Symposium Honouring Marianne Debouzy Thirty Years of Social History

By Kesselman, Donna | Labour/Le Travail, Spring 2000 | Go to article overview

Symposium Honouring Marianne Debouzy Thirty Years of Social History


Kesselman, Donna, Labour/Le Travail


SCHOLARS FROM NORTH AMERICA and Europe met on 6 and 7 November 1998 in Paris to honour Marianne Debouzy, retiring professor of History, and a member of Labour/Le Travail's International Advisory Board. Organized by historian Jacques Portes at Paris University 8 and Catherine Collomp at Paris University 7, the event was memorable for its convivality as well as its uncompromising intellectual exchange and dialogue, a most fitting tribute to Marianne's scholarship.

In an essay appearing below, Alan Dawley reflects upon Marianne's work and its influence among scholars on both sides of the Atlantic. Dawley's piece is followed by the publication of some selected papers in full. The proceeding summary aims to relate the concerns of researchers present from Quebec, the us and Europe (France, Italy, Germany), whose debt to Debouzy and international concerns are perhaps not well enough known due to barriers of geography and language. Contributions have been regrouped into broad categories of labour and social history: The Working Class: Struggles, Employer Relations, Representations (Bruno Cartosio, Ferdinando Fasce, Annick Foucrier, Pierre Gervais); Immigration (Catherine Collomp, Michel Cordillot, Bruno Groppo, Dirk Hoerder); Workers and the State (David Brody, Alan Dawley, Donna Kesselman); Other Contributions (Ronald Creagh, Nelcya Delanoe, Michele Gibault, James Green, Hubert Perrier, Bruno Ramirez, Sylvia Ullmo). The categories are not mutually exclusive. To the contrary, as James Green notes in his concluding paper below, what characterizes the maturation of our field of social history is its very complication, its attempt to weave the multiple threads of human interaction into a more complete historical fabric, a central strand of which is class relations in all of their complexity.

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Working Class: Struggles, Employer Relations, Representations

In "From Workshop to Factory: Managing Workers during the First Industrial Revolution", Pierre Gervais (Paris University 8) probed the nature of working-class struggles at the time of early capitalist exploitation. The advent of newly integrated production facilities, says Gervais, did not in itself overturn former management practices. The Lowell, Massachusetts, textile mill was one example of transition, a "mechanized workshop" where artisans produced at a single location as a layer of sub-contractors, selling their goods at a negotiated price to factory owners who then resold them to merchants. "Profits" were split between producers and factory owners, not reinvested to improve productivity, and merchants were the system's greatest beneficiaries. Social conflict, then, did not yet pit wage-earners against employers but vented resistance to declining prices in a modernizing market which was squeezing out the less productive craftsman-based mode. Industrial rationalization implied shopfloor relations based on reduced production costs, a tough step to take for both artisan-producers and managers. In early 19th-century America, then, differentiated forms of struggle cohabitated as industrial management techniques were introduced at varying rates.

The "1917 San Francisco Strike of French Laundry Workers" studied by Annick Foucrier (Paris University 13 at CNRS) shows how workers' struggle sparked new dynamics among the city's French immigrants. Workfloor tensions had already led to separate professional and workers' associations--preceded by "French" to denote their specific heritage--while paternalist relations between dry cleaning employers and employees during off-time helped sustain community ties. The strike marked the growing class mindset of these former rural peasants from the French Beam region, all the more cogent as homeland nostalgia might logically have deepened the sentimental appeal of wartime cross-class alliances, The Syndicat d'Ouvriers blanchisseurs francais, the French Laundry Workers Union's informal links with the IWW, accented a militant, workers' internationalist stand, while at the same time, strike demands reflected those of all American workers for better working conditions and shorter hours. …

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