How the ‘Lejabys’ Came into Being: Artists and Workers in Struggle. A Spatio-Temporal Odyssey between ‘Mobilising’ and ‘Organising’

Géraldine Schmidt1*, Damien Mourey2 and Natalia Bobadilla3

1IAE Paris, University Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne, France
2University of French Polynesia, France
3Université Sorbonne Paris Nord, Villetaneuse, France


Citation: M@n@gement 2023: 26(1): 3–34 - http://dx.doi.org/10.37725/mgmt.2023.4578.

Copyright: © 2023 Schmidt et al. This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/4.0/), permitting all non-commercial use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.
Published by AIMS, with the support of the Institute for Humanities and Social Sciences (INSHS).

Received: 26 March 2020; Accepted: 18 December 2021; Published: 15 March 2023

Handling Editor: Thomas Roulet

*Corresponding author: Géraldine Schmidt, Email: geraldine.schmidt@iae.pantheonsorbonne.fr



Art and other creative approaches can be a resource or a mobilising strategy for activists and artists. Little work has been done, however, on what happens in the interactions between artists and activists in the daily life of a conflict. We suggest that social mobilisations may be seen as organising processes as well as mobilising actions, and we analyse how creative and artistic approaches may contribute to this organising/mobilising reciprocal relationship. Based on an analysis of the conflict that accompanied the announcement of the Lejaby plant closure in Yssingeaux in 2012, which inspired several artists, we show that these approaches, by their capacity to grasp sensitive dimensions, favour spatio-temporal episodes that structure the struggle: some constitute protected spaces, which can correspond to an intimate reflexive time or to a collective moment of synchronisation of subjective temporalities; others correspond to hybridised spaces, which can be sometimes empowering and sometimes theatrical. We thus contribute both to the field of social movement analysis and to the role of art and creativity in the organisation and mobilisation within these movements; we also contribute to a relational reading of the spatial and temporal dimensions of organisation and collective action, in the tradition of Lefebvre and Massey.

Keywords: Social conflict; Social movement; Art; Creativity; Arts-based methods; Time; Space

Corporate restructuring processes, the frequency and scale of which are enjoying new momentum in a context of crisis, have tended to be trivialised and even euphemised. Whilst academic researchers in management have strived for more than three decades to identify its causes and effects (Datta et al., 2010), a number of blind spots remain when it comes to the finer understanding of the events experienced during restructuring. For the people, work collectives, organisations or areas affected, these restructuring situations remain complex and painful and often imply social conflict, relayed to varying extents by the media (Join-Lambert et al., 2011). Concurrently, the literature devoted to the study of social movements has contributed to giving visibility to mobilisation initiatives in the context of labour and employment when these are threatened. In its traditional approach, the said literature leaves little room for a ‘situational and dynamic’ analysis of the phenomena in play (Mathieu, 2004), thanks to which it would become possible to grasp what is at stake in the relevant social interactions. Haug (2013) nonetheless notes a resurgence in interest amongst researchers in the internal and often invisible dimensions of social movements, rather than in the protest actions usually put in the spotlight.

That being, times of social mobilisation, which are by nature sensitive, are difficult for researchers to access. Artists, meanwhile, appear to be inspired by these settings, if the multiplication of artistic works and interventions produced over the last decade on these issues are any indication. The connections between art and protest are at the heart of multiple currents of analysis, in particular those proceeding from the concept of the cultural turn, which point out a two-fold movement of ‘aestheticisation’ of protest actions and ‘politicisation’ of artistic approaches (Balasinski & Mathieu, 2020). They endeavour to show how art or other creative approaches are conceived of by activists, along with artists, as resources or as a strategy for mobilising and raising awareness in their audience. In contrast, there has been little research dealing with what is at stake in the interactions between artists and activists in the day-to-day reality of the conflict.

To better understand these interactions, we suggest adopting a view of social mobilisations as ‘organising’ processes as much as ‘mobilising’ actions (Haug, 2013, p. 706). A social struggle is made up of a series of actions aimed at ramping up mobilisation and its impact on the public, but draws, for this purpose, on a set of everyday activities that feed into the organising process. In other words, and to use Reed’s terms (2019), in a movement of struggle, the ‘ordinary’ acts of organising accompany the ‘dramatic’ actions of mobilising in a reciprocal relationship, and the creative and artistic approaches contribute to this organising/mobilising relationship. We will expand on this thinking by building from an in-depth analysis of the struggle against the closure of the Lejaby factory in Yssingeaux in 2012: a symbolic instance in which an industry upended by offshoring and globalisation, with the French presidential elections on the horizon; this case received intense media coverage and inspired several artists, some of whom were able to experience and contribute during the conflict that followed the announcement of the site’s closure. What role do these creative and artistic approaches play in the reciprocal movement of organising activities and mobilising actions?

This article is structured into four sections. The first is a review of the literature aimed at defining the analytical framework of our research. Thereafter, we detail our approach to the ‘Lejaby’ case, which combines the collection and analysis of classical qualitative data with an ‘arts-based’ analysis of the creative works and processes produced during the occupation of the factory. In the third section, the various stages of the struggle and the creative approaches associated with it are recounted and analysed in reference to a few salient points; after which, in the fourth section, we propose a theoretical discussion of our results and contributions.

More precisely, we show that artistic and creative responses, because of their capacity to take hold of sensitive dimensions, enable what we have referred to as ephemeral but structuring spatio-temporal episodes within and for the struggle: these episodes contribute to the organising/mobilising relationship, either because they form protected spaces, which can be a personal reflexive time or a collective moment of synchronisation of subjective temporalities, or because they foster-create hybridised spaces, which can be both capacitating and theatralised. We thus contribute not only to the corpus of analysis of social movements, and in particular to the works that focus on the role of art and creativity within them, but also to a relational reading of the spatial and temporal dimensions of organisation and collective action, in line with Lefebvre (1991 [1974]) and Massey (1993, 2005).

Literature review and conceptual framing

A social conflict set off by the announcement of a factory closure or a redundancy plan can be considered as an episode of a protest phenomenon as defined by McAdam et al. (2003). The literature on social movements offers a relevant analysis framework, particularly in its approaches fostering a micro-processual and relational perspective. Endeavouring to understand the role of artistic and creative approaches in the context of social struggle implies more specifically working on the close but complex interconnections between art and collective protest actions. Our position then invites us to question the role of art in the dual dimension of how the struggle is organised and mobilised, in particular in terms of space and time. Lastly, we propose a theoretical framework for thinking about the struggle’s space-time realms, as fostered by artistic approaches.

Social movements: For a micro-processual and relational analysis

The scope of analysis for social movements has historically been built on approaches inspired by structuralism and aimed at studying and explaining the emergence, development and outcome of these social movements (McAdam et al., 1996, 2008; Moss & Snow, 2016). Three categories of factors have been identified: the framework provided by the structure of political opportunity – which looks into how the overall political system helps structure opportunity for collective action, its extent and form (McAdam et al., 2001); the framework of resource mobilisation (McCarthy & Zald, 1973; Oberschall, 1978) and the political process model (Tilly, 1978) – which looks into the dynamics of collective action and the different types of mobilisation structures that could explain, in particular, the form of the movement and its outcome, with the concept of the ‘repertoire of collective action’ developed by Tilly (1978, 1984) at the heart of the analyses; and the concept of framing – to analyse the way in which individuals interpret their situation and how the framing process interposes itself between opportunities, organisation and action, thus leaving a more central place to the cognitive, identity and cultural dimensions of social movements (Benford & Snow, 2000; Snow et al., 1986, 2004).

These foundational research efforts have been criticised for their essentially structuralist, globalising, explanatory and even tautological character, and call for the development of comprehensive and micro-sociological analyses and the rehabilitation of the player and agency (Fillieule, 2001; Fillieule et al., 2010; Jasper, 2004; Mathieu, 2004; Siméant-Germanos, 2021). The approaches based on the framing processes and cultural dimensions of social movements (Goodwin & Jasper, 2004; Polletta, 1999) are, it should be added, subject to the same criticism, in the sense that cultural meanings are conceived of as resources or restrictions amongst others: the cultural turn in the field of social movements remains minimalist, introducing new ‘independent variables’ in an essentially causal framework of analysis (Kurzman, 2008). Jasper (2004, p. 4) voices a broader call for new perspectives: ‘We need to understand what happens at the more micro level of individuals and their interactions in order to evaluate and improve our theories at the macro level of movements, states, revolutions, and so on’. The intention of Aminzade et al. (2001) proceeds from the same undertaking: exiting from instances of sterile aporia (macro/micro analyses, subjectivism/objectivism and structure/process) in order to ‘open onto a more situational and dynamic approach to protest phenomena’ (Mathieu, 2004). The landscape of social movements thereafter became enriched with research aimed at achieving a finer understanding of the micro-foundations and processes, making the central focus: the actors, agency and emotions (Goodwin et al., 2000; Jasper, 1998, 2011), relationships and interactions (Jasper & Duyvendak, 2015), spontaneity (Snow & Moss, 2014), fluidity (Duyvendak & Filleule, 2015), and experiential and spatial dimensions (Flingstein & McAdam, 2012; Mathieu, 2007; Sewell, 2001).

Haug (2013) notes the recent attention from researchers to what happens behind the scenes of collective protest actions and their internal events, in which social movements are seen as organising spaces rather than mobilising actors (Haug, 2013). Haug argues for a clear delineation of the agential and structural dimensions and clarifies the distinction between organising and mobilising: ‘If we define mobilising as the activation of actors for a cause, and organising as developing a decided order amongst actors, then social movement theory is not only about how mobilisation for change comes about, but also how change is organised. In fact, mobilising and organising can then be studied as two analytically distinct ways of bringing about social change’ (Haug, 2013, p. 726). This analytical distinction does not, however, mean that the organising and mobilising dimensions are independent in practice: organising a meeting, for example, implies mobilising actors, and mobilising individuals requires organisation. The distinction between mobilising and organising was taken into further depth by Gordon (2002), based on analysis of the women’s liberation movement. Whilst mobilising is characterised by the expression of a political power by actors who were indifferent, excluded or on the margins of political life up to that point, organising refers more to a process of raising awareness of the cause defended by the movement. In this respect, the main dimension of organising is not so much instrumental as it is emancipatory – gradually feeling legitimate to participate in the life of the city and gaining confidence in one’s ability to express one’s voice. This process rests on the interweaving of the actors’ personal analyses with the political analyses generated by participation in the movement (Gordon, 2002, p. 105). It is also these mobilising and organising properties which Hildwein (2020) emphasises when he analyses, in the feminist social movement La Barbe, the role of ‘performances’, concurrently considered a ‘symbolic visual shock’, a ‘call to action’ and a ‘personal experience’.

In complementary fashion, the recent literature on social movements insists on the need to step away from a formal analysis of their organisation to understand them as organising processes (De Bakker et al., 2017), emphasising how little use the traditionally studied organisational components are in characterising them. First of all, the contemporary social movements embody a politics of prefiguration rather than confrontation (Vitiello, 2019): this quest for a ‘radical’ democracy translates into a more horizontal, inclusive, participatory governance and a rejection of bureaucratic structures, hierarchy and attributes associated with ‘representative’ democracy (De Bakker et al., 2017). Second, the activism of these social movements centred on political action, participation, the pluralism of their membership and the partial and incomplete nature of their organisation highlights the ongoing need for coordination resulting from the fluid and transient nature of collective action as well as the – both spatially and temporally – dispersed nature of actions within the movement. The organising of social movements rehabilitates the place of agency, emphasising the importance of interactions (De Bakker et al., 2017; Gordon, 2002; Haug, 2013) in the ongoing production of an emergent social order. Hildwein (2020) shows, for example, how performances within a social movement are akin to an organising process based on reciprocal interactions between the organisation (the social movement) and individuals (the activists).

Our desire to understand what plays out in situation during interactions between the actors of a social struggle is very much in line with this approach: the focus of our analysis is indeed the relationship between organising and mobilising as defined by Haug (2013) and Gordon (2002) and, more precisely, the role of artistic and creative action in this relationship.

Art and protest activity: Tightly-knit, complex relations

The cultural turn point in the analysis of social movements has produced a body of research around art, creativity and protest activity. Furthermore, art and creativity are part of the traditional protest repertoire (Edelman, 1995), fostering individual and collective awareness of an issue, or stirring emotions in supporters (Eyerman & Jamison, 1998). The relationship between art and protest can be seen in two dimensions, objective and subjective (Vélez-Vélez & Villarrubia-Mendoza, 2018): objective, in the sense that art can be used by the actors to produce an image, galvanise a group, improve solidarity, raise public awareness and thus facilitate social change or the ‘success’ of the movement (subjective), in the sense that art can also contribute to building spaces of resistance in which individuals engage their community, produce a voice and are empowered as social actors. Mathieu (2021) structures the art & protest field around four subsets, two of which are central here. The first is art as a protest activity: artistic devices or productions are mobilised, in a more or less deliberate and planned manner, by the actors in the protest and form part of their repertoire of action, the aim being to create symbols, convey political messages and fuel the mobilisation. This links into a form of ‘aestheticisation of protest’, which accompanies the ‘politicisation of art’ (Mathieu, 2021). The next is the use of art as a resource for protest, where art is in itself a strategy for mobilisation, a resource for financing the movement, to foster greater awareness in the public, or to mobilise the forces by instituting a festive climate. This literature looks much more at what art and creative approaches can bring about when mobilised by or in collaboration with activists, particularly towards the public and in terms of movement success (Mathieu, 2021; Roy, 2010). ‘Art is a major component of protest: it provides material and symbolic resources, contributes to movement framing, mobilises constituencies, sensitizes the broader public, and produces social change by renewing cultural traditions’ (Mathieu, 2021, p. 366). In other words, the research has focused more on mobilising than organising, and there is little mention of the interactions between artists and activists.

In their research on music in protest movements, Eyerman and Jamison (1998) argue for an approach to culture as a ‘cognitive praxis’, a view shared by Shepard (2012), who shows how play and creativity, affective bonds and enjoyment are all part of the daily life of activists, and are not merely means or resources at their disposal in a repertoire of action for mobilisation. To grasp the role of music in social movements, Reed (2019) proposes to look at ordinary, everyday actions, at times and spaces less visible than mobilising actions because he argues ‘dramatic’ actions are themselves the product of a series of everyday actions that accompany them: organising is at least as important as is mobilising, and social movements, both in terms of the dramatic actions and the ordinary organising that underpins them, are, for all who take part, a transformative experience.

Art, organising and mobilising: Space and time as dimensions of the sensible

In what sense, then, does art have this capacity to feed the relationship between organising and mobilising? That which is commonly referred to as ‘the affective turn’ in the analysis of organisations (Clough, 2007) has prompted growing interest, within the research community, in the aesthetic dimensions of organisations and the importance of the ‘sensible’ in the everyday experience of these organisations and the individuals who live in them (Barry & Meisiek, 2010; Strati, 1999). The fields of organisational aesthetics and of the relationship between art and management emphasise the extent to which the organisation is a space where multiple interactions felt in the soul and body play out (Reinhold, 2017), and the extent to which artists and their productions, through their subjectivity, can contribute to research in and on organisations by triggering or making visible these sensitive dimensions (Schein, 2013; Taylor & Ladkin, 2009). Yet, the ‘distribution of the sensible’ is a system of self-evident facts that leads to the sharing of time and space between each member of an organisation or community and, in so doing, limits everyone’s access to the common space (Rancière, 2000, 2008; Roy-Desrosiers, 2012). Art, like politics, institutes a type of time and space that prompts questioning of the consensus view on the sharing of the sensible (Rancière, 2011). It is thanks to this capacity to create ‘dissensus’ that art and artists make it possible to see and feel the social world surrounding us more and differently. Space and time are two fundamental components of the sensitive dimensions of organisation.

Space and time are two of the blind spots identified in the structuralist approach to the landscape of social movements, not so much for their absence, but for the way in which they are usually broached (Aminzade et al., 2001). Where time is concerned, McAdam and Sewell (2001) propose to look at shorter-term temporalities, subjective temporalities and the dynamics between the different temporalities in play. When it comes to space, Sewell (2001) suggests conceiving of space as it is used and experienced, and to bring in the notion of spatial agency which conceives of space as constraining and enabling social movements. The perspective offered by Haug (2013) prompts a rehabilitation of informal meetings (meeting arenas) as units of analysis of protest actions and as central moments and spaces of (re-)production of organisations and networks of interactions. He borrows the notion of arena from the study of social movements, understood as a subset of a larger space in which strategic arrangements are made, and for which, there is a backstage where actors prepare, a dimension little studied by researchers (Duyvendak & Jasper, 2015). The concept of free space (Polletta, 1999) also refers to small-scale spaces within a movement or community of people: they are referred to as ‘free’ because they escape the direct control of dominant groups and because individuals participate on a voluntary basis. However, the concept of free space is not immune to a wide variety of uses, and even inconsistencies (Polletta, 1999): they can be understood as physical, linguistic or virtual spaces, as permanent or temporary, and they can precede, accompany or be produced by one or more social movements.

This literature on space and time in the analysis of social movements, however, engages in little dialogue with the organisational literature and does not focus on the articulation of spatial and temporal dimensions. An increasing number of developments over the past 15 years have shown the close relationship between space and organisation (Beyes & Steyaert, 2012; Clegg & Van Iterson, 2013; Dale & Burrell, 2007; Fabbri, 2016; Kingma et al., 2018; Kornberger & Clegg, 2004; Ratner, 2019; Sergot & Saives, 2016). The notion of space in the organisational literature remains often used without specific reference to a theoretical framework (Weinfurtner & Seidl, 2019). When a theoretical approach is invoked, the work of Henri Lefebvre (1991 [1974]) and, to a lesser extent, that of Doreen Massey (1993, 1999, 2005) are the most salient references (Mukherjee & Clegg, 2016; Taylor & Spicer, 2007; Weinfurtner & Seidl, 2019). Taylor and Spicer (2007) group the research on organisational spaces into three categories (space as distance, as a manifestation of power relations, and as experience), three dimensions put in parallel with those of Lefebvre (conceived, lived and imagined space). However, this integrative framework is not immune to a fragmented understanding of space (Mukherjee & Clegg, 2016). In order to theorise space differently, avoiding the pitfalls of a fragmented reading of Lefebvre’s trilogy, we propose a combined reading of Lefebvre’s and Massey’s work that makes it possible to think in terms of space-time.

A theoretical framework for conceptualising the creative and artistic approaches in connection with the space-time of struggle

Lefebvre and Massey agree on the need to go beyond a strictly material and neutral vision of space: space is a relational concept and a dimension of the social, continuously produced by our practices, our connections and our separations. It is concurrently material, mental and social and is instantiated in the ‘contemporaneity of multiplicity’ that characterises space (Massey, 2005). This vision of space is also political. Massey (2005) opposes a depoliticisation of the thinking on space, in which space is transformed into time and space is reduced to a surface. In both these processes, ultimately, the contemporary issues at stake in multiplicity are minimised, the responsibility of actors in the production of spatial injustices is evaded, and the existence of space as a dimension of the social cross-cutting multiple evolutionary trajectories is denied. Sergot and Saives (2016) deem that this political approach enables space to be seen as a possible source of dislocation and conflict. Space continues to hold the possibility of creation stemming from confrontation, otherness and the surprise of chance encounters, what Massey (2005) refers to as ‘the chance of space’ (p. 111) where ‘the productiveness of space’ (p. 94) resides.

Lefebvre and Massey’s conception of space questions the relationship between time and space. Time and space are inseparable dimensions of the social and are necessary to one another. Interactions constitute time and space (Massey, 1993, 2005). There is no choosing between time as a flow and a flat surface of instantaneous relationships, as these social relationships are dynamic in nature, and the spatial form of the social can affect the future course of the stories one produces (Massey, 1999). Thinking of time and space in tension, however, does not mean denying their specificities. If time is the dimension of change, space is that of concurrent multiplicity (Massey, 1995). According to Massey (1999), the dynamic relationship between time and space is based on a unifying integration, hence the need to think in terms of space-time.

Lastly, we are in line with what Reed and Haug propose in terms of the reciprocal relationship between organising and mobilising, situating ourselves in the framework of a social conflict, which is well defined in terms of space and time (a company, a struggle and a period of several weeks). We will endeavour to understand what artistic/creative approaches ‘do’ in the situation, in the interactions between artists and workers, and in the organising/mobilising interconnection of the struggle, particularly in that they produce structuring spatio-temporal episodes within this struggle. These ephemeral episodes can be defined as a set of activities and experiences that form a kind of spatio-temporal framing of the ongoing process of attributing meanings to lived experiences. Our research question can thus be formulated as follows: How do creative and artistic approaches contribute to linking, through the structure-inducing spatio-temporal episodes which they facilitate, the ordinary (organising) and extra-ordinary actions (mobilising) that constitute a social conflict? It is through an emblematic case, that of the ‘Lejaby’ struggle, around which several artists worked, that we propose to answer this question.

Research design and methodological choices

The context of the Lejaby case

Our approach is based on the study of a specific case: the conflict that emerged when it was announced, in 2012, that the Lejaby factory in Yssingeaux, Haute-Loire, would be shut down. This case is emblematic in several respects: the spotlight it was given in the media, the discussions it raised on ‘made in France’ in the midst of a presidential campaign, and also the numerous creative and artistic approaches that accompanied it.

On 18 January 2012, the Lyon Commercial Court announced the closure of Lejaby lingerie’s last production site in Yssingeaux. The factory was sold for a symbolic euro to an investment fund that was intending to relocate production to Tunisia. 93 workers were to be made redundant, precisely when the prospects of finding a job in the region gave little reason to be hopeful. Lejaby, a company founded in 1930, had been placed in receivership, a decision that had already led to the closure of the other production sites. From 19 January, the workers decided to occupy the factory in Yssingeaux. Their struggle led to a major breakthrough announced on 1 February: the firm commitment of a buyer, a subcontractor for Louis Vuitton. The Lejaby struggle then became the subject of a great deal of media attention, in France and abroad. Three artists took an interest in it and stayed in the factory during the occupation: Michèle Blumental, Thomas Roussillon and Vincent Gautier. Throughout, the Lejaby struggle was dotted with events sparked by interactions with politicians, artists and journalists. Appendix Table 1 traces the key chronological events.

A multiplicity of materials

We combine traditional qualitative case study methods (Yin, 2017) with art-based research methods (Barry & Meiseik, 2010; Guillet De Monthoux et al., 2007; Hatch & Shultz, 2002; Strati, 2000): on the one hand, this case is broached through a preliminary documentary research (press review) and a series of interviews with the stakeholders of the struggle; on the other hand, we consider the works and creative approaches produced as a research material, in line with visual research approaches in organisation (Kunter & Bell, 2006) and, more precisely, with Becker (2007) for whom artistic representation is a possible representation for putting into words and understanding society.

Second, the blog, the songs, the blue-white-red bra, the photographs from Cri de colère and Thomas Roussillon’s film are analysed as creative or artistic processes in and of themselves: the aim is to study their role in the process of the struggle and, more precisely, the ordinary actions (organising) and extraordinary actions (mobilising) that constitute this social conflict. The blog is, in its form, a series of testimonials of ‘life stories’ then used in a column published daily in the newspaper Libération. At the same time, Vincent Gautier undertook a photographic project; the objective of which was to encourage workers to shout out their anger (Cri de colère), which was then printed in the form of giant portraits. Thomas Roussillon’s film Petites mains, a 58-min documentary, gives little indication of the daily life of the women’s collective struggle: it focuses on their experiences at the precise moment in time when they felt their future was threatened and on what they remember about their life at work. Lastly, during the occupation of the factory, the women workers wrote a number of songs, each reflecting a different episode of the struggle and helping to bring life to the conflict whilst sustaining a collective dynamic.

Clearly, each of these approaches illustrates a different type of participation by the workers and artists: following the terminology of Casemajor et al. (2016), in certain cases, there is real collaboration (the blog and documentary Petites mains), in others, co-authorship (the Cri de colère’ photos) and in yet others, a creation by the women workers on their own (the songs or the giant bra). Table 1 summarises the works and approaches selected for analysis in our research.

Table 1. Works produced during the occupation of the Lejaby factory in Yssingeaux
Analysis of content (‘metadata’) Analysis of approaches [and content] embodied by work
‘Carnet de Bord’ documentary Libération blog Photos Songs Bra in blue-white-red ‘Petites mains’ film
M. Blumental (2012), Lejaby, Carnet de Bord M. Blumental (2012) V. Gautier (2012) Songs written by Jacqueline and sung by the Lejaby workers’ collective, notably at the Annual Shareholder’s Meeting in front of the company’s leaders ‘A giant blue-white-red bra made by the workers during the factory’s occupation T. Roussillon (2014)
Chronicle of conflict based on the stories of women workers Photographic works Cri de colère
by women workers
‘Petites Mains’
Production: Ciné Syncope (107 min) Published by Libération http://lejaby.blogs.liberation.fr http://vgpic.com/lejaby.html Production: Rouge Productions (90 min)

Semi-structured interviews

As a complement to the works, we conducted a series of semi-structured interviews with several protagonists of the struggle: (ex-)employees and the union leader, who played an important part in the conflict, but also in relations with the artists involved. The aim was to understand the course of the conflict, the organisation of the struggle and the contributions of the artistic approaches. All interviews were recorded and transcribed in full. Table 2 summarises the data collected from the interviews, and Appendix Table 2 specifies the structure of the interview grids used. The relatively limited number of interviews conducted with former employees can be explained by their reluctance to speak out when the struggle and its unrest had settled 2 years earlier, and most of them were back at work. Nevertheless, all 16 of the in-depth interviews form a wealth of material. Raymond Vacheron, who was alongside these women throughout their struggle as a trade unionist/coach/tactician, also sheds relevant light on the evolution of the workers’ state of mind and the events that dotted and influenced the course of events. We remained in contact with him throughout our research, in the form of two interviews and exchanges during a 2-day dialogical seminar dedicated to this struggle, attended by artists and other specialist researchers from outside the project.

Table 2. Semi-structured interviews
Persons interviewed Description of material
Union head R. Vacheron (2 interviews) Duration: 120 + 90 min / 53 pages
4 ex-employees (1 collective interview) Duration 100 min / 21 pages
6 ex-employees (individual interviews) Duration: 8.5 h / 116 pages
Artist: M. Blumental, author of Libération blog and documentary ‘Lejaby, Carnet de Bord’ Duration: 100 min / 29 pages
Photographer, V. Gautier (Cri de colère) Duration: 90 min / 21 pages
Director of documentary film Petites Mains, Th. Roussillon Duration: 105 min / 33 pages
Artist C. Thibaut, author of the play A plates coutures Duration: 107 min / 33 pages


The analysis of the material collected was carried out in several stages. First of all, we analysed the content of the film Lejaby Carnet de Bord as well as the blog and interviews conducted with the employees, the union representative and the artists. The film Carnet de Bord helped give us a detailed understanding of what happened during the factory’s occupation and, in particular, gave us a glimpse at the other artistic processes underway during this period and what they triggered or enabled. It is in this sense that we consider this documentary film as metadata: it was the entry point to understanding the spatial and temporal arrangement of the events, the actors involved and the structuring episodes of the struggle, in relation to the creative and artistic approaches. We also carried out a content analysis of the interviews with the workers, the union representative and the artists, as well as of the accounts which the workers gave throughout the conflict for the blog on Libération kept up by Michèle Blumental. The interviews enabled us to better understand the role of the artistic and creative approaches in the process of the struggle, as expressed subsequently by the various stakeholders.

We then analysed the approaches behind the other works produced and, in some cases, the content (photographs, song texts and the film Petites mains). Our approach differs from other methods based on works of art (Mariette, 2011), in that we analyse not only their content but also the circumstances in which they were produced and the contributions of these artistic approaches to the Lejaby struggle. Our approach bears likenesses to the ‘referential’ perspective as defined by Debenedetti et al. (2019, p. 65): the work is approached as ‘a reflection on the referent objects of artistic representation’. In our case, the main referent object is the social conflict initiated by the Lejaby workers, whose artistic approaches are explored in an attempt to understand how they contributed to linking ordinary and extraordinary actions. According to Debenedetti et al. (2019), the analysis requires the following two steps: first, the analysis of the work and, second, a dialogue between the ideas resulting from the first step and the ideas usually conveyed in the scientific literature. The first stage remains little documented in methodological terms, except to stress the importance of a multiplicity of readings of the work in order to reach a level of ‘intimate and sensitive’ knowledge, and to suggest a formal analysis of the work. During the second stage, the aim is not only to see how the work illustrates or challenges existing theories or concepts, but also to identify that, which has not yet been thought of, and new ways of seeing the object of reference: these two operations are defined by Beyes (2009) as emplacement and displacement.

All these materials (the film, the blog, the interviews and the artistic approaches) were analysed individually and then discussed collectively. Going back and forth between the existing literature and our data, we refined the identification of the analysis categories and their articulation. Appendix Table 3 shows this collective analysis approach applied to the documentary film Lejaby Carnet de Bord, which served as our metadata. All the material (semi-structured interviews and blog content) was analysed using the same thematic content analysis approach. Appendix Table 4 offers selected excerpts. More specifically, we endeavoured to identify the activities and actions involving the workers in connection with one or more artists or a creative process, to specify the physical location/space, to characterise these activities or actions in a few broad categories, to associate them with a process of organising and/or mobilising as defined in the literature, and to identify some corresponding spatio-temporal processes. This led to the identification of four main categories, which we will set out subsequently: protected spaces – a kind of bubble-space within the struggle – which may be an intimate reflexive time or a collective time of synchronisation of subjective temporalities; hybridised spaces – which bring together heterogeneous players and modify the experience of space and time – which may be capacitating in some cases, and theatrical in others. Figure 1 shows a summary of this coding process.

Figure 1. Summary of coding process.

More broadly speaking, the analysis of all these data made it possible to bring out the course of actions during the occupation of the factory, the role of various creative and artistic approaches in ordinary actions (organising) and extraordinary actions (mobilising), with a focus on the spatial and temporal transformations which they promote. The following section presents in more detail the Lejaby struggle and the creative and artistic approaches that accompanied it, all the whilst bringing out the structuring spatio-temporal episodes which these approaches fostered.

Analysis of the Lejaby case: Creative and artistic approaches that gave rise to structuring spatio-temporal episodes in the organisation and mobilisation processes

The narration of the Lejaby struggle is divided into three parts. First, each of the creative processes is studied separately, analysing the degree of participation of the women workers in the designing, producing and circulating the works, the spatio-temporal episodes created by the creative and artistic processes, and what they contribute to the organising/mobilising dynamic. Next, we illustrate the dynamics of space-time episodes shaped by mobilisation and organisation actions and initiated by the participation of women workers in creative and artistic undertakings. Lastly, in an initial theorisation of our results, we summarise the various spatio-temporal episodes by proposing a typology induced by the coding process of our empirical material.

An analysis of each of the creative approaches taken by the women workers and artists in the struggle process

Originally, the collective in struggle had no specific desire for artists to come to the occupied factory. Nonetheless, Raymond Vacheron, the union leader, very quickly saw the value of opening the factory’s doors to them, without knowing in advance what results this could have. The idea was to ‘use any and all available means’ with the hope that the participation of the workers in these creative approaches could contribute to the process of unifying the collective and set off mobilisation actions. The artists thus became ‘characters’ in the story, in the transformation of this process into a story in the strongest sense of the term, that of ‘the Lejabys’. [V1]1 Michèle Blumental’s documentary film highlights the spatial and temporal distribution of the actions and events. The mobilisation and organisation activities undertaken during the creative and artistic processes are at the origin of structuring spatio-temporal episodes. More specifically, we analyse these creative processes by grouping them into three broad families: collaboration (blog and documentary Petites mains), co-authorship (Cri de colère) or creation (the songs and the blue-white-red bra). For each of these three families, we will first present the development and characteristics of the process itself, then the time-spaces which they contributed to instantiating, as well as their role in terms of organising and/or mobilising the struggle.

The blog and Petites mains: Producing a ‘bubble apart’, to enable more personal sharing

The blog (Figure 2) and the documentary Petites mains (Figure 3) are two artistic approaches in which the women workers participated in collaborative mode: the production of personal, even intimate, content within the predefined framework of the artist’s intention and guidelines. These two participatory approaches have three characteristics in common.

Figure 2. Excerpt from one page of the blog (M. Blumental).

Figure 3. Photo from Petites Mains (Th. Roussillon).

First, they are framed by the artist who keeps control over the work’s production process. Michèle Blumental chronicled the struggle from the beginning of the factory occupation in a daily blog for Libération. She accompanies the workers in the writing process, which must respect the rules of the genre [V2].

Thomas Roussillon made the personal choice not to film the struggle but to focus on the workers’ experiences at a time when they felt their future was threatened and when they had become aware that this stable and secure world had collapsed [V3].

Second, both artists insist on the importance of producing a space that isolates and protects the protagonists from the agitation of mobilisation activities, whilst laying the foundations necessary to open up a time of reflexivity conducive to a different understanding of the past. This ‘bubble apart’ occurred in the form of a refuge for the workers, affected by the struggle and the latent but contained tensions between them [V4]. In the context of the documentary work, this protective space became a decompression chamber for the women, who were thus able to extract themselves for a few hours from the psychologically exhausting collective experience of the struggle. Thomas Roussillon aims to remove himself from the turmoil created by the daily presence in the factory of dozens of international television cameras and stations and the frequent visits from political figures. The women workers suddenly find themselves together, face to face, in what used to be their working environment but which appears strangely cluttered with machines and desperately deserted and silent. The waiting in this now dissonant space is deliberately provoked by the artistic device dreamed up by its creator [V5].

Third, these two creative approaches result in the production by the workers of a personal, even private, narrative. In the case of the blog, the objectives are not only to popularise the struggle at a national level in a logic of mobilisation, but also to offer testimonies in the form of real-life stories [V6]. The writing process offers an opportunity for these women to personally address other women workers and to share with them snippets and stories from their lives. In Petites mains, the meeting between the workers filmed and Thomas Roussillon, out of camera range, but the focal point of the gaze of the women addressing him, produces the cinematographic and specifically documentary situation. The camera frames their faces, each displaying a controlled expression, and sometimes slips down to their hands, which give away their emotions. Their messages are constructed, analytical and calmly enunciated, and this control contrasts with what we intuitively expect from a social struggle: anger, exasperation and the will to convince. The film suggests a complex telescoping between the time of ordinary working life, the biographical time of life at work and the historical time of the industrial decline in Europe, three overlapping realities that leave the women workers perplexed [V7].

These two approaches, by creating ‘bubbles apart’ and paving the way for personal and reflexive speech in the women workers, produce organising forces. The women workers do not use these approaches directly in mobilisation actions, as they do not control the latter’s spread: the decision to publish the blog posts is made by the editorial committee at Libération, whilst the documentary Petites mains was not distributed until well after the struggle. However, whilst Petites mains essentially touches on the organisation of the struggle by enabling people to let go and speak from the heart, the blog is a creative process that buttresses both organising and mobilising.

The photographic approach: ‘Shouting out in anger’, in a transgressive and skillfully staged manner

The women workers at Lejaby initially let photographer Vincent Gautier call all the shots (Figure 4 & Figure 5). They posed in a makeshift studio in the factory, following the author’s stated artistic intentions. Subsequently, however, they took control of the distribution of the portraits from the photo sessions, arranging them across the factory, whereas the artist had initially intended to exhibit the giant photographs in a symbolic place in the city. By influencing the reception of the work, its political message, and effectively ‘shouting out in anger’, the Lejabys participated more as co-authors than as collaborators in the production of the work. The idea of ‘shouting out in anger’ was originated by Vincent Gautier. After listening to the workers during a general meeting, he suggested that they carry out an experiment [V8].

Figure 4. Photo session with V. Gautier (Cri de colère).

Figure 5. Women ‘shouting out in anger’ (photos by Vincent Gautier).

Michèle Blumental’s documentary returns to three scenes stemming from this experience, which shows the evolution of the workers’ forms of participation as well as the roles of this artistic approach in the production of space-time with very different characteristics in terms of organising and mobilising. There is first the moment in which each of the workers ‘shouts out in anger’. This is not a matter of course for these women, who are used to spatialised hierarchical relationships and principles of conduct in the workplace regulated by standard times and gestures, as well as by performance bonuses that give rise to internal rivalries [V9]. The photographic work in this case becomes similar to a form of participatory art that acts as a medium leading to socio-spatial change. It enables these women to make their ‘voice’ heard and develop a capacity for joint action to claim a right to be respected and listened to. This is an emancipation process, one that is fragile and ephemeral, thanks as much to the artist’s relational skills as to the circumstances of the event.

The photographer looks back on this creative process, emphasising how it initially served as a means of ‘venting’, but becoming more and more reflexive with time. [V10] The women employees also emphasised the cathartic effect and fun side of this photo session [V11].

The second scene in the film connected with this creative process shows how the photos, printed in masse by the women workers, were received. For instance, one woman is seen raising her hand to her mouth and looking at the other workers almost in panic when she first sees the very expressive result of her angry scream, as if she were frightened by her own boldness (Figure 6).

Figure 6. The surprised reactions when V. Gautier’s portraits are first unveiled (photograph by Vincent Gautier).

The third scene in the documentary bears witness to the factory’s spatial transformation and that, over time, of the collective now developing the ability to act through and for the struggle. The Lejaby workers have chosen their own staging concept, holding their portrait in front of what used to be their workstation. In this shot, the camera slowly pans across and stops on each of the determined faces, in a silence that cannot go unheard.

The theatrical use of the photographs inside the factory (Figure 7) did not align with the photographer’s initial plan, who wished to display them on the steps of the town’s cathedral [V12]. The women workers at Lejaby did not just pose for this photographic work. By engaging in this collective action from which feelings of sympathy and pleasure emerged, they jointly engaged in an act of transgression, and each had given up a part of herself to actually shout out in anger. The production of the project itself and the reception it received resulted in a protective space, in which they were able to produce a playful and transgressive experience together. This goes hand in hand with the experience of a synchronised time in which the workers gradually surrender to the present moment, showing spontaneity and improvisation. They were also very effective at using these photographs to stage them in the very setting that constituted their everyday workplace. This performance is an improvised mobilisation action that changes the organisational space-time by colouring it with a critical dimension, transforming it from backstage to a stage.

Figure 7. The staging of the photos in the workshop (Image taken from the documentary by M. Blumental).

The artistic process of ‘shouting out in anger’ (Figure 5) was thus associated with the production of a different space-time and had a part in both the organising and mobilising of the struggle: the first two scenes described take place in a protected space within the factory, which enables the synchronisation of the collective and the strengthening of the ties. The final scene refers to a planned and theatralised mobilisation action (Figure 8) in a space open to different audiences – media, citizens and politicians.

Figure 8. How the photos were staged in front of the factory (photograph by Vincent Gautier).

Singing to form a community and to ‘stand up’ to decision-makers

During the factory’s occupation, the Lejabys workers wrote several songs that helped to bring life to the conflict by sustaining a collective dynamic. When they produced a giant bra in the colours of the French flag, they were in a situation of creativity, involved in every stage of the process, from coming up with the concepts, turning them into reality and presenting them to the public. They were not guided by any particular artistic intention and/or device.

Spontaneously, some of them decided to sew a giant blue-white-red bra when they learned that Marie-Claude and a few others would be on a television set in Paris the next day to talk about their struggle. ‘Tomorrow, let us make some made in France in Yssingeaux’, says Jacqueline, who took charge of the process, whilst others looked on laughing before ultimately singing together ‘Elles sont vraimeeent, elles sont vraimeeent … Phéno-mé-nales’ [‘They are truuly, truuly phe-no-me-nal’]. It was a spontaneous creative response, for mobilisation and mediatisation, and one more time during which the collective bonded and solidarity was expressed in laughter and song. All throughout the conflict, their song repertoire grew, and the analysis of their lyrics refers back not only to what the mobilisation stirred in the workers but also their history as workers, their everyday in the factory and the ties between them. The songs condemn the authorities and emphasise the workers’ discontent in emotional-charged terms. The idea of writing these songs came from one of the workers, one evening as she headed home [V13]. The songs were written by night and rehearsed by day, and thus kept the women workers busy during the downtimes and strengthened their ties, by bringing out emotions and feelings of sympathy [V14].

Singing instantiates two types of spatio-temporal episodes. On the one hand, singing produces and binds the collective in the confines of meetings attended only by the women workers and Raymond Vacheron. The women decided to sing every day (Figure 9), at the beginning and end of each general assembly (GA). This was not only a way to mobilise but also to collectively bringing meaning back to this struggle, the outcome of which was uncertain and which stirred doubt, despair and fatigue. Singing together is an almost existential necessity: singing to remain in motion and remain alive … [V15]. Carole Thibaut conducted in-depth interviews with the Lejaby workers as part of the preparation for the play A plates coutures, of which she is the author, directed by Claudine Van Beneden. She also emphasised the importance of singing in the women’s memories [V16].

Figure 9. ‘Chantons pour nos vies’ [Let us sing for our lives] (from M. Blumental’s documentary).

Second, the songs became part and parcel of the mobilisation actions, in particular with the decision-makers looking on. M. Blumental’s documentary shows scenes of interaction between the collective of workers in struggle and political figures – in particular, L. Wauquiez and A. Montebourg – and representatives of the State (Figure 10 & Figure 11). The latter came multiple times during the struggle to find a solution to the conflict, which, by dint of the increasing media attention, made it an issue in the election campaign. It is not always easy for a politician to come before a collective in the midst of a struggle and be determined to hold him to account. Likewise, it is not easy for workers who were not prepared to take on such a role to hold the stage and lay claim to their rights, in the face of personalities who master the codes of communication and embody the public power. One of the most striking scenes in the documentary is the meeting between the prefect and the collective. The latter personifies the stereotypical French senior civil servant and engages in a conventional discourse. As the women workers take the floor to ask questions prepared during their GAs, the prefect’s growing unease and discomfort are clearly spelled out in what exudes from his body language. Yet, there comes a moment when the framing he has tried to keep intact irretrievably shatters: it is when the workers demand that he listens to one of their songs before leaving the occupied factory and returning to his distant official office.

Figure 10. Singing in the face of decision-makers (from the documentary by M. Blumental).

Figure 11. The Lejabys at a general assembly.

Singing and holding hands is like a movement of synchronisation that takes place between their bodies, their affect and their thoughts, and enables this shift from the ‘I’ to the ‘we’. This movement radiates an expressive power that unsettles the person receiving this flow of words. The prefect’s discomfited expression is a testament to this. Singing together at this point is far more than just a ritual, and the meaning of these words goes well beyond their literal content: singing acts as the manifestation of a power to take action together, which the politicians understand full well when they are told, before leaving the site: ‘We will not leave you in peace until a satisfactory solution has been found’.

When it contributes to organising, this collective artistic process produces the experience of a synchronised time in a protected space within the factory – to reassure oneself, to give oneself courage and to feel solidarity, or in an open space where representatives of the public authorities, the media and society rub shoulders – to have confidence in their ability to express a political message in unison. When it contributes to mobilising, this approach instantiates a time externalised in an open space and staged for the purposes of public interpellation and political expression.

The struggle: A continuous movement made up of space-time experiences (re-)produced by artistic and creative approaches

All of the approaches presented above form a set of actions that connect both with organising (enabling women workers’ to speak their truths, forming a collective and developing political skills) and mobilising (in the face of an outside audience, demanding the right to be heard and rebalancing power relations that were previously asymmetrical). These approaches instantiate spatio-temporal episodes, which do not, however, take place in a planned and orchestrated sequence: their succession can be likened to an ongoing, diachronic movement, continually becoming and filled with controversy, dissonance, pluralism, surprises and precariousness. To illustrate this point, we will pause to look at the following photograph taken from Michèle Blumental’s documentary.

In this photograph, the collective is awaiting the visit of the political figures. The dramatisation of this space is in itself an action of mobilisation. The power of the Lejabys is expressed by this collective of women workers, in their solidarity and unity, with determination burning in their eyes. Some of them were rehearsing the text of the songs that would ring out at the end of the meeting. The viewer can make out: the giant portraits, hanging from the ceiling, of the women ‘shouting out their anger’; the emblematic ‘blue-white-red’ bra which the workers produced in preparation for a TV appearance they were to make; the silent presence of Raymond Vacheron in the background; the eye of Michèle Blumental filming this scene with her camera on her shoulder; the journalists and press photographers. In a way, an occupied factory is no longer a factory, even if the machines remain and the workers continue to wear their smocks on certain days. What the politicians find out when they travel to the occupied factory to report on the actions being carried out to save the site is a spatiality that has been put to work for the struggle, a space transformed and produced by new practices, new protagonists – like the artists and journalists – and full of new symbols. The women workers have managed to make this organisational space inescapable, thanks to the media’s interest in this struggle, which is constantly kept up by mobilisation actions, many of which are the result of interactions with artists and creative approaches. The production of this space is connected with the experience of a time planned and externalised by the workers in struggle: the representation of the workers is scripted, the actions are prepared and orchestrated and the workers collectively confront otherness by claiming their rights and identity as workers. By demanding that the negotiations and the media coverage of the struggle take place within this space hybridised by the irruption of many protagonists who import their different worldviews, the Lejabys control the framing of the message of their struggle and take a firm stand in the interaction with the representatives of the State. This corrects, albeit partially, the asymmetry of power relations between the State and the workers.

Nonetheless, any photograph is partly misleading, insofar as it is static and partial. This photograph says nothing of the organisational process that is indeterminate and unsettling for these women and makes this mobilising action possible. Nothing had prepared them to be exposed to such media intensity. At the start of the conflict, very few of the workers saw keeping their jobs as an attainable objective, and most of them were focused on securing a severance bonus. Thinking in terms of bonuses, and then in terms of employment, emphasises the extent to which this organisational process – this ‘Lejaby factory’ – helped turn doubt into hope. Raymond Vacheron put his faith in the capacity of these women to engage in collective action and picked up on the benefit of creative approaches in helping them overcome their inhibitions and fears [V17].

These creative processes unfolded in isolated spaces, protected from the frenzy of the mobilisation actions that made up the struggle: the ‘little corner’ arranged for blog writing; the old workstations for the documentary Petites mains; the make-shift photography studio to ‘shout out their anger’; the space set aside for the General Assembly (GAs) where the Lejabys met every morning, away from the press, and where they sang together to summon up courage. These protected spaces are connected with a more reflective time, with much slower kinetics [V18].

The creative processes thus formed part of a dual motion of mobilising and organising around the progressive formation of a collective of workers, ‘the Lejabys’. They are at the origin of structuring spatio-temporal episodes that allow for a political expression, the dramaturgy of which is controlled, a letting go through words shared in confidence, personal tragedies unveiled and a unification of the collective. This is not a situation in which tools for the struggle belonging to the different groups of protagonists coexisted, and instead a process of hybridisation that recomposes the organisational space-time into episodes that structure the struggle.

A typology of the structuring spatio-temporal episodes instantiated by creative and artistic approaches

Artistic and creative processes influence the temporality of the struggle through phases of acceleration and deceleration, punctuated by periods of exteriorisation, introspection, synchronisation and planned or improvised events; they are also spatially associated with a series of movements, changes of position and distance, and recomposition of physical, social and mental boundaries. In other words, the struggle is a finalised and situated collective action, the temporality of which is accompanied by continuous spatial transformations; reciprocally, the spatiality of the struggle instantiates new relations and a confrontation with otherness that influence the individual and collective history of the workers and continuously draw their goals and actions anew.

More specifically, and drawing on the work of Massey (1999, 2005) and Lefebvre (1991 [1974]), we propose the concept of a structuring spatio-temporal episode to analyse the role of creative approaches in the struggle process. The term structuring spatio-temporal episode refers to a set of activities and experiences the meaning of which can only be grasped through a close intertwining between time and space, a form of spatio-temporal framing of the ongoing process of attributing meanings to lived experiences. We distinguish four configurations of structuring spatio-temporal episodes, all ephemeral, each mediated by a creative or artistic process, which contribute to the organising/mobilising dynamics of the struggle process. An artistic and creative process can be involved in the instantiation of numerous spatio-temporal episodes referring back to different configurations.

First of all, creative processes produce the experience of protected spaces and a reflexive and interior time. This space-time is instantiated when the women workers take part in the blog-writing process and speak out in the context of the creation of the documentary Petites Mains. The workers’ individual and voluntary participation in these processes is initiated according to a precise framework, controlled by the artist. The writing and sharing of words from the heart in Petites Mains are made possible by the artistic process itself: it prompts these women to engage in an unsettling experience of time and space. The ‘little corner’, where the blog’s writing workshop is located, and the old workstations, where the documentary is filmed, are spaces protected from the frenzy of the mobilisation activities. The access to these spaces is delimited by physical boundaries (the entrance to the place, remote and distinct from the other spaces of the struggle) and social boundaries (a space reserved for the women workers). These protected spaces enable workers to take action and interact in ways that would not be possible elsewhere. They are also ‘in-between’ spaces (interspaces), produced by the intersection of previously distinct spaces – the sewing room space and the art studio space, which are themselves structured by their own practices, rules and norms: their unstructured and interstitial nature gives them a potential for uncertainty and creativity. The artists rely precisely on the dissonant experience of these intermediate spaces for their critical distancing or introspection work. Thomas Roussillon gives the stage to the workers, who tell of their lives in a narrative that is improvised rather than recited at their former workplaces. Speaking out at this point, in this space so familiar yet transformed by a strange and disconcerting experience, has a cathartic and reflexive effect and acts essentially on the organising of the struggle by enabling them to let go and speak freely from the heart.

The creative processes also give rise to the experience of protected spaces and a time of synchronisation of the collective. Whether it is during the photo sessions or when they sing to give themselves heart during the morning GA, the workers share the emotions they feel individually, such as indignation, anger or fear, thus drawing on an unsuspected capacity for collective action that allows them to stand up to the political figures. However, in the course of the struggle, the artists invite the women to formulate and reclaim their subjectivity at the very moment when the struggle demands collective action. In front of the camera or the lens, they each assert their presence in the world with dignity. This configuration of space-time acts primarily on the organising of the struggle by enabling the collective to bond and coordinate collective action, which in turn serves the mobilising aspect.

The creative approaches are engaged in mobilising actions that produce the experience of hybridised and theatralised spaces and externalised time. The space is hybridised: its production results from the collapse of the traditional boundaries – the occupied factory is now open to all – and from different trajectories that transform the organisational activities and the nature of the interactions carried out. Artists, politicians, journalists and local residents can enter the factory, such that different value systems, occupational logics and worldviews coexist. These hybridised spaces put the workers face-to-face with otherness and new trajectories that intersect with their own stories. These spaces are also theatralised by the skillfully orchestrated staging of the workers who openly ‘shout out their anger’ and exhibit the ‘blue-white-red bra’. Through this symbolisation, the workers instantiate in these organisational spaces belonging to others – the French employees made redundant following the factory relocations – and elsewhere – the industrial sites shut down or under threat in France, the before – the pastime of a mastered know-how and the after – the possible future of a deindustrialised France. These hybridised and theatralised spaces are associated with the need to continuously pace the time of the struggle with a succession of ‘extraordinary’ events capable of holding the media’s attention, a necessary condition for maintaining a capacity to challenge and negotiate with the public authorities and politicians. This is a spatial reading of the experience of an externalised and planned time of mobilisation actions: the production of these spaces accelerates the time of the struggle and punctuates it with events that keep the locus of attention on the ‘Lejaby’ struggle. The spatiality is both a resource for and the source of the temporality of mobilisation activities. This configuration further influences the mobilising by raising awareness in the audience, media and politicians, and staging the artistic production with the aim of capturing the attention of each audience group.

Finally, these creative processes produce the experience of hybridised and capacitating spaces and a time of synchronisation of the collective. These episodes are captivating because they help the women workers gain and exercise skills, particularly political. The spur-of-the-moment creation of a blue-white-and-red bra, the reframing of the interactions when they sing their story in chorus in front of the politicians or the staging of their giant portrait in their former workplace illustrates these episodes. The creative approaches give the workers the chance to enter a joint enquiry process (Dorf & Sabel, 1998) to ‘let themselves be taught’ by their compared and contrasted experiences. The unease, discomfort and emotional shocks to which these creative processes give rise inevitably end up shaking the protagonists’ beliefs and representations – a prerequisite for the development of viable alternatives. This configuration of spatio-temporal episodes influences both the organising – by enabling the women to gain political skills through the support of art – and mobilising, by fostering the design of new mobilising actions and reinforcing the political messages contained in the mobilising actions associated with artistic and creative approaches.

Each of these four episodes does neither strictly align with a type of creative process nor a particular degree or form of collaboration between the artists and workers: they follow one from the next, sit side by side or even overlap in the course of the same process, and inside the factory in struggle. Rather, they are far more the different phases and uses of each process which form structuring episodes, between the design phase, the production phase and the distribution phase. Table 3 is an attempt to summarise the four structuring spatio-temporal episodes, as well as their effects in terms of organising and/or mobilising.

Table 3. Four configurations for structuring spatio-temporal episodes
Configurations of spatio-temporal episodes Protected spaces Hybridised spaces
Private time for thinking
Synchronised time
Exteriorised and planned time
Synchronised and improvised time
Examples of associated actions within the artistic processes
  • song-writing
  • writing for blog
  • shooting documentary footage
  • song rehearsals
  • response to photos
  • blog sharing
  • singing in front of politicians
  • brandishing the giant bra
  • posing in or in front of the factory with the ‘shouting out in anger’ portraits
  • making the blue-white-red bra
  • rehearsing the songs together
Organising/mobilising contribution ORGANISING

Helping pave the way for MOBILISING

reinforcing in turn the MOBILISING

enabled by the ORGANISING

concurrently feeding into the MOBILISING

In this section, we propose to debate our research question: how do creative and artistic approaches contribute to connecting, through the spatio-temporal transformations which they foster, the ordinary (organising) and extraordinary actions (mobilising) that are constitutive of a social conflict?


First of all, we analyse the contribution of art to the organising/mobilising aspects of this struggle, showing how art, in its various modalities, contributes to the organisation and mobilisation of the struggle. We then discuss, from a relational perspective of power, how art contributes to the development of political empowerment. Lastly, we argue that the four configurations of structuring spatio-temporal episodes, facilitated by artistic or creative approaches, intermingle and result in a conception of struggle as a ‘spatio-temporal odyssey’.

Art as a contribution to the organising/mobilising of an ephemeral struggle

Our research shows how artistic and creative approaches can contribute to both the mobilising and organising processes of a collective in struggle. In the landscape of social movements, artistic and creative approaches are seen as resources or strategies for mobilising social movement actors, in other words, in the collective action repertoire of ‘art-activists’ (Duncombe & Lambert, 2018; Vélez-Vélez & Villarubia-Mendoza, 2018). Yet, our results show that there can be no mobilising without organising: ‘the mobilising engendered by dramatic actions is ultimately effective only when matched by the active, in-depth, patient “organising” of people to take control of their own lives’ (Reed, 2019, p. 35). Our research enables us, first, to explore a variety of artistic and creative forms involving more or less strong participation of the protagonists of the struggle and, second, to identify at a more micro level a series of episodes, made up of actions and interactions that play out at the place of these approaches between the artists, the workers and their ‘audience’, where applicable.

We analyse a variety of artistic intentions and approaches, some claiming to be situationist (M. Blumental), others the result of a concern for preservation (V. Gautier), or a desire to convey the message of silent voices (Th. Roussillon). These approaches are either creative, collaborative or co-authored (Casemajor et al., 2016). However, neither the artists’ intention nor the workers’ degree of participation in the process emerges as decisive factors of the type of space-time generated. In contrast, by dividing each artistic process into a series of micro-actions, it becomes possible to identify types of action connected with types of spatio-temporal episodes (Table 3): awareness-raising or communication actions aimed at an external audience and, in connection with the former, initiatives to coordinate collective action, to strengthen solidarity within the group and to let go and enable private expression. All these initiatives are part of the reciprocal relationship between organising and mobilising, some of them intended more to serve mobilisation, others more to organise the daily struggle, but each serving the other dimension, whether simultaneously or not. This result contributes to debates on artistic action as political action (Lamoureux, 2010; Vander Gucht, 2004), on the performativity of art (Vander Gucht, 2014) and, more specifically, on the role of participatory art (Bishop, 2012). Through the sensitive look at the situation of these women and the emotions they arouse, the artistic approaches have undeniably facilitated awareness of the cause defended. However, these approaches have also favoured a set of structuring spatio-temporal episodes, vectors of a certain reconfiguration of the ‘sensible’ and of the creation of dissensus, as defined by Rancière (2000).

Artistic approaches as a medium of political empowerment

The creative and artistic experiences of the women workers appear to be the source of two complementary and mutually reinforcing forms of power: political power (mobilising) and the power to act together (organising). What is played out in the protected spaces, which are a private reflexive time or a collective moment of synchronisation of subjective temporalities, echoes what Gordon (2002, p. 107) analyses as the most powerful and original contribution of the organising of the women’s liberation movement ‘to fuse personal and political analysis and goals through consciousness raising’. What is expressed in these interactions with the artists most often refers to their history, their life in the factory, their personal tragedies, their fears and their hopes, with a complex intertwining of different temporalities – the timescale of the struggle and biographical time (Filieule, 2005) – which is a work of analysis on oneself, for oneself and for the collective that can prove painful. Yet, this awareness-raising work is a necessary condition for developing political skill and exercising power through mobilisation actions: ‘people have to discover the most profound things for themselves and cannot fully take them in when they are simply pronounced by others’ (Gordon, 2002, p. 105).

In accordance with Haug (2013, p. 726), the organising of the Lejaby struggle is not purely instrumental: ‘it is rather aimed at consciously creating the conditions for self-empowerment. This may be achieved by creating adequate meeting arenas or other spaces or activities to serve that vision’. The artistic processes become a medium for singular and unsettling experiences that create dissensus, taking place in interstitial and unstructured spaces that give them a potential for uncertainty and creativity and that maintain awareness of the cause defended. This empowerment develops in particular in the confines of the workers’ interactions with artists, and with each other in protected spaces or when they stand before politicians in hybridised spaces. It manifests itself in their learning of political skills and feeds the dynamics of the struggle movement. In this uncertain process, the artists appear as ‘creators of possible worlds’: they facilitate the development of a capacity for leadership and political action in each of the women workers. This organic and emergent form of empowerment emphasises that the spatial dimension of power lies in the interactions and is part of a relational and political conception of space (Massey, 1993).

Art in struggle: A ‘spatio-temporal odyssey’

The literature on social movements has emphasised the importance of spaces and time scales (Mathieu, 2007; McAdam & Sewell, 2001; Polletta, 1999; Sewell, 2001): their paces and intertwining are the subject of a classic divide between players who seek to plan time as best they can and organise space, and those who wish to rely on their indeterminate nature or blurred boundaries (Pingaud, 2014). Each in their own way, artists and workers in the occupied factory alternate between these two positions. And, ‘like space, temporality thus acts on social movements, being concurrently an underpinning, an issue at stake, an instrument in the struggle and a set of constraints that condition the possibilities of action’ (Pingaud, 2014, p. 230).

The literature also emphasises specific spatial forms through the concepts of ‘free space’ (Polletta, 1999; Rao & Dutta, 2012), ‘backstage’ (Haug, 2013) and ‘bubble of freedom’ (Rodner et al., 2019). Free spaces are described as arenas that enable the actors in struggle to escape from institutionalised or hegemonic forms of power and give them the chance to interact, communicate and organise. For example, Rao and Dutta (2012) show how religious festivals in 19th century India served as a space for communication and empowerment of a collective otherwise placed under tight surveillance in their activities. These free spaces gave this collective the chance to organise and set off a mutiny. Similarly, Rodner et al. (2019) emphasise the importance of ‘bubbles of freedom’ for players engaged in work to defend art institutions threatened by the Venezuelan political regime. Our research brings out the importance of protected or free spaces in the process of social struggle, but more so for their role in political empowerment and organising: it is neither so much about the need to escape hegemonic or institutionalised power, in that those in charge have deserted the factory, nor about plotting out strategies behind the scenes or preparing for mobilisation. These protected spaces are first and foremost bubble-spaces of the present, giving people a chance to catch their breath, let go, speak their truths, bind the collective and sustain a process of awareness-building that is foundational in the development of a power to act together – the ‘making of the Lejabys’.

Our research supports the idea of the inseparability of space and time (Massey, 1999) in the ongoing process of attributing meanings to experiences lived out within structuring spatio-temporal episodes. In our ‘situational and dynamic’ analysis (Mathieu, 2004), the words, actions and behaviours of the actors in the struggle do not take on their full meaning until put in relation with the spatio-temporal frameworks that delineate the field of the possible and the sensible. More precisely, the artistic approaches produce a dissonant integration of space and time, a source of destabilising experiences and creative adjustments for the workers. The identification of the four structuring spatio-temporal episodes in the struggle shows the role played by the artistic approaches in their instantiation and in the transformation of the relationship between space and time. For example, the interstitial space of the sewing workshop hybridised with the artist’s studio is experienced with biographical time by the workers because of the director’s elusive and intimist staging work. And it is the transformation of this relationship between time and space – the space of the sewing room having previously been associated with regulated work and organisational time punctuated by the stopwatch – that gives the immediate experience its singularity and its dissonant character. Similarly, time is broached spatially: the spatial transformations resulting from mobilisation actions – when, for example, the workers stage themselves shouting out in anger in the vast workshop – emphasise the movements now possible within the factory – and the disappearance of the organisational boundaries of what was until recently a factory with a regulated social order – as the time of the struggle ticks away. These spatial transformations also denote the workers’ learning of political skills and emphasise how the Lejaby collective maintains by shaping its ‘living environment’ (Cefaï, 2018). When the women workers find themselves before the politicians, these spatial transformations externalise and speed up the time of the struggle by making the search for an acceptable way out more urgent.

The four spatio-temporal configurations facilitated by the artistic approaches remain, however, an analytical distinction with a heuristic scope. The process of struggle is more similar to a ‘spatio-temporal odyssey’ marked by the intertwining of these episodes, the hybridisation of spaces and overlapping temporalities, and the contribution of artistic approaches to the reciprocal relationship between organising and mobilising. The metaphor of the ‘spatio-temporal odyssey’ helps to illustrate the fluid, uncertain and contingent nature of change resulting from the organising/mobilising dynamic: a continuous process of producing a social order that appears both decided and emergent (De Bakker et al., 2017). The spatio-temporal episodes cannot be likened to stages leading from one stabilised state to another. The workers appear to be united in mobilising actions, but organising the struggle is also about managing dyschronia and conflicts in temporality resulting from differences in objectives or degrees of awareness-raising about the cause amongst workers that may arise at any given moment. The ‘spatio-temporal odyssey’ emphasises that the creative adjustments undertaken by these workers, who were in no way prepared to engage in political action, and who had different objectives at the outset of the struggle, were neither self-evident nor inevitable: ‘In that case, we will have to depend on the inexplicable but regular outbursts of human social creativity and the political artists who help organise this energy toward social change’ (Gordon, 2002, p. 116).


Through the study of the Lejabys’ struggle in 2012, our aim was to grasp the role played by the creative and artistic approaches produced during the occupation of the Yssingeaux factory, in the mobilisation actions and in the processes that organised them. We show that these approaches contributed to the ‘ordinary’ and organising process of the struggle as much as to the ‘extra-ordinary’ actions of mobilisation connected with it. We identify four types of structuring spatio-temporal episodes made possible by the artistic and creative approaches: protected spaces, which can be a private reflexive time or a collective moment of synchronisation of subjective temporalities, and hybridised spaces, which can be in some cases capacitating and in others theatralised. Each of these episodes fed into the reciprocal organising/mobilising relationship of the Lejabys’ struggle.

Three types of contribution can be distinguished from this analysis of the Lejaby case. A first contribution can be found in the understanding of these social conflicts seen as organising processes as much as a series of mobilising actions. A social conflict is an episode of a social movement and constitutes a temporary and ephemeral organisational form that concentrates in time and in space a series of mechanisms of collective action, organising and mobilising. Our research illustrates the fruitful nature of a dialogue between the scope of analysis of social movements and that of organisation studies, a dialogue that is still fairly timid today (De Bakker et al., 2013; Weber & King, 2014). A second contribution can be underlined on the dual organising/mobilising dimension and on the role of what we have named ‘spatio-temporal episodes’, where artists interact with employees, and which echo Haug’s (2013) ‘meeting arenas’: power is (re)distributed there, referring back to the concept of ‘free spaces’ suggested by Polletta (1999) and the process of political empowerment (Gordon, 2002; Haug, 2013). Our analytical description of the four types of episodes enables us to distinguish the mechanisms in play and show how creative approaches facilitate or mediate these mechanisms. Lastly, a third, methodological, contribution can be identified: the value of visual sources and artistic productions in understanding the process of a social struggle (here through the documentary film) when the spatio-temporal frameworks of organisational life are unsettled by the situation and by the interactions with the artists.

Our research does not sidestep a certain number of limitations, due first of all to the difficulties of gaining direct access to the words of the former Lejaby employees. Second, our analysis does not allow us to evaluate the relative importance of the different factors that led to the positive outcome of this struggle, in that the Yssingeaux factory was taken over by a subcontractor of LVMH, with the assurance that all the employees who wanted to stay in employment would do so: the pre-election context and the considerable media coverage around the conflict obviously played a significant part.

Lastly, a number of interesting avenues for research deserve to be mentioned. The first would be to look more closely at the question of gender, as suggested by several studies on social movements (Gordon, 2002; Hurwitz & Crossley, 2018) or as illustrated by work carried out in activities or occupations mainly held by women, including in the lingerie sector (Gallot, 2015). A second avenue could be explored around the role of creative and artistic approaches in a context other than that of a strike in an industrial environment, given the evolution of the modalities of expression of conflictuality at work, the employment relationship and professional relations (Dubet, 2019): what place can artistic or creative approaches take in these renewed forms of conflictuality at work, which are more multiform and ordinary (Bouffartigue & Giraud, 2019)?


We would like to thank the three reviewers for their comments and suggestions, which significantly contributed to the progress of this article. We also thank Thomas Roulet for his precise and constructive editorial follow-up. This research was initiated within the framework of the ANR project ‘ABRIR’ and benefited from this project’s financial and scientific support. Special thanks to Caroline Ibos who participated in the first explorations and discussions around this paper. Thanks to all the participants for their feedback during our various presentations. Finally, thanks to the ‘Lejabys’, Raymond Vacheron and the artists who placed their trust in us and gave us their time to share their experience of the struggle and their emotions.


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How the ‘Lejabys’ came into being

Table 1. Context and political and artistic chronology of the struggle
Political chronology Artistic chronology and artists’ posture
December, 2011 The Lejaby company is put into receivership. Several production sites are condemned.

January, 18

January, 19

January, 24-27

February, 1

February, 2

February, 4
Presidential elections (April/May)
At the Elysée Palace, during a ‘social summit’, President Nicolas Sarkozy announced a 430 million ‘effort’ for employment.
At the same time, the Lyon Commercial Court announced the closure of the company’s last production site, at Yssingeaux in the Haute-Loire.
The factory was sold for a symbolic 1 euro to an investment fund that planned to relocate production to Tunisia.
93 workers are laid off.
General meeting of Lejaby workers who decide to occupy the factory
Visits by Laurent Wauquiez and Arnaud Montebourg: each seeks to pose as the ‘savior’ of the situation and to find a buyer first
Laurent Wauquiez is back with a buyer: SOFAMA, a leather goods subcontractor for Louis Vuitton
Victory demonstration of the workers in Yssingeaux
Open day at the Lejaby factory: workers want to show ‘a world that will disappear’
Michèle Blumental launched a blog for the newspaper Libération: ‘Les dessous d’un conflit’ (The underwear of a conflict). Every day, she filmed the workers and wrote a text with them. These texts and videos will be the material of her documentary film, Lejaby, Carnet de bord (105 mn).
Being present from the beginning of the struggle, Thomas Roussillon shoots a documentary in the occupied factory, Petites mains (58mn).
Jacqueline (a Lejaby worker) wrote a first song, which was taken up at the General Assembly by all the workers, in front of the politicians. She wrote several other songs throughout the conflict.
During the occupation of the factory, Vincent Gautier, photographer, made a series of black and white portraits of 70 workers who, facing the lens, shouted.
During the conflict, Claudine van Beneden, theater director and actress, is in residence in Haute-Loire with her company Nosferatu.
After the conflict, she decided to set up a theatrical project around the Lejabys. With Carole Thibaut, author of the play A plates coutures, she collected the testimonies of a dozen former Lejaby workers, which will serve as the framework for the text.


Table 2. Structure of the three semi-structured interviews
Interviews with the workers Interviews with the union rep. Interviews with the artists
- Key moments and important actions of the social movement - The history of the Lejaby conflict (development, key moments, levels of participation, negotiation strategies) - Intentions and choices to realize their work or set up their approach (positioning choices, aesthetic choices)
- The organization of daily life during the conflict - The different artistic approaches deployed: on whose initiative? for what purpose? - The relationship with the employees
- Artistic approaches during the struggle, their contribution to the conflict, and the moments of occupation - The contribution of artistic approaches to the conflict, to the employees, to the moments of occupation? - The difficulties encountered
- Reactions to the artistic approaches (photo, documentary films) - The roles during and after the struggle
- The changes in their lives after the struggle - The impact on their artistic approach
- Reflections on this experience


Table 3. Content analysis of the documentary film ‘Lejaby Carnet de Bord’ and coding [extracts].
Extract Who Creative process Action description Place of action Category of the action Organizing/Mobilizing Space-time dimension
25’24- 27’00 the workers Songs The workers sing to Montebourg the song written today by Jacqueline, then they sing the song ‘Mr. President’. The employees are surrounded by journalists. At the end of the sequence they laugh and applaud. Inside the workshop Sensitizing the audience
Reinforcing the collective
Hybridised and capacitating space
Synchronised / improvised time
35’40’’- 38’40 the workers Songs General assembly to vote the decision of the occupation. The workers are sitting in the factory, and they sing ‘all together’. They applaud. Then they sing ‘today’, then ‘here the dismissed’. They practice on new songs written by Jacqueline. Inside the workshop Coordinating collective action
Reinforcing the collective
Collective protected space
Synchronised time
38’40’’-40’00 Jacqueline and other workers Songs Jacqueline tries out a new song: ‘No, no, let’s not cry, we must all stay together as employees’. The others laugh and applaud. Inside the workshop Reinforcing the collective Organising Collective protected space
Synchronised time
41’13- 42’00 Jacqueline, Marilou, and other workers Blog Jacqueline and Marilou stand in front of a group of workers. Jacqueline asks the others to be quiet because Marilou wants to read a text that she prepared for the blog last night Inside the workshop Sharing an initimate speech Organising Protected space
Reflexive, intimate time
43’15-43’32 V. Gautier (photogra-pher) and the workers Photos V. Gautier takes the photo of Jacqueline’s ‘cry of anger’, after the other workers have counted 1, 2, 3... Jacqueline shouts ‘bastards! assholes!’ The others laugh. We listen to the laughter. The sequence shows several employees posing for ‘the cry of anger’. Danns un coin,
un passage à côté de l’atelier
Participating in a creative process
Letting go
Reinforcing the collective
Organising Collective protected space
Synchronised time
44’00-45’00 Michèle Blumenthal et deux salariées Blog A discussion about the blog between the artist and the employees (Mirian and Cathie): they explain their fears because they cannot write. They then talk about the dependence of one on the other because they work on a production line. They write a text as a group and correct it with the help of Michèle. They talk about the suicide of the father of one of the girls following a redundancy.
She says that ‘she usually reads quite well’. However, at this critical moment, the book and the nights are replaced by the days of struggle at the factory.
Atelier de mécanique Participating in a creative process
Freeing up intimate speech
Letting go
Organising Protected space
Reflexive, intimate time
47’43’’- 48’50 Jacqueline et des salariées Making a giant bra They prepare the TV appearance. Jacqueline asks the girls to make her think of buying white, blue and red to make a giant bra. She says: ‘Tomorrow we’ll make it in France in Yssingeaux’. Jacqueline sews a giant bra with the colours of the French flag, with the help of other employees. They discuss among themselves how to make it. One scene shows Jacqueline wearing the giant bra with another employee. The others look on and laugh.... Then they all start singing ‘they are truly, they are truly... phe-no-mal’. A l’intérieur de l’atelier/poste de travail Designing a creative approach (for future mobilisation action)
Reinforcing the collective
Letting go
Collective protected space
Synchronised time
49’00- 49’45’’ Un groupe des salariées et le photographe Photos The employees see their portraits printed in large format. One worker is seen raising her hand to her mouth and glaring almost in panic at the other workers as she discovers the very expressive result of her ‘anger scream’. The workers are laughing. They decide to hang their pictures above their workstations. à l’intérieur de l’atelier/poste de travail Discovering artistic production
Reinforcing the collective
Staging artistic production
Mobilising Organising Collective protected space
Capacitating hybridized space
Synchronised / improvised time / improvised
1h05’00 Le repreneur, les 2 délégués syndicaux, et les autres salariées Songs The buyer meets the employees and explains the conditions of the takeover. They sing a last song. Inside the workshop Taking a stand in the interaction
Reinforcing the collective
Capacitating hybridized space
Synchronised / improvised time


Table 4. Analysis of the material (interviews and blog) and coding [extracts]
Author Source Approach intended creative Extracts Location of the action Share Class Organising/Mobilising Space-time dimension
Mr. Blumental and the workers Blog Blog Tuesday, noon. The snow is mummifying the landscape. The temperature oscillates between minus 8 and minus 5. Today is rather calm. No press, no personalities expected. Only the local journalists come to get news. At the traditional morning GA, we organize ourselves for the tasks and actions of the week: a meal with the association ‘Citoyens Solidaires’, this evening: a giant paella; Thursday, an outing to the market of Yssingeaux; Saturday an open day. Some of them start immediately the preparation of Saturday: tidying up the workshop, setting up a photo exhibition, text panels. Others start cleaning up: tonight we’re having a party. Workshop
General Assembly
Coordinating collective action
Strengthening the collective
Organising Mobilising Collective protected space
Synchronised time
Mr. Blumental and the workers Interviews Blog But in fact, they tell their life story. And I chronicle their lives in such a way that their lives... In fact, what struck me right away was that an individual is inscribed in history. The individual story is a witness to the larger story. That’s what I deeply believe. And that’s what I was interested in showing, so I said to them, ‘Tell me about your life, because I’m sure that what you’re going to tell me tells the story of the industry, the story of the department.’ So, they would say, ‘Yes, that’s true, because my father was a miner...’ There’s Marie-Claude, for example, who was filmed a lot. She had become the emblem of the struggle. Because one day she was filmed by a journalist crying. And so, all the journalists wanted Marie-Claude. But nobody made her tell her life story! And I said: ‘Marie-Claude, where do you come from, what’s your story? And she started to tell me that her father was a miner, that he took part in the miners’ struggles in 1968 at the bottom of the mine, that there were fights between miners, and that’s what I wrote. Another, Myriam, told me: ‘My father committed suicide when he was fired from his company. But at the time we didn’t talk about suicide, it was taboo, so we talked about corporate suicide. I made sure that the lives of the various people told the story of the working world. The diversity of the working world. Mechanical workshop Freeing up intimate speech
Supporting the media coverage of the struggle
Organising Mobilising Protected space Intimate reflective time
Mr. Blumental and the workers Blog Songs A surprise awaits them in the workshop. Some old retired workers have come and are singing a song for them, to the tune of La Montagne by Jean Ferrat, written by Jacqueline, as usual. We jumped on each other’s necks, we kissed, we hugged. Memories come to the surface, and emotion overwhelms everyone. Workshop Strengthening the collective
Letting go
Organising Collective protected space
Synchronized time
Employee (Jacqueline) Interviews Songs Yes, it was by chance. I remember, one evening, I came home, and the media had already come. The media had come and, I remember, I arrived home, we were eating and then, I said, ‘I have to write a song’. I said to my husband, ‘You know, it’s got to be something that sums up the factory and everything. So, the first one was about the bastards. It was what... ‘Sarkozy’s fault’. And so, I said ‘I have to find that’. So, I went on the internet, I took the song from ‘Les enfoirés’ and then, after, I redid my sentences and everything, both of them, in fact, he helped me. It was the first time he’d helped me with something like that. He helped me. And then, afterwards, there were other steps where we did it again. There was the ‘Mr. President, I’m writing a letter’ court. That’s it. So, I said ‘I have to find a song that goes with the episodes’. After that, there was the arrival of the colleagues, the old ones, the retired ones, it was on the theme, I think, of Jean Ferrat ‘La montagne’, that our factory is beautiful. And then there was the wedding because we had two heroes: Raymond and Bernadette. So, we married our... So, we needed a song and we said ‘Les Mariés’ by Michel Sardou and there was another one in between, I don’t remember. And, we thought that, at the end, when we left... first, if people listened well, it was said in the songs. At home Designing a creative process
Strengthening the collective
Taking a stand
Raising awareness
Producing a political message
Organising Mobilising Hybridised theatrical space
External/planned time
Employees Group interview Songs I had photocopied some sheets at home, 2 or 3, and I told the girls: ‘here, we found a song to the tune of... Au clair de la lune’, I’m saying anything, to the tune of... it was ‘Les enfoirés’. So, I gave them one or two sheets of paper and then we started to work on them, photocopied them and then we made another one.
  • - And then there was time to practice.
  • - Everyone got into the game. In fact, I thought it called for... it made a union.
  • - The song ‘Monsieur le Président’ was even before the announcement, because you sang it at the Tribunal.
  • - Yes, it was at the time, in September-October, when there were the first meetings where we knew that there was the Tribunal and so on. The first one was ‘Mr. Chairman’.
  • - And we repeated it on the bus. We distributed the sheets on the bus and we rehearsed ‘Mr. President’ on the bus and we sang it at the Tribunal.
And so, you, the idea was to bring people together? Was it to get a message across? What was the...?
The workshop Designing a creative approach (for a future mobilization action)
Raising awareness
Sharing an intimate word
Protected area
Intimate reflective time
Employees Group interview Songs
  • - It was the union. Because everyone was singing that.
  • - It was bringing people together and I thought it gave a dynamic.
  • - Everyone was hand in hand. Now, those who were in front, they listened to the lyrics. I was trying to tell our story, to tell them what was happening to us today, and all that. And that was it. And then, it put some... instead of having drums or whatever, we said...
  • - All the politicians who came, they were given…
  • - Yes, the repertoire. Because we had tone on certain words, we would go up and down.
The workshop Designing a creative approach (for a future mobilization action)
Raising awareness
Sharing an intimate word
Protected area
Intimate reflective time
Mr. Blumental and the workers Blog Making a giant giant blue-white-red bra Very quickly, you have to get organized, prepare the interview. Find an idea. In a flash, they make a giant blue, white and red bra. They will unfurl it in front of the cameras. Marie-Claude confides to me, ‘I’ve never been to Paris. I’ve never seen the Eiffel Tower. She laughs. Workshop Designing a creative approach (for a future mobilization action)
Raising awareness
Sharing an intimate word
Protected area
Intimate reflexive time
Employees Group interview Documentary film ‘Little hands’. And this Thomas here, you don’t remember his name? Thomas what?
  • - I have no idea.
  • - I stayed one night because he couldn’t question me.
  • - Me too, the same, I stayed one night until...
  • - Me, the same, eh.
  • - I stayed, I don’t know if I was the last one, there was no more machine.
  • - There were still one or two machines left.
  • - They were in a heap.
  • - He had done a whole staging, he had grouped together some patterns, things like that, to make it look like everything was dead, that there was nothing left. And, behind, he had delivery trucks that (misunderstood 46:06). We stayed until 8 or 8.30pm.
  • - I stayed late too. What’s more, it didn’t work at first, we had to start again. What was this famous Thomas doing? - He was asking us questions about the... he was doing a montage on the...
  • - He was asking us questions, in fact, about our life at the factory.
The factory Participating in a creative process
Freeing up intimate speech
Organising Protected area
Intimate reflexive time
Employees Group interview Photos [The photos] Everyone played the game well.
  • - Yes, he wanted to do portraits of angry women, especially.
  • - Yes, we all went through one by one. We were laughing at each other shouting insults, but it was pretty good. We all left with one’s portrait.
Did you put it up on your wall at home?
  • - No, it’s rolled up.
  • - It stayed rolled up with the clothespins.
  • - Yeah, it’s still got the clothespins. I took it out maybe... a year ago.
  • - About a year or so. I don’t remember what we were talking about with one of my sisters and I said, ‘I’ll show you when I’m angry’, ‘yes, because you’re not beautiful when you’re angry’, I was told, ‘you want me to show you how beautiful I am?’. So, I went into my room on my wardrobe.
The factory Participating in a creative process
Letting go
Strengthening the collective
Organising Protected spaces
Intimate reflexive time
What did it do during the conflict? Now you’re laughing. It was funny at the time too?
  • - It kept people busy too. I know that I wasn’t there... there are things that I saw in the film, because I wasn’t...
Gautier Interviews Photos ‘the cry of anger’ So, I said, ‘You created that word. I listened to you speak at the general assembly, you are angry. Can you show me this anger? Can you show it to me because it will do you good to show it, to say ‘Let’s get in front of a camera’. Go ahead, you can call me names, I don’t care, I’m not here anymore, I have a camera. What I want is you, not me. I’m just the guy who presses the button at that moment. You’re the one who’s going to give me a picture of how you represent yourself, you, in anger. You’re going to give me a performance, I’m putting you on stage. And I hope it will trigger things, but I don’t know.’ I don’t know what I’m triggering. But as a press photographer, he doesn’t know how his images change people’s minds. The factory Participating in a creative process
Letting go
Strengthening the collective
Mobilising Organising Protected space
Intimate reflexive time


Verbatims Table
Reference in the text Extracts from the interviews conducted in support of the text
V1 They came to see us. They were the ones who came. We didn’t ask anyone, not the press, not anything. It just fell into our lap. We were lucky. But, if you want, it’s because Michèle Blumental, she does small reports, etc., and she had sent a blog on Libération and she said to us ‘can I come? She’s a character too. Everyone is a character. I’ll let you find out. But I don’t care what they are. I’m more interested in what they do than what they are or what they say. (Raymond Vacheron, union leader)
V2 I’ve been asked to write a column in Libé newspaper, but I suggest that it becomes your column and that we write it together. So, they all said, ‘But we don’t know how to write. I said, ‘Don’t worry, you’ll see, it’s easy to write. [...] So, every day, the question was asked: who goes to the blog, who comes? And in fact, the movement took hold very naturally. [...] So, they quickly got into the game and then some of them got into the writing game. (Michèle Blumental, artist)
V3 I wanted it to be during the struggle because I could have said to myself ‘I’ll come back several months later’, and in fact, no, because they were in a period of fragility and anguish. And I knew that this was where the memories could come out, because they didn’t hate each other, they were in solidarity. So, there you have it, it was in this period of solidarity and anguish, to get them to talk about the work. (Thomas Roussillon, artist)
V4 And then, in the little corner, because we had set up a little studio in a corner of the workshop with the boys who had made their space available to me [...] And when they came there, they would say to us: ‘It’s nice, your little corner, it’s a resting place. And then we feel like we’re coming to the shrink. It’s good for us to come to you because we feel like we’re coming to the shrink. They were confiding in me, yes, of course. And then, in the teams and everywhere, for everyone, they were all united and they were all buddies, but in fact, there was a lot of conflict. (Michèle Blumental, artist)
V5 Because they were harassed by the media to testify... always in the business. And me, to sit like that, for an hour and a half, with the camera in front. (...) I’m all alone, so I put it on a stand next to me and I set up a device that already took half an hour with sound, etc., and then I sat down on a chair, so it takes a while. And, she looks at me like that and, after a while, I really think, when she says ‘I don’t know what I’m going to do because, all my life, I’ve done nothing else’, everything falls apart and I really think that’s it. Even if there was the shock of the liquidation before, it takes a while for this thing to sink in and say to yourself ‘actually, I don’t know how to do anything. What’s going to happen to me? (Thomas Roussillon, artist)
V6 But in fact, they tell their life story. And I chronicle their lives in such a way that their lives... In fact, what struck me right away was that an individual is inscribed in history. The individual story is a witness to the larger story. That’s what I deeply believe. And that’s what I was interested in showing, so I said to them, ‘Tell me about your life, because I’m sure that what you’re going to tell me tells the story of the industry, the story of the department.’ So, they would say, ‘Yes, that’s true, because my father was a miner...’ There’s Marie-Claude, for example, who was filmed a lot. She had become the emblem of the struggle. Because one day she was filmed by a journalist crying. And so all the journalists wanted Marie-Claude. But nobody made her tell her life story! And I said: ‘Marie-Claude, where do you come from, what’s your story? And she started to tell me that her father was a miner, that he took part in the miners’ struggles in 1968 at the bottom of the mine, that there were fights between miners, and that’s what I wrote. Another, Myriam, told me: ‘My father committed suicide when he was fired from his company. But at the time we didn’t talk about suicide, it was taboo, so we talked about suicide in companies. I made sure that the lives of the various people told the story of the working world. The diversity of the working world. (Michèle Blumental, artist)
V7 Lejaby is my family. I don’t know anything else. I’ve had a sad and monotonous life. Now I would like to live differently, to experience something else, to laugh. Do I know what it means to laugh? Do I know what it means to go out? No, I don’t even know what it means, because I’ve been deprived of all that. (A worker speaking in the documentary)
V8 So, I said, ‘You created that word. I listened to you speak at the general assembly, you are angry. Can you show me that anger? Because it will do you good to get it out, to say ‘Let’s get in front of a camera’. Go ahead, you can call me names, I don’t care, I’m not here anymore, I have a camera. What I want is you, not me. I’m just the guy who presses the button at that moment. You’re the one who’s going to give me a picture of how you represent yourself, you, in anger. You’re going to give me a performance, I’m putting you on stage. And I hope it will trigger things, but I don’t know.’ I don’t know what I’m triggering. But like a press photographer: he doesn’t know how his images change people’s minds. (Vincent Gautier, artist)
V9 I remember, but Gautier will surely tell you about it better than I can. At the beginning, to make them scream, but it was difficult! Because they didn’t want to, they didn’t dare. And he succeeded, all the same. But he succeeded, because it was in a particular moment. If they went back today, it wouldn’t work, the shouting. (Raymond Vacheron, union leader)
V10 I don’t bring a solution, I’m just an individual who comes, who will testify to your thing. Afterwards, I don’t dominate anything, I don’t have access to the media. [...] On the other hand, I bring you to a moment where you can get out of the stress, the anger, the thing, that is to say, we’ll have a few laughs while taking the photos. Because it was a lot of fun, there were the girls in the back saying, ‘No, go like this. Go ahead, yell ‘Bastard!’ They were letting off steam, it was a release on the first day. The second day, it was a bit more intellectual on their side too. Of course, as the photo sessions went on, they thought more about what was going on. I don’t know, I’ve never talked about it, if they think it helped them to make progress in the conflict. I hope so, but I don’t know. I did make progress because, technically and humanly, things happened that I analysed. (Vincent Gautier, artist)
V11 Everyone played the game well.
  • - Yes, he wanted to do portraits of angry women, especially.
  • - Yes, we all went through it one by one. We were laughing at each other shouting insults, but it was okay. We all left with one’s portrait. [...]
I remember... sometimes, the girls, when they shouted ‘bastards’, ‘wait, can you do it again?’, ‘bastards!’.
  • - Even louder.
  • - Even louder. And the other one saying ‘assholes’, that was funny. It was funny, we laughed, we cried, we were angry, we were...
  • - We went from one thing to another. The others were doing the photo in one corner and the others were speaking in front of a microphone in another corner. Yes, it was...
  • - Yes, because there was a lot of media in the workshop, it’s worth saying. (Group interview with Lejaby workers)
V12 [Vincent Gautier] said ‘I want to put this on the steps of the cathedral’. I thought it was a great idea, but I said ‘how are we going to do it?’ He said ‘we’ll see’. So, he took his photos and then, in fact, we couldn’t put them on the steps of the cathedral because it was impossible, we were overwhelmed. So, we put them in the factory. And so, you see this thing, magnificent, all these faces, etc. And they all played along. There, you can feel the difference. Today, they have difficulty speaking, whereas at the time, they were all ready to be photographed, to speak to the cameras, to go up to Paris on TV. There is a difference. It’s normal, because here they were back to everyday life. They were in an exceptional situation. They were in creation, but not here. (Raymond Vacheron, union leader)
V13 Yes, it was by chance. I remember, one evening, I came home, and the media had already come. (...) we were eating and then I said: ‘I have to write a song’. I said to my husband, ‘You see, it has to be something that sums up the factory and everything. So, the first one was about the bastards. It was what... ‘Sarkozy’s fault’. (...) So I went on the internet, I took the song from the ‘enfoirés’ and then, afterwards, I redid my sentences and everything, both of them, in fact, he helped me. (...) And then, afterwards, there were other stages where we redid them.’ (Jacqueline, worker)
V14 It was the union. Because everyone was singing that. It brought people together, and then I thought it gave a sense of dynamism. Everyone was hand in hand. Now those who were in front, they were listening to the lyrics. I tried to tell our story, to tell them what was happening to us today and all that. And that’s it... all the politicians who came were given the repertoire’. (Jacqueline, worker)
V15 Me: ‘What did you think of this morning’s GA?’ Monique: - When I get up in the morning, I have to be motivated. As if the day was going to be hard. And the GA, it takes away the weight I had an hour before. This energy that circulates makes me feel good. And that’s what we need because... Céline: - Because we don’t really know anymore... Monique: - And the job centre thing, I don’t want to... I don’t want to go there. I don’t want to go there. If they ask me what I want, it’s to have a job, to have a project. I want to get up in the morning and go to work. Céline: - Raymond (unionist, nda), he puts things in their place. He removes certain doubts. It’s concrete what he says, for me. Me: - I found that today you didn’t sing as usual. It was very moving. Cathie: - Yes, it was more restrained. Maybe it’s because we don’t know where we stand anymore. Because it takes on proportions... Everything that happens around... We’re not used to it. It shakes up our lives, our daily lives, it shakes up our little lives. Well, that’s a generalization, because my life has never been a cushy one (laughs). Monique (49 years old, joined Lejaby at 18, clothing mechanic): - Ah! Today, it was different. There wasn’t the same energy. Maybe because J. wasn’t there. My vocal cords are already getting hot. But I’m happy to be going through this. I wouldn’t want to miss this experience, this experience of struggle, because it’s also part of life. It’s like... being in motion..., or in motion..., it’s feeling alive... And I do NOT want to die !
V16 The songs they did with each other, I think that was totally for them... Because it’s a process... that, in my opinion... besides, they talk about the songs. They don’t talk about the people who came from outside. But of that, of this place... of putting into songs. I was very surprised. I said ‘what the hell do they care about putting their stuff into songs?’. Frankly, I thought, it seemed so important to them, because they kept talking about it. I was like, ‘Why are they talking to me about this?’ Frankly, you think, ‘Well, okay, it’s a tool for struggle, but...’. And in fact, I think it’s in talking to you that I say to myself, ‘But in fact, it was beyond that. There, for the time being, there was that. There was this idea, where you transcend something, through the tunes of the ‘variétoche’, but you transcend something. And there’s something that unites us in our singing. And I think that the artistic process... because it’s also an artistic process, there’s a distance, etc. .... I think that it really counted as a place of strength for them. (Carole Thibaut, author)
V17 I know that people are capable of extraordinary things. I’ve experienced it hundreds of times and I know. I knew they were capable of it, but they didn’t know they were capable of it. I was the only one who knew they were capable of it. It’s terrible to say, I had perspective, much more perspective on the facts. It’s like artists, you see through what others don’t see. That’s how you can... because, in a way, that’s what being an activist is all about. That is to say, you are able to go beyond, to see behind what is immediate. (Raymond Vacheron, union leader)
V18 I’m sorry, but this is the first time they’ve had these problems, to speak out, to be listened to. You don’t realize. You’re interviewing someone, I’m a trade unionist, I’ve had thousands of people ask me... but no one had ever asked them any questions. And, when you see the film, where she is telling about her father’s suicide. There are people, you say ‘but wait... that person who was next door, I never knew his story’. Even the colleagues at work! You know what I mean? These are things where they listen to you, and they let you speak. Because, despite everything, you have to make people talk. So, the photos, the shouting... ‘no, but we’re going to be ridiculous!’ and when they unfold their photos, they laugh. But they have integrated something. [...] That it’s not trivial, that they have unbuttoned themselves... thanks to them, or for them, [the artists, ed.], whatever the formula. But they did something that they don’t do and that they weren’t ready to do every day. And that’s important too. (Raymond Vacheron, union leader)


1. All the verbatim transcripts can be found in a table in the Appendix.