The “worker-actresses” of Hénin-Beaumont (2007-2019): The making of a militant play for the “Samsonites”

By Fanny Gallot, Caroline Ibos

In 2007, the Samsonite factory in Hénin-Beaumont, France, was liquidated following a fraudulent bankruptcy, and 250 jobs were lost, mainly by female workers on the factory line. Alongside their legal battle and to continue their activist struggle, seven of them worked together to write and perform a play on the history of the “Samsonites” (as the Samsonite workers were called): On n’est pas que des valises! (“We’re not just suitcases!”). This paper, which is the result of an investigation by a historian and a sociologist, looks back at the making of the play to consider the complex interplay of different narratives in the construction of memory, based on the analysis of oral sources collected from the “worker-actresses”, in particular to shed light on which aspects are frozen, muddled or neglected by theatrical fiction.

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