Times of the « great strike »
During the nineteenth century, the Blanzy mines were already subject to social turmoil. In 1899 however, labour disputes and social unrest spread throughout the department of Saône-et-Loire, in Burgundy. The mines of Blanzy and the factories of Le Creusot were at the heart of social movements, even though employers enforced a paternalistic policy and a model industrial community that provided protection for workers. Miners and working-class labourers launched a strike movement to push directly for higher pay and better working conditions while also seeking legislation to improve their lots and some kind of recognition from their authoritarian, contemptuous hierarchy.
Between 1899 and 1901, tensions intensified and led to one strike after the other. The scale of the conflict and the extent of engagement of workers hit the mines and factories harshly : in June 1899, nearly 10,000 workers out of a total of 11,500 employees were on strike in Montceau. Between January and May 1901, an unprecedented strike left the mines without labour force for 105 working days in the middle of winter. This social unrest resonated in the press and had a national impact. The army was dispatched on site to supervise industrial facilities.
Even if the social improvements following this important mobilisation seemed insufficient, a strong collective class-consciousness emerged among workers and coal miners after this great strike and led to a growing trade union movement. In Montceau, the miner’s trade union and other labour unions were created in June 1899 and gathered 8000 members.
In 1908, a location for debates and organisation of union leaders over the future direction of the miners’ movement was needed. Challenged by the mine’s management, the miners’ union chose to build its headquarters “ le Syndicat des Mineurs” in the Rue de l'Est (today rue Jean Jaurès street), in the centre of Montceau. The construction work was financed by the funds collected directly from the members.
The Union’s House
Symbolically, the “Syndicat des Mineurs” stands in alignment with the mine’s management and administration building to emphasize the new counter power of united miners. The Union had indeed given the workers in these communities strength, solidarity and a sense of power, sustained by a feeling of belonging and pride in a shared working-class experience. The architecture of the three-storey building is distinctive and mixes bricks and stone. On the front of the building, the inscription "built by the union of miners and similar - right and duty" can be seen. The building features a large event hall for public meetings, used occasionally as a public hall for municipal events. Many celebrities of the time performed on the stage, concerts and shows are still organised today.
La Maison d'école
In the Rue Jean Jaurès, another emblematic building can be found : la Maison d’école. This School Museum is housed in Montceau’s first public boys school opened in 1882, after the Jules Ferry laws were introduced. This tall stone building contrasts with schools built by the mining company. The permanent exhibition traces back the history of public education from the 1880s to the 1950s. While you are in Montceau, stroll along Rue Jean Jaurès to discover a symbolic heritage of France’s political and social reforms in the late 19th century. The singular history of the town of Montceau-les-Mines and its labour force becomes alive.
De passage à Montceau, rendez-vous rue Jean Jaurès afin de découvrir un patrimoine symbolique issu des réformes politiques et sociales de la France de la fin du XIXe siècle et qui représente l’histoire singulière de la ville de Montceau-les-Mines.