I saw the film at Espace St Michel on 22.3.07 with a discussion with Christian Rouaud afterwards. He mentioned that there are fictional film treatments in the works; it will be interesting to see how those handle the story.
Using new interviews and old news and other footage, this documentary tells the story of the epochal Lip watch factory strike and worker takeover of 1973-75, in Besancon. This is an important episode in recent French labor history and looms large in discussions of post-1968 labor developments, even though few studies or films have appeared thus far. The strike and worker takeover drew support from all over France and Europe, but was eventually broken by armed Government intervention and the imposition of a new management. Seen from today's historical perspective, the incident marks the end of the firm-centered and production-centered factory economy of the modern era and the beginning of the finance-capital era of downsizing and neoliberalism that we live in today. It also contains interesting new information about the role of Jacques Chirac in the final CGT-Government deal to resolve the strike and disempower the workers' councils. Apparently Chirac has already denied that he played the role this information suggests.
Obviously the film will retell the story for a new generation and serve as a primer for non-Francophone viewers who eventually will see it with subtitles (I hope). It takes the viewer through the stages of the strike and takeover, and provides many insights into the price the leaders eventually paid for their devotion to their fellow workers. It does not heroize the strikers naively, but develops the complexity of the strike process and the multiple forces that were at work. An appreciation of this complexity makes both the great achievement of the workers and their final defeat all the more tragic. Rouaud's narrative does a good job of clarifying tensions between the strikers and the CGT (the primary union involved) on the one hand, and the Gaullist government on the other. That's already a lot for the documentary to do, so the extra attention paid to gender issues, and the "personal" responses of the leaders are all added features. The amazing anecdotes about how the strikers hid the factory's money and materiels are very entertaining.
The footage consists primarily of very moving interviews with strike leaders and organizers (Piaget, Raguenes, Vittot, Jeanningros and other men; Demougeot, Pierre-Emile, Darteville for the women), the Gaullist minister Charbonnel, and Neuschwander, the manager brought in by the government to follow the overt violence of the police with a more subtle managerial violence designed to divide and break the workers.
Overall, this is an important film for anyone interested in labor issues and post-1968 radical culture. Although the film's organization is very well-done, elegant even, I still wish Rouaud had taken the narrative all the way to the final denouement of the worker takeover.
Please bring this out on a DVD with subtitles in other languages.
As the leaders keep insisting, things can be different!
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