French Miners’ Families Win New Battle Over 1948 Strike

A protester uses a flare during a demonstration in Lyon, central France, last year. (AP Photo/Laurent Cipriani)

LILLE, France (AFP) — A top French court on Friday sided with the descendants of coal miners fired after a brutal crackdown against a strike more than 70 years ago, potentially marking the final twist in a long-running legal fight.

The divisive walkout in the autumn of 1948 proved a turning point in France’s labor history, and marked the country’s entry into the Cold War that was descending on the continent.

Tens of thousands of miners downed tools across northern France to protest against a pay cut in the newly nationalized industry, on top of rampant inflation that was already eroding their earnings.

The move was all the more insulting coming just after the patriotic “coal battle” that saw miners dig virtually nonstop to get electricity and heating back on during the harsh reconstruction years following World War II.

By 1948, Soviet influence was tightening its grip on the CGT union, which urged extreme action that got little backing from more moderate labor groups. 

The split encouraged the government to crack down fiercely, sending in police and tanks to crush the rebellion and putting thousands in jail.

Nearly 3,000 workers were fired in retaliation, depriving them of the free lodging, heating and health care they enjoyed as workers in the strategically crucial industry.

For decades the miners sought compensation for unfair dismissal, finally winning their fight under Socialist president Francois Hollande in 2014, who granted them each $35,500, at current rates.

The compensation law also granted 5,000 euros to each of their children, but only if the dismissed miner filed a claim with the state.

By then, however, many of the miners had died, prompting around 50 descendants to launch a legal battle that culminated with a filing at France’s Constitutional Council, which rules on the legality of legislation.

On Friday, the court said the 2014 decision “was contrary to the principle of equality before the law,” and filings by descendants were sufficient to claim the compensation.

© Agence France-Presse

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