Fields, Factories, and Workshops : Appendix U : Petty Trades in the Lyons Region

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(1842 - 1921) ~ Russian Father of Anarcho-Communism : As anarchism's most important philosophers he was in great demand as a writer and contributed to the journals edited by Benjamin Tucker (Liberty), Albert Parsons (Alarm) and Johann Most (Freiheit). Tucker praised Kropotkin's publication as "the most scholarly anarchist journal in existence." (From : Spartacus Educational Bio.)
• "ANARCHISM, the name given to a principle or theory of life and conduct under which society is conceived without government - harmony in such a society being obtained, not by submission to law, or by obedience to any authority, but by free agreements concluded between the various groups, territorial and professional, freely constituted for the sake of production and consumption, as also for the satisfaction of the infinite variety of needs and aspirations of a civilized being." (From : "Anarchism," by Peter Kropotkin, from the Encyclop....)
• "...all that is necessary for production-- the land, the mines, the highways, machinery, food, shelter, education, knowledge--all have been seized by the few in the course of that long story of robbery, enforced migration and wars, of ignorance and oppression..." (From : "The Conquest of Bread," by Peter Kropotkin, 1906.)
• "...the strength of Anarchy lies precisely in that it understands all human faculties and all passions, and ignores none..." (From : "The Conquest of Bread," by Peter Kropotkin, 1906.)


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Appendix U

 Photo by Brenda Gottsabund. CC BY-NC License

Photo by Brenda Gottsabund. CC BY-NC License


The neighborhoods of St. Etienne are a great center for all sorts of industries, and among them the petty trades occupy still an important place. Ironworks and coal-mines with their smoking chimney, noisy factories, roads blackened with coal, and a poor vegetation give the country the well-known aspects of a “Black Country.” In certain towns, such as St. Chamond, one finds numbers of big factories in which thousands of women are employed in the fabrication of passementerie. But side by side with the great industry the petty trades also maintain a high development. Thus we have first the fabrication of silk ribbons, in which no less than 50,000 men and women were employed in the year 1885. Only 3,000 or 4,000 looms were located then in the factories; while the remainder- that is, from 1,200 to 1,400 looms- belonged to the workers themselves, both at St. Etienne and in the surrounding country.*

* I am indebted for the following information to M.V. Euvert, President of the Chamber of Commerce of St. Etienne, who sent me, while I was in the Clairvaux prison, in April, 1885, a most valuable sketch of the various industries of the region, in reply to a letter of mine, and I avail myself of the opportunity for expressing to M. Euvert my best thanks for his courtesy. This information has now an historical value only. But it is such an interesting page of the history of the small industries that I retain it as it was in the first edition, the more so as it is most interesting to compare it with the pages given in the text to the present conditions of the same industries.

As a rule the women and the girls spin the silk or make the winding off, while the father with his sons weave the ribbons. I saw these small workshops in the suburbs of St. Etienne, where complicated ribbons (with interwoven addresses of the manufacture), as well as ribbons of high artistic finish, were woven in three to four looms, while in the next room the wife prepared the dinner and attended to household work.

There was a time when the wages were high in the ribbon trade (reaching over ten francs a day), and M. Euvert wrote me that half of the suburban houses of St. Etienne had been built by the passementiers themselves. But the affairs took a very gloomy aspect when a crisis broke out in 1884. No orders were forthcoming and the ribbon weavers had to live on casual earnings. All their economies were soon spent, “How many,” M. Euvert wrote, “have been compelled to sell for a few hundred francs the loom for which they had paid as many thousand francs.” What an effect this crisis has had on the trade I could not say, as I have no recent information about his region. Very probably a great number of the ribbon weavers have emigrated to St. Etienne, where artistic weaving is continued, while the cheapest sorts of ribbon must be made in factories.

The manufacture of arms occupies from 5,000 to 6,000 workers, half of whom are in St. Etienne, and the remainder in the neighboring country. All work is done in small workshops, save in the great arm factory of the State, which sometimes will employ from 10,000 to 15,000 persons, and sometimes only a couple of thousand men.

Another important trade in the same region is the manufacture of hardware, which is all made in small workshops, in the neighborhoods of St. Etienne, Le Chambon, Firminy, Rive de Giers, and St. Bonnet le Château. The work is pretty regular, but the earnings are low as a rule. And yet the peasants continue to keep those trades, as they cannot go on without some industrial occupation during part of the year.

The yearly production of silk stuffs in France attained no less than 7,558,000 kilograms in 1881;*

* It had been 5,134,000 kilograms in 1872. Journal de la Société de Statistique de Paris, September, 1883.

and most of the 5,000,000 to 6,000,000 kilograms of raw silk which were manufactured in the Lyons region were manufactured by hand.*

* I take these figures from a detailed letter which the President of the Lyons Chamber of Commerce kindly directed to me in April, 1885, to Clairvaux, in answer to my inquiries about the subject. I avail myself of this opportunity for addressing to him my best thanks for his most interesting communication.

Twenty years before- that is, about 1865- there were only from 6,000 to 8,000 power-looms, and when we take into account both the prosperous period of the Lyons silk industry about 1876, and the crisis which it underwent in 1880-1886, we cannot but wonder about the slowness of the transformation of the industry. Such is also the opinion of the President of the Lyons Chamber of Commerce, who wrote me that the domain of the power-loom is increased every year, “by including new kinds of stuffs, which formerly were reputed as unfeasible in the power-looms; but,” he added, “the transformation of small workshops into factories still goes on so slowly that the total number of power-looms reaches only from 20,000 to 25,000 out of an aggregate of from 100,000 to 110,000.” (Since that time it certainly must have considerably increased.)

The leading features of the Lyons silk industry are the following:-

The preparatory work- winding off, warping and so on- is mostly made in small workshops, chiefly at Lyons, with only a few workshops of the kind in the villages. Dyeing and finishing are also made- of course, in great factories- and it is especially in dyeing, which occupies 4,000 to 5,000 hands, that the Lyons manufacturers have attained their highest repute. Not only silks are dyed there, but also cottons and wools, and not only for France, but also to some extent for London, Manchester, Vienna, and even Moscow. It is also in this branch that the best machines have to be mentioned.*

* La fabrique lyonnaise de soieries. Son passé, son prêsent. Imprimé par ordre de la Chambre de Commerce de Lyon, 1873. (Published in connection with the Vienna Exhibition.)

As to the weaving, it is made, as we just saw, on from 20,000 to 25,000 power-looms and from 75,000 to 90,000 hand-looms, which partly are at Lyons (from 15,000 to 18,000 hand-looms in 1885) and chiefly in the villages. The workshops, where on might formerly find several compagnons

Employed by one master, have a tendency to disappear, the workshops mostly having now but from two to three hand-looms, on which the father, the mother, and the children are working together. In each house, in each story of the Croix Rousse, you find until now such small workshops. The fabricant gives the general indications as to the kind of stuff he desires to be woven, and his draftsmen design the pattern, but it is the workman himself who must find the way to weave in threads of all colors the patterns sketched on paper. He thus continually creates something new; and many improvements and discoveries have been made by workers whose very names remain unknown.*

* Marius Morand, L’organization ouvrière de la fabrique lyonnaise; paper read before the Association Française pour l’avencement des Sciences, in 1873.

The Lyons weavers have retained until now the character of being the elite of their trade in higher artistic work in silk stuffs. The finest, really artistic brocades, satins and velvets, are woven in the smallest workshops, where one or two looms only are kept. Unhappily the unsettled character of the demand for such a high style of work is often a cause of misery among them. In former times, when the orders for higher sorts of silks became scarce, the Lyons weavers resorted to the manufacture of stuffs of lower qualities: foulards, crepes, tulles, of which Lyons had the monopoly in Europe. But now the commoner kinds of goods are manufactured by the million, on the one side by the factories of Lyons, Saxony, Russia, and Great Britain, and on the other side by peasants in the neighboring departments of France, as well as in the Swiss villages of the cantons of Basel and Zurich, and in the villages of the Rhine provinces, Italy, and Russia.

The emigration of the French silk industry from the towns to the villages began long ago- that is, about 1817- but it was especially in the sixties that this movement took a great development. About the year 1872 nearly 90,000 hand-looms were scattered, not only in the Rhône department, but also in those of Ain, Isère, Loire, Saône-et-Loire, and even those of Drôme, Ardèche, and Sovoie. Sometimes the looms were supplied by the merchants, but most of them were bought by the weavers themselves, and it was the especially women and girls who worked on them at the hours free from agriculture. But already since 1835 the emigration of the silk industry from the city to the villages began in the shape of great factories erected in the villages, and such factories continue to spread in the country, making terrible havoc amid the rural populations.

When a new factory is built in a village it attracts at once the girls, and partly also the boys of the neighboring peasantry. The girls and boys are always happy to find an independent livelihood which emancipates them from the control of the family. Consequently, the wages of the factory girls are extremely low. At the same time the distance from the village to the factory being mostly great, the girls cannot return home every day, the less so as the hours of labor are usually long. So they stay all the week at the factory, in barracks, and they only return home on Saturday evening; while at sunrise on Monday a wagon makes the tour of the villages, and brings them back to the factory. Barrack life- not to mention its moral consequences- soon renders the girls quite unable to work in the fields. And, when they are grown up, they discover that they cannot maintain themselves at the low wages offered by the factory; but they can no more return to peasant life. It is easy to see what havoc the factory is thus doing in the villages, and how unsettled is its very existence, based upon the very low wages offered to country girls. It destroys the peasant home, it renders the life of the town worker still more precarious on account of the competition it makes to him; and the trade itself is in a perpetual state of unsettledness.

Some information about the present state of the small industries in this region will be found in the text; but, unfortunately, we have no modern description of the industrial life of the Lyon’s region, which we might compare with the above.

From : Anarchy Archives


November 30, 1911 :
Appendix U -- Publication.

January 16, 2017 19:45:23 :
Appendix U -- Added to

June 16, 2019 17:14:20 :
Appendix U -- Last Updated on


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