(second part)




The identity Cheminote


The effectifs


Strikes and Unions






The identity cheminote

Till the end of the 60s, the community cheminote, consolidated by the heavy history of the debuts of the railroad and admirably told by Henri Vincenot in its entitled book " The everyday life in railroads in the XIXth century ", has grouped together and formed a group welded ,homogeneous where the individualism was stranger.


Most railwaymen lived then, as we said previously, in the suburban cities called “of the Families” and “the Beavers”, like in the rental buildings of the city of the heathers (called boxes of matches) located on the communes of Saint Etienne of Rouvray and Sotteville-the-Rouen. These cities constituted of real city in the city where one found all that it is necessary to live and amuse.


The city of the Families, with the baptized streets of names of flowers (built as from the Thirties by the entrepreneur Albert Ruquier), had of a stewardship, a convertible village hall in cinema, sports grounds, a library, a social center with nursery, a chapel " Notre Dame of the Ways" built in 1955 - and even practically of its elementary school following the example the school "Paul Langevin" where at the beginning of years 60, 2/3 of the pupils are children of railwaymen.


This quasi-autonomy, urges moreover the City of Families to self-proclaim " free municipality " in 1939. The threshold of QM crossed , once the working day ended , most of the railroad employees ceases being colleagues, for become nearby, inside these quoted which constituted a closed world.


The team spirit which was on the base of the organization of the work to QM found quite naturally its continuation in cities and was even at the base of the construction of the city of the Beavers of the Rail. Indeed, after the liberation, needs in housing are enormous. Almost everywhere initiatives are born to rehouse the populations which saw their house destroyed by bombardments . QM does not escape the ruler. The management incites his employees, by a grant and technical advice to build of the own hands their houses. The adventure of Beavers begins in 1948.


Teams of 4 railroad employees of the same affinity, and tried by the adventure, are constituted to build 4 detached houses of a floor and of 4 rooms each. During a period from 10 to 18 months, the 4 men dash into the simultaneous construction of 4 detached houses.


All the free moments is dedicated: the annual 20 days off, every Saturdays after noon, every Sunday and the evening after the work, about 30 o'clock a week.


At the time of the vapor work in the workshops of QM is not whole rest. The construction of these houses then represents a true exploit for these men. Once construction finished, is attributed, with the fate attribution, from the houses, whose cost is from approximately 1 million of franc. This work, is based on the spirit of solidarity between railwaymen and continues until the beginning of the Fifties.


From the year 60, a second wave of building was born. It must allow the last railway workers and their families still living in temporary huts made ​​of wood or metal, in turn, access to property and especially the comfort of the time. One therefore envisages the construction of nearly 200 houses of type F5, with garden, behind the psychiatric hospital in Saint Etienne du Rouvray. But the momentum of the first Beaver is a bit "out of breath". The participation of railway workers is reduced at the excavation of the houses. The rest of the building being assured by companies.


The attribution of the residences is done, there still, by lottery while being arranged so that the two future neighbors (houses being twinned) know each other and are appreciated. From where in general two colleagues. The construction of these last residences marks the apogee of the cheminote society in all its “splendor”. With several of its elected members town councillors, general advisers, mayors and as well at Saint Etienne of Rouvray and in Sotteville-the-Rouen, the destiny of these two cities and railwaymen is closely bound. And long time, Sotteville will carry an locomotive to vapor proudly on its blazon. 


But the end of the Sixties and the beginning of the Seventies, which see the passage of the vapor to the diesel, mark also a change within the cheminote society which starts to be exhausted with the profit of the individual. The phenomenon, which is not unique to the railroad employees, sees the habits changing at the same time as the car and the television spread (in 1953, 8 % of the French workers possess an automobile against 73,6 % in 1975, 0,9 % television in 1953 against 88,4 % in 1975).


More and more, the railroad employee gets loose from the universe worn by the cities which is not any more a model in itself. If at the exit of the war, they were the symbol of the solidarity, the mutual aid, the cohesion and the social victories of the world of the railroad employees, they also were a carrier of a harder and harder conformity to support. The Cities thus see their populations decreasing.


The general decline of the birthrate following in " baby boum ", decline of the staff to QM and the choice of residences outside cities, by the new railroad employees, obliges the S.N.C.F. to authorize in 1975 the railroad employees pensioned off to keep their housing in the city of heathers.


At the beginning of the Eighties the S.N.C.F open its housing stock with the not-railwaymen in search of housing, to avoid finding itself with unoccupied residences. The cities thus lose their constituent purely cheminote. And then the stewardships of Saint Etienne and Sotteville close, the village hall of the city of the families is unused making these cities less alive. In the same way the ball of “Miss Rail” who was held with the Town hall of Sotteville-the-Rouen and brought together the railwaymen around the former apprentices once a year disappears fault from participants.


It was during second half of the 19th century that the first working gardens in the railwayman medium had appeared. The railroads were counting among the great landowners these grounds will be put at the disposal of families of railwaymen while waiting for their use to come.


It is in these plots of land akin, that a large number of family are going to spend time free after their working day and to improve so their everyday life. Furthermore, from 1930, the new houses of the railroad employees are going to surround themselves with kitchen gardens. These "City Gardens" are a striking success. But little by little, potatoes, carrots and salads will leave place with dahlias and lawns of the pleasure gardens.


Gradually the lifestyle of the railroad employee differs hardly from that the other workers. He frequents the same hypermarkets, the same theaters. The summer, in the steering wheel of its car, he leaves for vacancy, and he worries about the future of her children. But this movement of déculturation of the society cheminote is visible also within the company of QM in the decade 70-80 with the progressive departure of the railroad employees who had known the vapor and the arrival of new staffs trained to the technique of the diesel.


For many persons, the period of the "vapor" represents " the golden age " of the French railroads. The movie " the human animal " with Jean Gabin or the pounds of the writer railroad employee Henri Vincenot are only strengthening this idea.


The steam engine, indeed, has something magic only the diesel locomotive does not have. To convince itself, it is enough to remember the glance amazed by the visitors on the locomotive "Pacific" present at QM during the open day organized in June, 1994. The steam locomotive with his plume of smoke, his pistons in movement, his "chauffeur", putting the coal in the reddening boiler gives a " alive aspect " to the machine. On the other hand, diesel locomotives and electric have not to show, all is inside, shielded from sheet steels and from glance, what has sharply less charm. To the repair shops of QM, the work on steam locomotives, was specific work which had not equivalence in other industrial branches. The steam locomotive was indeed the last survival of the era of the industrial revolution which had seen him being born. The internal combustion engine, the electric engine, the diesel engine had supplanted little by little the steam engine. The railroad employees were the last workers agents of the technique of this engine where from a certain pride for their job.


The arrival of the diesel at QM was thus a brutal change of state of mind. At the time of conversion, the diesel was already very widespread - the S.N.C.F made consequently only follow the technical evolution but that obliged it to convert its personal vapor into staff dieselist.


Now, this period also marks the arrival of specialized technicians foreign to the world of the railroads, for the majority, coming the Basse-Normandie. We indeed observe a decline of the endogenous recruitment. The formula of the railroad employee from father to son tends to lose of its truthfulness - The causes are multiple: more opportunities offered to the children of railroad employees, social ascent thanks to the studies, the refusal of the profession of the parents from 1968, less ease to return in the S.N.C.F. provoked by the decline of the recruitment..


All these reasons, and one could find others, have brought to “QM” of the people who are not impregnated, since childhood, of the culture "cheminote". That they are electricians, diésélistes, plasturgistes, pneumaticiens, their arrival at QM is fortuitous and does not raise of predestination as that was the case before for the sons of railwaymen. Work at the workshops of QM does not present more interest than to work in the automobile or the electromechanical engineering.


This new prospect ends necessarily in a change of behavior and of mentality of the workers within QM. The corporatist spirit is strongly breathless at the same time as the individualism took up (to put in parallel with the decline of the unionization).


The common values which were clean for the railroad employees, as the love of the job, want to say nothing to the newcomers issued from others center "social-occupational" and often from agricultural regions which have no worker culture. The "cheminotes cities" no play more their role of integration in the group as they made him in past. From now on there are so many railroad employees as there is of individuals' profiles. But are we another railroad employee in the soul to QM at the dawn of the year 2000?


The effectifs

In 1995 the workshops of QM employ less than 800 persons full-time. This number is far of the number of workmen (more than 1500 ) of the time of the vapor. If we examine the curve of staff, we observe several very representative periods of the history of the workshops of Quatre-Mares. She reflects, in fact perfectly, the general decline of the staff of the S.N.C.F. between 1938 and 1990 which pass from 500.800 to 200.000 agents.


Between 1921 and 1923, the staff turn around 930 persons. It is the period of the completion of the construction and the arrangement of workshops. The activity is relatively limited. Of more QM has to find his place among the other repair shops railroad French.But at the end of the 20s, workshops are finally operational. The work streams, what urges the Direction to hire in large number of the qualified workers or not. The Second World War however comes to break the good health of the workshops of QM. The evacuations of staff on the other establishments, the S.T.O ., the destructions bound to bombardments, making stop the largest part of the activity, entail since of the year 1943 and until the liberation a fall of the curve of staff of about 1200 persons. It is only from 1945 with the reconstruction of buildings and the installation of new machines, that the effectifs go back up. However they do not reach the level of before war.


The explanation lies in the modernization of workshops and the effort led to increase the profitability of the establishment. It passes by a trimming of the work force. It is necessary to add that many agents who had been scattered during the war stayed in their residence of fold. The disparity between salaries offered by the S.N.C.F. and the private industry entails, furthermore, numerous resignations, in particular in 1945, 46 and 47 (more than 100 a year).


But already, pointe on the horizon, the conversion of the vapor towards the diesel. The curve of staff is then going to bend in the 70 's, to pass under the bar of thousand employees.


Three reasons in it, on one hand the stop of the hiring further to the variation of load between the programs vapor and diesel, the massive retirements (between 1970 and 1975 we count 150 departures a year) and finally the incitement at departure agents volunteer who will join the companies as Renault or the teaching.


 In 1975 conversion is finished. For the direction of the company, the objective is now to lower the means age of the employees, which is around of 40-50 years. It is one of highest among the workshops of the S.N.C.F.


The hiring of young people trained to the technique of the diesel starts again, what entails the rejuvenation of the staff and the state of mind within workshops. However the activity of workshops is going to fall little by little under the influence of a decrease of the workload. The retired people are not replaced.


Only, at the dawn of the 90s, the integration, not always easy from employees stemming from workshops who closing their doors, as it will be the case in Dieppe with the S.N.A.T. (National Company of Cross-Channel Armament), to Mézidon or still to Sotteville-Buddicom, entail a lighthearted back up of the curve of staff. But this is only a short break in the chronic decline of the staff of QM..


Note finally, that for some tasks, such as cleaning and janitorial services, these are personal non-"railroad employees", who are reflecting the growing role played by sub-contracting in the activities of the SNCF


Strikes and Unions

At the end of
the First World War the trade union movement, including "railroad", hints at Sotteville-lès-Rouen as a great revolutionary center, or even a fortress of socialism, of the anarchism, "neo Malthusian" and of the Bolshevism, to in the words of the time.


In 1919, 3,200 railways workers, are unionized (workshops and depots) in Sotteville and 1 May 1919 brings together many thousands of workers holding banners in support of the Russian Revolution.

The period was marked by the fight against high prices that affects the entire population. But for the railways workers, the great strike is that of May 1920. All the French railway goes on strike, in particular for to demand the nationalization of railways and improve their living conditions. The movement is a failure that will haunt the minds until 1936. A Sotteville, 196 workers of the workshops are revoked and will be engaged in railway repair shops "Perchot" to Oissel.


The failure of the strike will be the trigger that will lead to the splitting of the railway unions. He is endorsed in July 1920 at the "Congress of Lille", who sees the division from the CGT into CGT at SFIO trend, and the CGTU, at trend communist and revolutionary. Quickly, this union dissension ends in a decline of the number of union members, who falls at 1400 in 1920.


The directions of the rail networks takes advantage of these dissensions within the "railwaymen" to return on what they had given before. The allowance "of living expensive" of 720 F is removed, the residence allowance lowered, the working time is extended by 10 minutes at QM ... In this movement of social regression, the September 14, 1922,the parliament vote the removal of the Day 8:00 and reinstated the income tax.


Demonstrations and strikes in the years "20" reflect this divide the labor movement. The anti-colonial struggles and the defense of oppressed people, not enough to gather the railway workers and their unions.


The CGTU denounces CGT to play in the hands of the direction, by bringing its support for the politics of rationalization of railroads. However, the 1929 economic crisis affecting France in 1931-1932, the rise of fascism in Europe, lead to attempts at reconciliation of trade unions aware of his inability to deal blows to the railway. During his visit to the house of the people of Sotteville December 5, 1933, Pierre Semard - which in 1936 became secretary general of the CGT reunited - "regrets the current inertia of Railway Sotteville where a few years ago, beautiful manifestations of the working classes were held."


In the same meeting, Grelet, secretary of the labor union, regrets the indifference of the railroad employees who do not deign to move to attending the meetings, and who lose interest in the decrease of salary which watches for them. The meetings organized by labor unions C.G.T.U and C.G.T., at the house of the people, at the cinema the Renaissance or in the village hall of the El Dorado of Sotteville-lès-Rouen, attract less and less the public. From then on, both labor unions are not going to stop silencing their differences, and trying to establish a common forehead of fight, in particular in front of a direction which attacks salaries. The government, by its politics of awkward deflation, the contribution on salaries, obliges, unintentionally the CGTU labor unions and CGT to group together in a single labor union. The "CGT" returns to QM in October, 1935.


The year 36, saw 80% of 4200 "Sottevillais" Cheminots, union member. The same year, the elections carry in May, a frontally popular government in the power.


A Tremendous hope is born in the working class and fears in conservative circles and in the directions of the networks. The climate of the strike in France in June 1936, arrived at QM attenuated and if the railway QM do not enter in the strike they financially support the movement. However, on June 12, the union issued an ultimatum to management. If within 6 days a number of claims as the cancellation of wage cuts, Circulation permits in greater numbers, days off from 15 to 21 days, the 40h00 week, remove the timekeeping by the "offices times" and a number of decisions taken by management and deemed unfair by the staff ... the strike will be declared. The "Direction" bends - the risks of strikes are pushed aside - Rambaud the delegate of the federation invites the railroad employees to rely on their delegates and on the government on which it is besides advisable, not to hamper the action by manifestations unthinking from impatiences.


In this climate stretched out between direction and staff, a somber story comes to threaten the fragile balance. A rumour according to which, grave events took place to QM propagates up to the workshops of Saints and Rennes. The employees of these centers decide to go on strike on June 13th during 35 minutes by solidarity. However the strike is stopped in time by delegates' intervention of the CGT. A investigation is then led by the Ministry of the Interior to discover the troublemakers of this rumour intended to favor an insurrectionary movement. The track goes back up to "Contegent" head of district of Sotteville which passes in the confession. The man, suspected of belonging in the " cross of fire ", excites the labor unions which denounce the threat of the extreme right on the frontally popular government.


The Year 1937 sees the nationalization of railroads, what represents a big victory for the railroad employees. The penalties against the strikers of 1920 are raised. However CGT has difficulty in hiding its impatience, in front of the wait-and politics of the government. The law of 13.11.1939 on some gained of 1936, marks the end of the state of grace. But already, come to the fore the divisions within the CGT, between communists and socialists. QM, on the eve of World War II, falls into the camp of CGT tend SFIO.


The occupation marks a break in this internal fight. The fight against the occupant is the only objective and demonstrations, although very risky, are organised. The CGT, spent in the underground and organises the resistance. For that reason the Gestapo chases mercilessly the persons in charge. However the liberation of the national territory is going to allow the reconstruction and the resumption of the activities QM. Of 1945 in the year 1947 a holy alliance goes to see the day.


The demands are temporarily tidied up on the altar of the reconstruction. But when this one is enough moved forward the strike bursts from September till October, 1947. The railroad employees judges that they must be paid by their efforts. Of the railroad employees, certains are then dismissed for fact of strike (they will be put back in their rights only in 1981 with Charles Fiterman's arrival to the head of the Ministry of Transport of the government of union of the left elected in May).


Year 1947 is marked by the birth of the labor union FO ( Force ouvrière ), by the split of CGT. But during the elections which follow, CGT gathers under its colors, 80 % of the voters. The percentage of Unions members is then, more than 70 % in workshops. The administration staff is, on the other hand, little unionised, . The importance of these figures allows the syndicate to weigh with more weight, during the social negotiations with the direction.


In 1953, this power, is going to be able to burst out against decrees Laniel. These want to question the age of the retirement and the status of the railroad employees. During 3 weeks in August the railroad employees go on strike, and obtain the retreat of the decree. But three railroads employees of the warehouse of Sotteville are revoked.


The new immediately known, the workers of QM went on strike and all the workers in overalls, and "sabots", walk on the prefecture, soon joined by dockers in Rouen. The next day at the continuation of the strike, Rouen was put under siege by "Capdevielle" (representing law enforcement). The Armored cars went out of barracks and of machine guns installed in the entrance of the bridges of Rouen. In front of the scale of the set up means the demonstrators recede.


Apart from purely categorical claims, QM rallies, as before the war, against the war in Indochina and Algeria. Events are organized in 1956 to prevent the departure of railway workers in Algeria. Finally, these are embarked chained for Algeria, and sent to disciplinary battalions (in their return to QM most are moved towards other establishments).


The events of May, 1968, attains QM with delay. And the establishment, forewarned about the Parisian events through the telephone network of S.N.C.F ., joined the movement and goes on strike. But already, the movement of deunionization is felt. The renewal of the agents, to replace the departure of the retired people, brings persons who come from the rural circles of low Normandy, little familiarize to the role of labor unions and to the corporatist spirit of the railroad employees. The contribution to labor unions also becomes an obstacle for certain.


In 1985, the union members represent no more than 40 % of the staff of QM. Year 1985 sees the creation of the Works council (CE), controlled by labor unions. They take care henceforth of certain number of privileges, which depended before of the direction. Canteen, holiday camps, .. .


The direction is unloaded for a certain number of possible conflicts with labor unions and staff. But the unions retain their freedoms in wage negotiations, the defense of working conditions, public service, or as trade union rights in October 1982 (Une plaque portant le nom de "carrefour de la liberté" commémore cet événement entre leshalls B et C).


During the months of November and December 1986, the workshops of QM went on strike in solidarity with the movement of "Roulants". However, it passes relatively unnoticed by the public. But it is true that a strike by employees of QM poses no inconvenience to the traveler. For this category of railroad, strikes have no effect on the revision program machines.


Scalded by this conflict, the fights of labor unions, during 9 years, take place in a less demonstrative way and centred on the problems appropriate for the staff of the establishment.


However, December, 1995 sees being born a strike action of a rare scale. The plan "Juppé", calling into question the duration of contribution to the Social Security as well as the planning contract linking the S.N.C.F. to the State, was going to collide with the hostility of the employees Railroads. Translated by the blocking of workshops during three weeks, making be reborn for a while the atmosphere of the big movements of past (in particular that of the 1953) and make the government move back on these projects.



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