In spite of its social historical importance, the fin-de-siècle labor exchanges, in particular their educational services, remain poorly known. Through an analysis of labor union congresses, the labor press, as well as the practical experiences of several French labor exchanges in Center-West France, this article shows how the daily practice of activists at these centers gradually led members of the CGT to modify their visions of labor education. While the ideological pre-conceptions of the main CGT leaders remained firm, their pragmatism and the difficulties they experienced led them to compromise their principles concerning labor autonomy, and to soften their mistrust towards people’s universities. The growing numbers of school teachers in the CGT during the 1910s also contributed to this change. These teachers familiarized the workers with the transformative potential of the Republican school, leading them to believe that it could be changed from within, and helping them to imagine a university education for the workers.
By David Hamelin