Presentation

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Research on International Workingmen’s Association (IWMA) was stimulated by the important 1964 conference organized for the centenary of the association and by the wave of “radical” political history; it then became properly scientific. From 1864 to at least 1876 – but the end of the Association is much debated – the IWMA was made of various workers’ organizations and members joining on an individual basis. It was at the same time a forum for thinking and exchange, a trade-union and an international political society. The history of the IWMA made huge progress in the 1960s and 1970s. Many documents were published, such as those of the General Council and of the conferences, as well as sources on specific countries. The way the institution worked, its presence in various areas, its influence and its theoretical debates were scrutinized. Local, national and theme studies – on unions, strikes, anarchism, the land question – have greatly improved our knowledge of the association and its action. However, over the past 20 years or so, studies have become rarer, although various syntheses and a few monographs have still been published.

On the 150th anniversary of the foundation of the IWMA, this conference aims at contributing to open a new phase in the study of this organization, taking into account recent research, new approaches, new issues as well as newly-accessible sources.

  • One first thinks of the emergence of the transnational and global history of labour, around the works of the International Institute of Social History (IISH) in Amsterdam, and elsewhere. This approach, based on the study of international circulation, structures and relevant spaces, is particularly adapted to the study of an association created following contacts between working-class activists from various countries and whose perspective was internationalist right from the start. For instance, recent works have shown the importance of migration and exile of French activists in the development of the IWMA in the USA. But other migration flows should also be questioned: economic migration within one state; transnational migration of artisans; militant migration; migration of political refugees. How did they juxtapose or combine? How did they participate in the expansion of the IWMA and its sections? To what extent did an association conceived by skilled workers in dominant countries manage to involve industrial or farm workers from less industrial or from colonised areas? Last, how was the emergence of large-scale, transcontinental discourse and forms of mobilisation possible? The question is then raised of the part played by the IWMA in the genesis of international labour politics. SO doing, it would be particularly interesting to come back to periodisations and their possible discrepancies in various areas (e.g. Europe, North America, Central America). National studies are still relevant; but we would like to think above all on the part played by exchanges, transfers and appropriations across areas and their meanings.
  • Another facet concerns documents, material traces and their meanings. Minutes and other documents of the general council and the conferences have been published and largely used. The newspapers have been less so, including the labour press, although it then made up an essential item of political cultures. The digitisation of many periodicals may facilitate reviving this research. It would be good to assess the value as well as the biases (e.g. the selection of archives) of these sources. What do they let us know about the communication, the circulation of news and ideas, but also the part played by the IWMA in the public space of the various areas? Indeed, it seems that the awareness of the activities and the language of the IWMA was, in some remote areas, diffused better and faster by the press, including the press of the enemy, than by the delegates of the Association. We would also like to know the iconography of the IWMA better, engravings and drawings in particular. Beyond that, it would be worth assessing its material culture: banners, flags, member cards, potteries, embroidery, etc. Was there an internationalist “culture”? Wasn’t the IWMA also made of the circulation of more empirical practises and know-how in terms of social struggles, organisation practices or work processes?
  • The sociology of activists, the various milieux involved and the debates that ran through the IWMA on unions, machinery, strikes, national struggles (Ireland, Poland), the land issue, also deserve to be questioned and deepened. And other questions may also be raised. For instance, what was the part played by non manual workers: physicians, intellectuals, lawyers? What was exactly the part played by women, among the activists or in their discourse? What were the debates within the branches of the IWMA? We then have to wonder how the tendencies and the splinters on top were perceived and modified by grassroots activists before going up again. Exchanges and competition also characterised the relations between branches and other forms of working-class organisation, and these could be better documented. Were there discussions, at the various levels and in the various regions, on the making of colonial empires and on the imperial forms of economic and social domination? To what extent did the involvement of Internationalists in trans-Empire migration flows stimulate these debates? More broadly, how did these activists stand in relation to issues such as political participation, the right to vote or the employment of women? And why were these issues often left aside, in comparison with pre-1848 early socialist trends? And how was “labour” redefined in these exchanges? Above all, so as to understand the part rapidly played by the IWMA in the public debate, it would be interesting to study its shadow – real or imagined – in the structuring of local, national but also transnational spaces. 

This conference will not try to juxtapose local studies and individual itineraries. It will instead be interested in changes on scales between the local and international, as well as in the links between micro-history and the history of the IWMA.

   

When ? Where ?

Schedule

From Thursday the 19th at 9 a.m. to Friday the 20th of June, 2014, at 6 p.m.

Planning

Place

Maison de la recherche de l'Université Paris IV, 26 rue Serpente, 75006 PARIS

Who ?

Scientific Committee

Sylvie Aprile (Lille 3-Charles de Gaulle) ; Gregory Claeys (Royal Holloway, University of London) ; Michel Cordillot (Paris 8-Vincennes-Saint-Denis) ; Ludovic Frobert (ENS Lyon) ; Marcel van der Linden (IIHS, Amsterdam) ; Detlev Mares (Darmstadt) ; Jacques Rougerie (Paris 1-Panthéon Sorbonne) ; Marc Vuilleumier (Genève).

Organizing Committee

Fabrice Bensimon (Paris IV Sorbonne, fbensimon@free.fr) ; Quentin Deluermoz (Paris 13 Villetaneuse, quentin.deluermoz@gmail.com) ; Jeanne Moisand (Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne, jeanne.moisand@univ-paris1.fr)

Organizers

Société d’histoire de la révolution de 1848 ; Centre d’histoire du XIXe siècle (Paris 1- Paris 4)

Partners

International Institute of Social History (Amsterdam) ; International Association Strikes and Social Conflicts (Dijon); ANR Utopies19 (Dijon); Society for the Study of Labour History (Great Britain)

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