“Armed with long iron rods, the men opened the furnaces like mouths spewing flames to extract large burning blocks and bring them down in streams into the cellar. Sweat dripped from them and black smoke surrounded them, thick and burning, composed of toxic and nauseating gases. » Scene from‘Hell from Dante? No, laborers working in a London gasworks in the 1830s, as described by Flora Tristan.
The young woman expressed her indignation to her in the evening News : the workmen, sweating, threw themselves in the freezing cold on the bedsprings of a shed open to all winds, before resuming their infernal work. It seemed to him that these young men were treated worse than the horses, which received the most attention when they arrived at the post office: they wiped their sweat, washed their feet, covered their loins with blankets, and slept in a closed stable, covered with very dry bedding, protected from drafts.
A horse cost an industrialist 40 to 50 pounds sterling, while men set back… 7 to 8 shillings a day. Continuing her investigation in the district of Saint-Gilles, populated by Irish people who, driven by famine, arrived in London en masse, she discovered naked women, men and children walking in stinking mud for lack of money for clothing. or remain crouched due to lack of seating.
However, nothing prevented Flora Tristan from carrying out one of the first surveys in the circles of the London working class, several years before Engels. Born on April 7, 1803 in Paris from an unrecognized marriage of a Peruvian aristocrat who died when she was 4 years old and a French woman of humble origins, she lived a poor childhood without any real education before becoming a colorist for an artisan. , André Chazal, whom she married at 17. The marriage was not a happy one. The couple continued to fight over custody of the children, and in 1838 her abusive husband attempted to murder her with a shot to the left lung after she decided to leave the marital home.
Her abusive husband tried to murder her by shooting her after she decided to leave the matrimonial home
To escape this brutality, the young woman decided to work as a maid in an English family, which she followed to London in 1826. She then returned there twice in 1831 and 1835 before publishing the results of her observations in 1840. according to statistics, v Walks in London.
In 1833 she made a long and arduous journey alone to meet her paternal family in Peru. After crossing the desert on the back of a mule, her uncle, who had a huge fortune, refused her share of the inheritance, deeming her a “bastard”. Nevertheless, he will pay her a pension for several years, which will protect her from financial worries.
in Wanderings of the Outcast (1837), recounts her journey littered with descriptions of Peruvian society and is outraged by the discovery of human beings subjected to slavery on a sugar plantation.
Returning to France in 1835, she frequented socialist and literary circles and published her first book. The need to welcome foreign women. At a time when hospitality has disappeared and single women’s travel is very poorly received, Flora Tristan advocates the creation of a reception association to facilitate the travel necessary to bring people together:
” This mutual hospitality would bring much nearer the much-desired day when we shall all be men, brothers, without distinction of English, German, French, etc. “.
A signer of a petition to renew the divorce in 1837, believing that “ harmony between spouses can only result from relations of equality », Flora Tristan is outraged by the fate reserved for women: “ A young girl you will obey your father, a married woman you will obey your husband “. Half of humanity counted for nothing, they were placed outside society, outside the law, outside the church. Woman was condemned by science to be inferior to man: she lacked intelligence, was considered weak in body and spirit, stubborn and superstitious.
A desire to work to improve the lot of the workers encouraged him to write a small book in 1843 entitled Labor union before leaving to present during a tour of France. Union, union! Only unity can help lift the workers out of poverty, she insisted at public meetings she organized with the support of rare socializing circles.
“Concord between spouses can only result from equal relationships” – Flora Tristan
He re-writes his observations on paper, mobilizes statistics, avoids any moralizing tone, but often succumbs to indignation, leaving terrible descriptions: in Roanne he condemns the hot, humid and smelly atmosphere of “murder workshops” in the hands of inhuman bosses.
In Lyon, on the hill of Croix-Rousse, the fate of the silk artisans was hardly more enviable: in a single room serving as bedroom, kitchen and workshop, lit only from one side, the woman had one job, the man another. His arrival caused panic in the man who blushed that he was almost naked as he only had one shirt on. The couple wept as they spoke of their ordeal at the drop in their rewards.
From Paris to Toulon she is outraged when she sees her body.” brothers slaves “, “transformed into stones, into beautiful furniture, into crystals, into bronze, into gold “. Following the example of Christ’s apostles, defying criticism and fatigue, she traveled in the summer of 1844 in south-eastern France:“I, a woman, will go and announce the good news to the workers and preach to them brotherhood in humanity, unity in humanity. »
Because she saw change coming from the workers themselves:
“Let’s first look at history and see that every time a part of society suffered and felt the need for change, associations anticipated reforms (…) because how weak we are, we judge individually, it is only in unity. we can draw strength, power and opportunity to do good. »
Romantic and Christian messianism
Its associative projects did not aim only to defend particular interests, but to unite the working class to become an actor in history and to give it rights, twenty years before the creation of the International Workingmen’s Association in 1864. in London and forty years before the creation of trade unions in France.
These gentlemen of the First International read her and occasionally met her, impressed by her will and tenacity, or annoyed by this romantic and Christian messianism. Flora Tristan encouraged the workers to unite, but also to educate themselves, to read, to contribute to the opening of a small library.
Flora Tristan records the amount of salaries in her diary, estimates the cost of living
He demands from public authorities schools, especially asylum rooms (kindergartens), which would provide instruction and physical education classes for young children who are too often alone at home, exposed to disease and accidents, confined in narrow rooms, damp, deprived of air and fire.
From a London prison to French factories to women working in laundries, he was interested in everything. In his diary, he records the amount of rewards, estimates the cost of living, while unexpectedly arriving at the workshops, discussing with dock workers in the port of Marseille or convicts from Toulon.
Exhausted, she collapsed in Bordeaux on November 14, 1844. She left these last wishes:
“ My corpse can be taken to the hospital for an autopsy in front of the students. My head will be given to the president of the phrenological society and what remains of my body will be thrown into a common grave, I don’t want a grave, I leave my thoughts in a world better than a tombstone. »
The workers did not listen to him and funded a funeral monument by subscription, which read: “In memory of Mrs. Flora Tristan, author of the Workers’ Union, Grateful Workers, Freedom-Equality-Brotherhood-Solidarity”. In 1848, his daughter Aline, the youngest of his three children, gave birth to Paul Gauguin.
Carole Reynaud-Paligot is a historian. He teaches at the Grenoble Institute of Political Studies.