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A History of the European Working Class

A series by Stan Neumann

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The working class has played an essential part of European countries’ history – through revolutions, wars and social progress. In four episodes of a spectacular tale, this show reminds us of what our societies owe to the workers’ movements and its struggles.

The story begins in the 18th century, but their fight carries on today. Much of our current democracies’ institutions and values flow from older working class demands: universal suffrage or social solidarity are some of its most telling examples. Our culture – the way we dress, the songs we listen to, the movies we watch and the mass-media themselves – heavily relies on the workers’ erstwhile popular culture. Finally, all across Asia, Africa and Latin America, millions of women and men experience lives similar to the 18th and 19th centuries’ European working class. We will bring out the present’s ever looming shadow by constantly flowing back and forth between history and current situations. Those contemporary testimonies and photographs will help us gather the threads of memory between yesterday and today.

Episode 1 - This episode focuses on England and Belgium, two pioneers of the industrial revolution. With the beginnings of the "Factory System" comes a new conception of work and time, which the uprooted workers will have to accept. This violent shock triggers a certain class consciousness that will make history.

Episode 2 - The revolution should have broken out in England, but it is the French workers who start to fight back. The barricade is their preferred weapon, made of odds and ends, urban and defensive, it is in their image. A look back at the emergence of the great insurgencies that shook Europe at the end of the century, leading to the construction of a new image of the working class: that of the disciplined army of modern-day workers.

Episode 3 - Europe has industrialized to the point that the war which breaks out in 1914 is also industrialized. This episode immerses the viewer in an unusual time when the laws of the front extend to the factories, and the American methods of rationalization come to make the "good worker" a "good soldier". From the Russian Revolution to the Spanish Civil War, the demands of the working class are materializing.

Episode 4 - A bearer of hope and utopias in troubled times, the working class acquires an exceptional influence in the second half of the 20th century. Today, however, we speak of the disappearance of the working class. No more common identity, no more class consciousness... how does one explain the apparent inevitable decline of this population?

“Stan Neumann weaves the common thread of a tragic and largely forgotten European epic. Without any condescension, he delivers a fascinating, poignant portrait of those who make our industrial society go round.” —Libération

“This is the sort of history you don’t usually find in schools.” —Oregon Arts Watch

208 minutes / Color/B&W
English; French / English subtitles
Closed Captioned
Release: 2022
Copyright: 2020

For colleges, universities, government agencies, hospitals and corporations

Subject areas:
Western Europe, Globalization, Labor Studies, Business Ethics

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