When the CGT did humanitarian work: Spanish children evacuated to France (1936–1939)

The CGT abroad
By Célia Keren

The French labor movement determinedly led the efforts to evacuate and receive Spanish children in France during the Spanish Civil War. The committee set up by the French General Confederation of Labor (CGT) was responsible for more than 10,000 children: that is, the majority of the 15,000 sent to France without their parents between 1936 and 1939. The aim of this article is to understand the motivations and resources of the involvement of the CGT in a cause that was, at first glance, rather remote from its agenda. It shows that this issue arrived at the right moment for a specific sector within the CGT, grouped around the secretary-general, which used child aid to offset the growing communist hold on the Aid Spain movement. The CGT then set up a reception network by converting the resources, practices, and structures of the labor movement. However, as its work relied on the insecure resources of the working class, this relief action was at risk in the event of an economic downturn or a political backlash, and could not withstand the repression that hit the French working class after the general strike of November 1938. The case of the CGT’s child aid scheme thus shows the advantages and limitations of humanitarian action, specifically when it is not carried out by a humanitarian organization.

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