The Second Revolt of the Canuts
As a revolution that held out the promise of so many liberties, the Revolution of 1830 quickly disappointed Lyon's silk workers, the ‘canuts’. They expected of Louis-Philippe, the new Citizen King, the kind of serious economic reforms that would limit the abuses they faced from traders in Lyon’s silk industry (which was organized on a model of extended dispersal of production). But the ‘Three Glorious Days’ of 1830 resulted in the enshrining of a logic of economic deregulation, which was coercive and ultimately fatal for the workshops that covered the Red Cross hill and the old quarters of Lyon west of the Saône. In being receptive to the first social reformers, Saint-Simonians then Fouriérists, who proclaimed the birth of a new industrial world in which labour was coupled with an equitable sharing of wealth, a minimum set of guarantees and solidarity for workers, and the disappearance of a parasitic class of idle exploiters, the ‘canuts’ became insurgents in November 1831. In the newspaper they created, L’Echo de la fabrique (The Echo of Manufactory), they demanded a fixed tariff, a minimum price for the different categories of fabrics, yet despite ongoing negotiations and traders’ and the civil authorities’ assurances, their claims were rebuffed. While certain merchants participated in these negotiations and collective agreements in good faith, a majority were disengenuous. The workers turned to direct confrontation on 21 November with the cry of “live in working or die by fighting”. To general amazement, they will first capture the city, humiliated the military and civilian authorities forcing them into a dismal retreat. Then, even more astounding given their portrayal as new barbarians, they administered the city for ten days, maintaining order and property, before handing over the keys to the city to the troops of the King led by Marshal Soult and the Prince of Orleans. The days that followed this first insurrection saw only meagre social gains for insurgents, who suffered widely from repression. After June 1832 the July Monarchy turned in a more conservative direction.
In Lyon, in 1833, economic organizations stemming from the mutualism of canuts linked up with republican political organizations, including the The Society of the Rights of Man (Société des droits de l’homme). In February 1834, the canuts voted for a general strike of trades to oppose a further drop in the price affecting a section of their profession. Even if the strike was broken after a few days, and twelve leaders were arrested, the event involved an unheard of degree of organization and solidarity between the various associations. Having been defeated and mocked in 1831, and eager for revenge on the workers, the King’s garrisons in Lyon established a ring of fortresses around the city– with forts in Montessuy, Fort Lamothe, Fort Saint-Irenaeus. These fortresses were seen as being erected in order to contain the canuts and the people rather than to defend them against possible Sardinian or Austrian invaders. In these first months of the
year 1834 Louis-Philippe’s government sought finally to break worker and republican and workers opposition. The Minister of Justice, Felix Barthe inaugurated a repressive crackdown on the associations. On 5 April, when the trial of the leaders of the February strike was due to begin in Lyon, the associations, threatened a new general strike and adopted the slogan " Association. Resistance. Courage”. On April 9, tensions reached their height in the aftermath of what appears to have been a police operation to set fire to a powder keg at the entrance to St. John Street, where a first barricade was erected. That began the " bloody week”. On 9 and 10 April the revolt appeared to be progressing and fighting stretched from the peninsula between Rhône and Saône to the working-class neighbourhoods of Saint-Georges, Saint-Paul and Croix-Rousse, reaching to the limits Saint-Just, Guillotière and Vaise. But by April 1834, troops were prepared for this kind of new urban warfare and the military authorities heading ten thousand men ensnarred a few hundred poorly armed insurgents. The streets had been divided and squared in order to prevent insurgent groups from linking up. Pockets of insurrectionaries remained isolated from each other and soldiers were able successively and methodically to overpower them. On April 12, General Aymard's soldiers went on the offensive at the Guillotière and unleashed a deadly assault on Vaise and the peninsula. Fighting was fierce, with relentless bombardment and savage reprisals inflicted on both combatants and civilians. On 13 April, when an attempted uprising was violently suppressed in Paris, fighting resumed in Lyon, where the working-class neighbourhoods of Croix-Rousse and the western bank of the Saône still resisted. Inevitably the pockets of resistance fell one after the other, unitl Croix-Rousse finally capitulated on April 14. On those nights of fighting, nearly 130 soldiers and more than 200 civilians – many of whom had not been directly involved in the fighting – were killed.