In the summer of 1973, Donald Reid
was an undergraduate student who had traveled to France for the first time to work on his Honors thesis in History. It was the “summer of Lip”. Don’s new book, Opening the Gates: The Lip Affair, 1968-1981
(Verso Books, 2018) revisits the years leading up to that momentous summer, the drama of events as they unfolded, and their legacies over the years that followed. The result is an in-depth history of the labor activism of workers at the famous Besançon watch factory, workers who took matters into their own hands in various ways over close to a decade. Beginning with the Lip workers’ opposition to attempts to downsize their factory in 1973, the book tracks the vicissitudes of their struggle up to the year the Socialist/Mitterrand government came to power in France.
Throughout the book, Don plays close attention the interplay between the local story of Lip and the broader national and international contexts of the era. Understanding the “Lip Affair” in relationship to the upheavals of 1968 and a range of other forms of political activity and resistance through the 1970s, the book moves between the workers, their supporters, and a wider world of economic, social, cultural, and political change. Along the way, the story highlights the roles of leaders like Charles Piaget, the female workers of Lip who figured centrally in what happened at and beyond the factory gates, and a range of observers who saw in Lip the possibilities of a participatory democratic and anti-authoritarian future. If you already knew something about Lip, you’ll learn so much more from this engaged and carefully researched book. If you’re new to this episode from postwar France, you’ll be grateful to have Opening the Gates
as your thorough and fascinating introduction.
Roxanne Panchasi is an Associate Professor in the Department of History at Simon Fraser University. Her current research focuses on the representation of nuclear weapons and testing in France and its empire since 1945. She lives and reads in Vancouver, Canada. If you have a recent title to suggest, please send an email to: firstname.lastname@example.org.