On this day November 22, 1831

After a bloody battle with the military causing 600 casualties, rebellious silkworkers seized Lyon, France, beginning the First Canut Revolt clearly defined worker uprising of the Industrial Revolution.

A Jacquard loom

On November 22 in Lyon, the workers took hold of the fortified police barracks at Bon-Pasteur, pillaging the arsenal and stealing weapons in the process.

Several units of the military guard and the national guard were attacked. The infantry attempted to stop them, but was forced to fall back under a hail of (thrown) tiles and bullets. The national guard, most of which was recruited from amongst the canuts, changed sides, joining the insurgents.

After a bloody battle 100 dead, 263 injured on the military side, 69 dead, 140 injured on the civilian side, the insurgents took hold of the town. During the night of November 22 to November 23, General Roguet, commander of the 7th division and mayor Victor Prunelle fled the town.

The insurgents occupied the town hall, though they allegedly did not loot the town at all. At this point, the leaders of the workers were unsure as to the further course of action, having started the strike with the sole intention of making sure the fixed rate on silken goods was being applied correctly.

A few republicans in the group insisted on using the momentum to form a governmental committee. The committee did not make any tangible decisions, due to a lack of agenda. Not helping the committee’s effectiveness was the canuts’ refusal to have their uprising twisted to political ends.

At the beginning of the 19th century, the textile industry was the main industrial activity of Lyon and the surrounding region. The livelihood of half of the population of Lyon was dependent on the silk weaving industry.

In 1831, the production of silken goods in Lyon was still organised in a manner similar to that of the pre-industrial era:

  • At the top of the pyramid was the great manufacture, a group of around 1400 bankers and traders named fabricants or soyeux, who controlled and financed the manufacture and commercialisation of the goods.
  • The manufacturers contracted about 8000 chief weaving craftsmen, the canuts, who were paid either for a specific order or per piece. The Canuts owned their own looms, generally between 2 and 6, depending on the size of the workshop.
  • Canuts employed around 30,000 apprentices, who were paid by the day, but generally lived with the canut, who lodged and fed them, and with whom they shared a similar standard of living.
  • Women were also employed at a lesser salary, as were apprentices and errand boys. These workers filled a wide variety of professions: gareurs (mechanic who repairs and adjusts the looms), satinaires (women who prepare the satin), battandiers (who make the tools necessary for the weaving), metteurs en carte (who make the coded tables indicating the colour and characteristics of the silk to be used, according to the drawing provided by the customer), liseurs (who create the perforated cards for the Jacquard loom), magnanerelles (women working in the magnaneries, warpers, embroiderers, silk folders, spinners, ourdisseuses (women who prepare the shape of the piece to be woven onto a machine prior to it being placed on the loom), dyers, etc.

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