Explore The Rhône valley
La Croix-Rousse is the old silk-weavers’ district and spreads up the steep slopes of the hill above the northern end of the Presqu’île. Although increasingly gentrified, it’s still predominantly a working-class area, but barely a couple of dozen people operate the modern high-speed computerized looms that are kept in business by the restoration and maintenance of France’s palaces and châteaux.
Along with Vieux Lyon, it was in this district that the traboules flourished. Officially the traboules are public thoroughfares during daylight hours, but you may find some closed for security reasons. The long climb up the part-pedestrianized Montée de la Grande Côte, however, still gives an idea of what the quartier was like in the sixteenth century, when the traboules were first built. One of the original traboules, Passage Thiaffait on rue Réné-Leynaud, has been refurbished to provide premises for young couturiers.
The silk strike of 1831
The silk strike of 1831
Though the introduction of the Jacquard loom of 1804 made it possible for one person to produce 25cm of silk in a day instead of taking four people four days, silk workers, or canuts – whether masters or apprentices, and especially women and child workers – were badly paid whatever their output. As the price paid for a length of silk fell by over fifty percent, attempts to regulate the price were ignored by the dealers, even though hundreds of skilled workers were languishing in debtors’ jails.
On November 21, 1831, the canuts called an all-out strike. As they processed down the Montée de la Grande Côte with their black flags and the slogan “Live working or die fighting”, they were shot at and three people died. After a rapid retreat uphill they built barricades, assisted by half the National Guard, who refused to fire cannon at their “comrades of Croix-Rousse”. Following three days of battle, and with the bourgeoisie running scared, the canuts’ employers called upon outside aid, and 30,000 extra troops arrived to quash the rebellion. Some 600 people were killed or wounded, and in the end the silk industrialists were free to pay whatever pitiful fee they chose, but the uprising was one of the first instances of organized labour taking to the streets during the most revolutionary fifty years of French history.