The Lip Affair, 1968–1981

By Donald Reid


How the occupation of a watch factory became one of the iconic labor
struggles after May 1968.

In 1973, faced with massive layoffs, workers at the legendary Lip watch
firm in Besançon, France, occupied their factory to demand that no one lose
their job. They seized watches and watch parts, assembled and sold watches,
and paid their own salaries. Their actions recaptured the ideals of May
1968, when 11 million workers had gone on strike to demand greater autonomy
and to overturn the status quo. Educated by ’68, the men and women at the
Besançon factory formed committees to control every aspect of what became a
national struggle. Female employees developed a working-class feminism,
combating workplace sexual harassment and male control of the union. The
endurance of the Lip movement and its appeal through the 1970s came from
its rich democratic, participatory culture. The factory workers welcomed
supporters and engaged with them, an expression of solidarity between
blue-collar and student activists that built on the legacy of 1968.

Opening the Gates: The Lip Affair, 1968–1981 is the first account of all
facets of the experience, drawing extensively on unpublished materials to
reconstruct the vision and practice of those involved. The Lip workers’
struggle was the last widespread expression in France of the belief that
creativity and moral autonomy are the driving force of social
transformation. It brought about what Sartre called “the extension of the
field of possibilities”—not just for workers, but for all those who gave
the movement support and meaning.



“Donald Reid has not just written a masterpiece of modern labor history.
His brilliant narrative about the Lip workers who ran their own factory
makes clear that they were blazing a new direction for the left. Although
their experiment in self-management did not survive, it should inspire
anyone who believes in the democratization of everyday life. When workers
in the middle of France leaped beyond being just employees or aggrieved
strikers, they showed that another world might indeed be possible.”
– Michael Kazin, professor of history at Georgetown University and editor,

“Don Reid’s history of the protracted struggle of workers in the Lip watch
factory is the most comprehensive and imaginative account that exists in
English or French. What one worker called “the perfume of self-management”
wafts through the pages of this book, bringing alive the movement that
defined social upheaval in France in the long 1960s.”
– Kristin Ross, author of Communal Luxury

“In 1973, French workers at the Lip watch factory in Besançon occupied
their bankrupt plant and launched a movement that became a cause célèbre,
attracting the attention of politicians, intellectuals, religious leaders,
labor organizers, and ordinary citizens. In this magnificently detailed
book, historian Donald Reid traces the origins of the movement and follows
it through to its dénouement. It will surely be the definitive work on what
may have been the last attempt by workers anywhere in the West to
demonstrate that self-management was not a pipe dream but a genuine
alternative to actually existing capitalism.”
– Arthur Goldhammer, Senior Affiliate at Harvard’s Center for European


Hardback : June 2018 / 9781786635402 / £40.00

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