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Most remarkable of all strikes within recent history, the French paralysis of industry and trade continues to grow. It is a situation which abounds in paradoxes. The greatest of them all, of course, is the fact that the strike is intended to force the hand of a newly-elected Leftist government which was placed in power to transact many of the specific measures demanded by the strikers.
Fear of the outbreaks becoming a general strike, attended by violence and suffering, seems temporarily abated, but self-restraint is never a long-enduring phenomenon of such disruptions of economic and political life. It is, therefore, easy to understand why Premier Blum has promised everything to the discontented. He may, perhaps, be acquitted of expediency, but there were but two courses open to him. One--repression--was unthinkable since he is a man of strict Socialist principles and depends almost entirely on Leftist support. The only other alternative, which he took, was an immediate guarantee that he would clear away all the reasons for the workers complaints.
Former ministries, often with Socialist tags, but always with varying shades of liberal rather than Socialist opinions, might have offered some compromise. Not so the Popular Front government, being constituted as it is, with the radical left in absolute control of the lower house, and hence, in control of the ministry.
The sweeping declaration of M. Blum that he will enact laws providing for, among other matters, a forty-hour week, collective labor agreements, paid holidays for workers, political amnesty, a public works program, nationalization of war industries, extension of compulsory education, reform of the Bank of France creation of a wheat board, etc., is one calculated to cause consternation in the hearts of most spectators. Not that most of these measures do not call for careful scrutiny and a few for action as soon as possible. It is rather fear engendered by thoughts as to how carefully and effectively the measures are to be worked out.
Americans have bitter cause to remember a "program"--in many respects similar to M. Blum's--full of glittering promises, some of which could be subscribed to "in principle" by thoughtful people. The botched execution, the lack of fundamental planning, and above all, the record of ill-success has left many disillusioned and ready to reckon how much has been destroyed and how little constructed in its place.
Take, for example, the case of the Bank of France. It is proposed that it will be reformed "to guarantee a preponderance of national interests in its management." This is one of those glowing generalities which can be interpreted to suit the individual taste. But the great question is how. Economists have long agreed that the Bank of France should be able to exert a stabilizing influence in national life, and should particularly have power to exert its influence through effective use of re-discount and open-market policies.
But helpless as the Bank is today, the country will be better off without change if the Bank is only "reformed" to the extent of making it a political shuttle-cock. The strike and M. Blum's program have far-reaching effects in other than the national sphere, for France is essential to the delicate balance of European peace. Let there be one misstep--in connection with the Bank of France or elsewhere--then the whole foundation of European polity and security will crumble away.
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