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  • 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!
  • I wish to register my agreement with and support for philipbn's excellent review of this essential film — with one rejoinder. It has become quite fashionable recently, among various commentators, to "discover" the domination of finance capital over all other forms in contemporary capitalist society. Such "discoveries" are late by nearly a century. V.I. Lenin analyzed the triumph of finance capital in his seminal work "Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism," published in 1916(!).

    One of the great strengths of "Les Lip" (for those who are politically prepared to grasp it) is its deeply perceptive portrayal of the psychology of reformism and the reformist. The strike leader who decides to work with management after the factory's takeover by "enlightened capitalist" Neuschwander convinces himself that he is doing something useful for the factory's workers and scoffs at accusations that he is a traitor. He simply is incapable of recognizing his betrayal. How much unnecessary blood has been shed because of those with his mentality!

    The film's main weakness, in my opinion, was its failure (and that of the strike leaders) to objectively analyze the strike's long-term goals and its prospects of meeting those goals. The leaders actually seemed surprised when the French ruling class decided to unleash the CRS riot squads and retake the factory.

    For me, the most thrilling moments in the film came with the outpouring of support for and solidarity with the Lip strikers by workers from all over France and from other countries as well. Taking a vacation from one's job in order to help the strikers and to learn from them became a widely popular activity. The progression from this wonderful state of mind to its ultimate fruition — a workers' government — dangled tantalizingly above this reviewer's head and made me ache for the day when such exemplary proletarian solidarity comes again, even, one may hope, in the reactionary USA.

    Barry Freed