The End of Solidarity? Deindustrialization in Germany and France (1960–2000)

Julia Wambach

The process of deindustrialization in the Global North since the 1960s and 1970s has usually been seen as a period in which solidarity among the working classes slowly eroded through the loss of jobs in the industrial sector. Recent studies stress the atomization of the working class and the repercussions of the loss of work for the cities and regions, which put the social cohesion of those emotional communities (Rosenwein) constructed around work at risk.

While most of these studies focus on the downfall of those regions and the atomization of the working class, in my research project I explore how politicians, employers, and workers alike searched for new solidarities and ties that could bind the people of the deindustrialized regions together once the infrastructure built around communal work in the coal mines and steel plants began to vanish. However, rather than describing the nostalgia for the past and the mourning of what was lost, my goal is to show what replaced the solidarity of the workers or how it continued to exist.

My project focuses on two cities, Lens in Northern France and Gelsenkirchen in the German Ruhr valley. Both are emblematic of the decline of heavy industry and grapple with its consequences, such as high unemployment and poverty. Using sources from local government, NGOs, and companies, this project relies on oral history interviews with former coal and steel workers and their families, local politicians, and social workers in these two cities.

I argue that during times of deindustrialization solidarity was not simply disappearing, but changing its locus. Key examples of this change are the soccer clubs of these two cities, RC Lens and Schalke 04. Both portray themselves as providing an emotional home and an opportunity to participate in communal celebration of the mining heritage in a post-industrial fractured society. In a recently published book chapter, I argue that Schalke 04 used its heritage as a workers and miners club both earlier and later than one would expect: The Nazis drew on the collective and participatory emotions around the club’s mining heritage to boost the regime's popularity, while the club itself did not (re)turn to its mining heritage until the 1990s, when the region’s deindustrialization process was almost over. 

Key Reference

Wambach, J. (2022). Feeling political through a football club: FC Schalke 04, 1904-2020. In U. Frevert, K. M. Pahl, F. Buscemi, P. Nielsen, A. Arndt, M. Amico, K. Lichau, H. Malone, J. Wambach, J. Brauer, & C. Moine, Feeling political: Emotions and institutions since 1789 (pp. 249–276). Palgrave Macmillan.
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