“My life as a worker? I hadn’t talked about it much, even to my two children. But at the time of retirement, I felt an irrepressible need, an urgency to leave a trace of my professional experience” confides Jean-Michel Frixon, a worker at Michelin for forty-three years. For several months, the former “Bib” sat at his work table every day, at 2 p.m. “I discovered that I loved writing. However, I am neither a graduate nor a big reader. It felt like everything I had inside me had to come out. Very often, my wife came to pick me up around 8 p.m. because I even forgot dinner! » Jean-Michel’s wife is also the first reader of this professional life story published independently in 2021 (Michelin, number F276710 published by Numéro 7).
Having joined the famous tire manufacturer in 1976, at the age of 17, Jean-Michel recounts his successive positions – including twenty-five years of three-shift work – and the intransigence of certain workshop managers. But above all, Jean-Michel looks back on a key event in his life, in 1993. That year, he was almost part of a wave of layoffs, like 184 other comrades from the Clermont factory. “To drive the point home, a little boss called me a “useless and parasitic non-graduate”. Deeply hurt, I was desperate. Ready to end it, as others did then. On the last day, just before my departure, an executive who appreciated the seriousness of my work saved my job. As it turns out, destiny has little to do with it. »
In the silence of his office, Jean-Michel rewrote, refined, nuanced his sentences until he found the right tone to restore this buried moment: “Recounting this painful episode liberated me. I finally felt like the author of my own life. Stunned by this story, my loved ones advised me to circulate the book beyond the family circle. »
Destiny of a worker
The work attracted the attention of Michelin management because, in simple words, Jean-Michel explained what could be improved in the company’s hierarchical relationships. He emphasizes the risk of dehumanization in factories, emphasizes the respect owed to employees whatever their position or level of education and the need to listen to them. The group’s “world” industrial director, also a member of the executive committee, telephoned Jean-Michel to suggest a meeting. “At first I thought it was a joke. I couldn’t believe it! »
This first exchange with the senior manager goes so well that Jean-Michel allows himself to be embarked on a new adventure: with his professional story slung over his shoulder, he tours the 15 French factories to speak to executives about “human management in business “. In a few weeks, he will express his views before the general assembly of human resources directors of CAC 40 companies. “Incredible stuff! » smiles Jean-Michel.
“When I set out to write this story, I never dared to imagine that it would receive such a reception. I sold 4,000 copies. During a presentation of the book in Clermont-Ferrand, a nurse came to tell me how much my story had helped her to overcome her suffering at work due to failing management. I am a committed man, defender of human values and I am happy that my book is useful to today’s workers. It is the dignity and respect of each person that matters to me. »
Diary of a local elected official
Through the telling of his individual story, Jean-Michel has enriched the collective history of the employed world. An approach close to that of Georges Morin, 72, who recounted his experience as a local elected official in The diary of a country mayor, published independently by Editions du Panthéon, in 2019. First councilor of Brion-sur-Ource (Côted’Or), a town of 240 inhabitants, the septuagenarian is in his fourth mandate: “My story is that of thousands of elected in France. Passionate about people and collective life, I wanted to show how a mayor weaves social bonds on a daily basis, through actions that are sometimes tiny, but very useful. »
Georges felt the vital need to write in 2018, after being attacked by one of his constituents. His feeling of humiliation is strong and he decides to make it the starting point of his “novel”. Giving an air of fiction to your story is a way of keeping the trauma at bay. Every evening, after dedicating himself to the commune, the elected official takes up his pen. “By putting my memories down on paper, I understood that the attack I had suffered revealed a larger societal problem: the lack of respect towards representatives of public authority. »
Georges gradually begins to recount the stages of his journey, from his first steps as a volunteer in a school to the collective actions carried out in the municipality of Brion-sur-Ource. The memory of the councilor unfolds in a flashback recounting a life of commitment. “The mayor of a small town must find ways to energize collective life through simple initiatives. We give a part of ourselves to society. This is what underlies our actions,” says Georges. When he saw his book presented on the Bookstore stand of the Congress of French Mayors in Paris, he felt proud: “Like many local elected officials, I sometimes have the feeling of being an invisible activist. This story allowed me to highlight our actions in the service of the common good. »
Sylvia Fournier Caillard also addresses this notion of the common good in Madam Judge published last spring (editions Favre). A true immersion in her daily life as a magistrate, her story retraces forty years of professional life “I wanted to leave the closed doors of the investigation office to tell my journey to any reader wishing to discover this profession. Justice is so weakened, and sometimes even criticized! I hope that those who read me will be able to have a more precise representation so that the role of magistrates is better understood. »
To make her story accessible to everyone, Sylvia Fournier Caillard immediately decided to ban technical or jargonous terms. “Criminal grandpa”, “White-collar delinquents” or “People crook”… over the course of twenty chapters, the magistrate describes what is happening in her head at the time of decision-making: “I wanted to describe the emotional impact of this work on my private life, because a judge is confronted with a whole range of human emotions, such as suffering, lies, perfidy… Not everything is decided in advance and we also our doubts and hesitations. »
Sylvia also talks about her commitment to the CIFA association working for the social reintegration of convicts, because she is “committed to finding solutions for the future”.
Sharing a centuries-old art
The future… Renowned stained glass artist, Flavie Vincent-Petit prepares it every day in her family factory in Troyes (Aube). Custodian of the memory of a workshop that has existed for five generations, she often asks herself: how to perpetuate the know-how acquired? Someone who works in an art that is transmitted through gesture rather than through words plans to tell her work through a story. “This was a tradition in the 14th century. The great Tuscan glassmaker Antoine de Pisa, for example, wrote a fabulous treatise for his apprentices. In this recently rediscovered professional story, the art craftsman delivers his own recipes and observations, enriching our contemporary practices,” she explains.
Beyond techniques, good practices and other secret formulas, the stained glass artist affirms that she needs to use writing to develop her thoughts, to transmit her emotions as a creator and restorer. “All the craftsmen and art restorers of my generation encounter the same problem: we, the fifty-year-olds, suffered a deficit in written transmission in the 1970s. So that this type of loss of knowledge does not happen again, we are thinking collectively to solutions, with a group located in the Aube department. »
Their project? Transmit the passion for heritage professions. The recipients of their stories are the art artisans of tomorrow. “Documenting their projects by recounting the details of their lives, evoking, alongside professional experience, the small and big History,” explains Flavie, “is bringing their professions to life. » To all those who share a similar project, the path taken by Jean-Michel, Georges and Sylvia is wide open.
Listening to the fathers of social security
This is a little-known approach: from the 1970s, history committees emerged in French public services. The first of its kind was created in 1973 by Edgar Faure to preserve the memory of the founders of Social Security. Their individual testimonies were brought together by very innovative historians in the 1970s and 1980s and have since been collected in a collection of career stories. The method of collecting their words was based on so-called chronothematic interviews. Thanks to a system of friezes comparing the life of the witness and social, economic, political, scientific and artistic history, each individual story is analyzed with regard to the events of great History.
An example that can inspire anyone wishing to create a collective history (associative, union, professional) based on individual testimonies recorded and then transcribed. The reference work, The Historian, the Archivist and the Tape Recorder by Florence Descamps is available in libraries and on the Internet. There are also several inspiring examples online (enter: “Chronothermatic sheets and archives” in your browser’s search bar).