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14 May 2009

On this day in history: Sud-Aviation workers` strike and factory occupation, 1968

On 14th May 1968, young workers at the Sud-Aviation's Bourguenais factory near Nantes took inspiration from the actions of students who they had joined on a march the day before and decided to go on strike and lock the plant's manager in his office. Other supervisors joined him there where they submitted them to revolutionary songs played full-blast through a loudspeaker, which was so loud that workers soon complained and had it switched off. The strikers decided to stage a continuous occupation of the factory (much like students were doing in the Sorbonne and other universities not only in France but also elsewhere in Europe).

Sympathisers supplied the workers with blankets and food while they constructed watch towers on the wall surrounding the plant. Some students from the University of Nantes joined the workers in their occupation. Nantes had a history of bad labour relations and a large working class population, so it is little surprise that it was arguably the most revolution minded city in France during May and June 1968. School children had stormed the railway station on the 11th of May. On 24th May road access to the city fell under the control of the Central Strike Committee, which was soon the main city authority.

Meanwhile, the 'strike and occupy' movement had spread across the country. The day after the Sud-Aviation workers took control of their factory, Renault employees followed suit with a similar unofficial grass-roots action. By 17th May around 200,000 workers were on strike; by the next day over two million workers had withdrawn their labour; a week later ten million workers were on strike. France was on the verge of a revolution.

Related posts
Student Revolt in Paris, 3rd May 1968
Night of the Barricades, 10th May 1968
French workers joined student protest, 13th May 1968
Conservative reaction in France, 30th May 1968
French Government banned student organisations, 12th June 1968
France goes to the polls, 23rd June 1968