931 on the Unemployment Committee of the Commission of Inquiry for European Union23, in 1933 at the Monetary and Economic Conference in London, and on the Comité des grands travaux internationaux, through which the International Labour Office and the League of Nations, taking up the proposals of the trade unions, sought to establish healthy collaboration among nations in the struggle against under-employment and toward the creation of new sources of wealth. But all these conferences, all these meetings, succeeded in doing nothing to rid the world of the prevailing economic crisis. The will to organize the world on a rational basis, or at least to modify its most apparent incongruities, had clearly not been strong enough to counteract the combined effects of inertia, egoism, and incomprehension.
Efforts to wrest weapons away from nations bending under the weight of so many instruments of death were equally futile. All the same, I cannot forget the first sessions of the Conference for the Limitation and Reduction of Armaments. Those early days of February, 1932, were days of hope for humanity. Millions confidently awaited the results of the proceedings of this conference, which was presided over by that veteran militant Laborite Henderson24, and we can claim, with justification, to have had a lot to do with the creation of this enthusiasm. The Socialist Workingmen's International and the International Federation of Trade Unions, zealously vying with each other, had each collected thousands of petitions which the delegations presented to the conference. On February 6, after Vandervelde25 had spoken on behalf of the members of the Socialist Worker's International, I conveyed to the conference the unqualified support of millions of trade unionists.
That day remains one of the highlights of my life. I was intensely aware that I was expressing not only the unanimous hope of the workers of an entire world, still bruised by the recent holocaust, but also their clear understanding of the real conditions necessary for disarmament. In their name, I assured the members of the conference of the complete readiness of the trade-union organizations to cooperate in making effective and sincere the procedures of national and international supervision, without which partial disarmament would be either illusory or inoperative.
The attempt to bring about disarmament was as fruitless as the efforts in the economic sphere, and a few years later, with empty stomachs as its excuse, Italian fascism launched itself upon Abyssinia. We trade unionists knew very well that peace was indivisible, and we had no doubt that the weakness of the League of Nations would render it powerless and herald a new period of massacre and destruction. We were insistent and even violent in our demands that the Covenant should be applied and that sanctions be put into effect. We were voices crying in the wilderness. The sanctions were not applied; war broke out in Ethiopia26; and it was followed fatally, logically, and inexorably by the intervention in Spain27, the reoccupation of the left bank of the Rhine28, the Anschluss29, the Munich agreements30, and the Second World War31.
I do not want to enlarge upon our opposition to this policy of weakness whereby the principle of collective security was abandoned. We know only too well what the lack of resolution on the part of the democracies has cost them.
Once more the earth was laid waste by war. Even so, we do not believe that action in the cause of peace is a Sisyphean labour; and that the deadly stone will forever keep on rolling back down to crush mankind. We will yet manage to lodge the stone firmly at the top of the hill.
As soon as the Fascists and Nazis had laid down their arms, the trade unionists began to rethink the problems of peace.
Toward the end of 1947, the C.G.T.-F.O32 revived the traditions and spirit of our old C.G.T., and in speeches, articles, and reports we again took up and specified the solutions which the C.G.T., along with the International Federation of Trade Unions, had offered to the world as a way to salvation.
We approved the Marshall Plan33 because it was a manifestation of international solidarity, because its benefits could be extended to any nation without discrimination, and because we could not see in it any expression of a policy of prestige or force of arms since it invested the beneficiary states with the right to use the credits as they saw fit.
We approved the propaganda in favour of European Unity and emphasized that we would regard such unification as the first step on the road to World Unity. In my capacity as a trade unionist, I was elected president of the European Movement in February of 1949, and in the following spring I opened the Westminster Economic Conference34 by expressing our common sentiment as follows:
"It is normal, it is logical, it is in conformity with the very spirit of history that the organized working class should have an active part in the construction of Europe. It has always proclaimed that it would not, could not, and had no wish to disassociate the struggle for its emancipation from the constant battle to maintain peace, because doing so would have set up barriers which international events would have swept away like piles of chaff."
It is a matter of Europe's consolidation, not of its isolation. This human mass, which has such a vast wealth of natural resources at its disposal and whose intellectual potential is the greatest on earth, is not willing to cut itself off from the rest of the world. It is ready to welcome all who wish to be associated with its efforts: "The Europe we are building will have more doors and windows than walls."
In July, 1950, in an introduction to the reports on the Social Conference of the European Movement, I stressed again the importance of its objective of international peace and of social justice:
"We want to make Europe simply a peninsula of the vast Eurasian Continent, where for thousands of years war has been the only way to resolve conflicts between peoples. We want Europe to be a peaceable community united, despite and within its diversity, in a constant and ardent struggle against human misery and all the suffering and dangers that it engenders. We have no desire to make Europe into a larger, better entrenched, better armed fortress."
We approved the Schuman Plan for a European Coal and Steel Community35. A few days after the declaration of May 9, 1950 - on May 31 to be exact - in commenting on the Ruhr Statute36 in a C.I.S.L. Conference journal, I wrote :
"The promoters of the <Combinat> can take as their objective... only the progressive unification of Europe. However, this unification cannot be an end in itself.
The final and essential goal, the only valid goal, is to extend the well-being of the worker, to give him a more equitable share of the products of collective work, to make Europe a social democracy, and to ensure the peace desired by men of every race and tongue by proving that the democracies can bring about social justice through the rational organization of production without sacrificing the liberty and the dignity of the individual.
... The pool should be only one stage in a process of continuous creation. The C.I.S.L. has decided to follow its development closely in order to be in a position to give it effective collaboration."
We recommended the organization of a worldwide market for raw materials and in this connection recalled just what it is that we intend to defend in defending democracy :
"What are we all trying to save? What are we trying to safeguard? Civil liberties: specifically, the right of all citizens to hold their own opinions and to express them freely on the great questions of moral, philosophical, political, and economic import, and the right to form associations. But democracy is not, nor can it be, merely a theoretical respect for these rights. It must give every man effective opportunities to enjoy them, and it must do so under the kind of moral and material conditions that will encourage him to exercise such rights.
One who must be constantly preoccupied with his own subsistence cannot be an alert citizen.
I said recently in a short address to the Economic Council that economic justice is one of the factors in the moral health of nations. There is no economic order in inflationist policies and in underemployment."
The C.I.S.L. commissioned me to put before the U.N. Assembly at Lake Success a draft resolution whose main paragraph read as follows: "The General Assembly... recommends to the participating nations that they seek above all the means of establishing international regulation of the distribution and cost of raw materials and that, to this end, they contribute to the creation of a common stabilization fund."
We have constantly defended the two inseparable principles of collective security and general disarmament, effected through the reassessment and international supervision of military strength and of all categories of instruments of war.
A synthesis of our doctrine was attempted on the occasion of the C.I.S.L. Congress at Milan in July, 1951, in the report on the role of the trade-union movement in international crisis.
In this report we have fixed our objectives: first and above all, to spare humanity the colossal ordeal of a third world war.
In it we have stated our principles : to act within the framework and under the aegis of the United Nations Organization, to develop a spirit of community and a spirit of cooperation, and to return to collective economic disciplines.
Finally, we have set forth some of the forms our activity will take: the organization of the distribution of raw materials and the fixing of the prices of basic products; the solution of the housing problem; the fight against restrictive practices in production by national and international cartels; and above all the effective participation of the organized workers in the management of social and economic affairs in every country in the world. Since this Congress is the most recent of the many manifestations of the desire for peace on the part of the free trade unions, I believe I could give no better conclusion to this survey of fifty years of trade-union activity in behalf of the rational organization of the world and of peace - which are absolutely inseparable - than by giving the final lines of this report practically unaltered.
The free trade-union movement is called on to play an essential part in the fight against international crisis and for the advent of true peace. The scope of the task is enormous, matched only by its urgency. Our movement intends to devote its efforts to this task regardless of the cost. I might add that it was enormously encouraged by the recent interventions of the government delegates on the Third Committee of the present General Assembly of the United Nations. The Cuban delegate Mr. Ichaso, among others, showed that certain official circles had adopted the idea which we have been propagating for years and which we have already succeeded in putting into the Treaty of Versailles: the idea that economic disorder and misery are among the determinative causes of wars.
The decision of the Committee of the Norwegian Parliament, which, in awarding me the Nobel Peace Prize for 1951, has recognized and proclaimed the importance and the steadfastness of the pacifist efforts of the trade unionists, cannot but greatly assist the spread of these ideas and considerably extend their sphere of influence. It strengthens the common will of those who have conceived and submitted these ideas to the consideration of men, and of those who have been convinced by them, to work ceaselessly to develop a society free of injustice and violence.
We know well, alas, that men and their civilizations are mortal. We wish to leave to indifferent nature the responsibility of their demise and to free mankind at last from its remorse for having begotten Cain.
2. The Commune of Paris (March-May, 1871) was set up at the end of the Franco-Prussian War (1870-1871) by the Parisians who, refusing to accept Prussian peace terms, held the city, with the aid of the French National Guard, against the French provisional government at Versailles; the workers, who had protested the war from the beginning, had a large part in encouraging and implementing the revolt.
3. On December 10, 1948. See René Cassin, pp.383-411.
5. Confédération générale du travail [General Confederation of Labour] known as the C.G.T.; one of the leading French labour organizations, it included, before WWI, almost all of the organized workers in France. Although individually its worker members usually voted for Socialists, the C.G.T. kept itself free of any actual party affiliations until the 1940's when the Communists gained control of the organization.
12. A diplomatic crisis in Anglo-French relations (1898), involving rival claims in the upper Nile region, occurred when the French took the town of Fashoda in S. Sudan while the British were putting down a revolt in N. Sudan. A peaceful settlement was effected, with the French giving up their claims.
14. Fernand Pelloutier (1867-1901), secretary of the Fédération nationale des Bourses du travail and manager of the weekly journal L'Ouvrier des deux mondes. One of the Guérard brothers was at one time secretary of the C.G.T. Auguste Keufer (1851-1924), positivist leader of the French union reform movement; secretary of the Fédération du livre until 1920.
16. Samuel Gompers (1850-1924), American labour leader; in 1881 helped to found the Federation of Organized Trades and Labour Unions, which became the American Federation of Labour (A.F. of L.) in 1886; president of A.F. of L. (1886-1924, except 1895).
23. The Commission of Inquiry for European Union was created in September, 1930, under the auspices of the League of Nations, with Aristide Briand its president. Its Unemployment Committee was authorized by the League Council early in 1931.
32. Force Ouvrière, a non-Communist labour federation officially known as C.G.T.- F.O., was formed in 1947 by a group (including Jouhaux) that seceded from the C.G.T. because of its Communist control.
33. The European Recovery Program, integrating U.S. aid to Europe (after WWII) with an organized program of recovery and cooperation in Europe itself, was proposed (1947) by George C. Marshall, U.S. secretary of state (1947-1949) and recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize for 1953.
34. The European Movement (for European unity) later in 1949 created the Council of Europe, whose objective is a more closely integrated European community. For an account of the Movement and its Westminster Economic Conference, see European Movement and the Council of Europe, with Forewords by Winston S. Churchill and Paul-Henri Spaak, published on behalf of The European Movement by Hutchinson, London, 1950.
35. A plan proposed on May 9, 1950, by Robert Schuman (1886-1963), French foreign minister (1948-1953), for a European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) whose members would pool their coal and steel, providing a unified market for them - this to be done and regulated under a supranational authority; the ECSC was established in 1952, with France, Italy, West Germany, Belgium, The Netherlands, and Luxembourg as members.
36. Adopted in December, 1948, at a conference held in London by the United States, Great Britain, France, and the three Benelux countries, it provided an authority under which West German coal, coke, and steel were apportioned between German domestic consumption and export.
From Nobel Lectures, Peace 1951-1970, Editor Frederick W. Haberman, Elsevier Publishing Company, Amsterdam, 1972
Copyright © The Nobel Foundation 1951
MLA style: "Léon Jouhaux - Nobel Lecture: Fifty Years of Trade-Union Activity in Behalf of Peace". Nobelprize.org. 23 May 2013 http://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/peace/laureates/1951/jouhaux-lecture.html