Mines, a history of paternalism: episode 1/4 of the podcast At the bottom of the mine

It is a long history of mining that began more than two centuries ago, when mining companies hired hundreds, thousands of men, women and children, an entire mining population, who were installed near coal mine shafts. By owning housing, schools, sports clubs or churches, these private companies organize the daily life and destiny of minors, with its morality, education and religion.

“Being a miner was the guarantee of a salary, housing, heating in winter, education for the children and access to the mining cooperative for purchases”. The historian Marion Fontaine also explains: “SIf we do not take into account the dangerousness of the trade, in terms of daily life, in the years 1870-1880, it is better to be a miner than a textile worker. But this protection comes at a cost. It has a huge price, because it makes the workers extremely dependent on these employers’ largesse.”.

Thus, in return, the miners owe respect and obedience to the bosses. A real system of employer paternalism as geographer Simon Edelblutte tells us: “The industrialist will provide for the needs of the workers, he pays them and provides them with housing, as well as certain leisure activities, the education of the children, and so on. But if you had problems at work, if you joined a union, and the boss was not happy, not only could you lose your job, but you could lose your housing too, so it was a way of controlling yourself..”

But faced with this omnipresence of companies, mining solidarity is organizing itself little by little and resisting.

From the foreman to the engineer, from the mine guards to the big office, the supervision and control of the workforce is more or less strict depending on the area.

It is in the Nord Pas de Calais that we do our immersion here.

A documentary by Johanna Bedeau carried out by Marie-Laure Ciboulet.

With :

  • Marion Fontaine historian and University Professor – Sciences Po History Center, Director of Doctoral Studies in History

  • Auguste Wantier former mine guard and his wife Therese Wantier …,
  • Richard Berthollet author director,

  • Bastien Cabot “Doctor in Contemporary History”.

  • Louis Bembenek former miner,
  • Simon Edelblutte geographer,

  • Gilles Briand urban planner, Director of studies – “Operational development” mining basin mission,

  • patrick garciaformer miner
  • Diana Cooper Richet historian, author of the book, The People of the Night. Mines and miners in France (19th-20th centuries)Paris, Perrin, 2011,

  • Judith Rainhorn historian, author of Health and work in the mine, 19th-21st century Septentrion University Press, 2014. Professor at the University of Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne, Center for Social History of Contemporary Worlds

Film clip under the eye of the Houillères by Marion Fontaine and Richard Berthollet

Reading texts: Yann DeMonterno

Memento Richard Berthollet

Punishment register Veronique Malfettes

Thank you to the permanence of the former miners of the CFDT des Houillères du Bassin de Lorraine (HBL) committed to the recognition of occupational diseases of employees.

thanks to Georges Sentis historian. thanks to Virginie Malolepszy director of the archives of the historic mining center of Lewarde for her invaluable collaboration, Karine Sprimont and to the entire team at the Lewarde mining center. Thanks to INA and Ingrid Anne Lecointe for the archives. To the Documentation of Radio France, to Annelise Signoret from the central library of Radio France.

Sound recording Frederick Cayrou and Raymond Albouy .

Registration Sebastien RoyerMixing Antoine Viosat.

Intern Clara Kavyrchin.

Connections :

Scroll to Top