In Bordeaux, the Labor Exchange is taking on water

From the outside, the Art Deco facade is impressive. A few steps from Place de la Victoire, in Bordeaux, the Labor Exchange, inaugurated on 1er May 1938, stands proudly. But once its doors are pushed open, the shock is significant. In the imposing hall, rubble is still there, coming from the collapsed part of the ceiling. In November 2023, the torrential rains which flooded the Gironde capital did not spare the building.

“Usually, when it rains on the flat roof, there is infiltration everywhere. The water penetrates into the hall, four floors below,” says, disappointed, Stéphane Obé, general secretary of the Union CGT de la Gironde. And the damage doesn’t stop there. The union delegate takes inventory, in this emblematic 6,000 square meter building, designed by the architect Jacques d’Welles, housing, among other things, the offices of all the union organizations in the department.

The most spectacular damage is located in the Ambroise Croizat room. This former 1,200-seat performance and projection hall, decorated with sumptuous frescoes and moldings, hosted events until 2010, before its condition prohibited it. Since a diagnosis carried out at the end of 2023 and the detection of asbestos, it has been impossible to access it. Stéphane Obé proudly presents the heritage before him, now invisible to the general public. “We start from a union vision that is specific to us, with a distribution of wealth. And, like material and financial wealth, we also say that culture, art, is a wealth that must be shared.he recalls.

Fifteen years of renovation

At the time of its creation, the Labor Exchange was built “by the workers, for the workers”, with the aim of being a place of culture and of “emancipation”, according to Stéphane Obé. Corinne Versigny, member of the Labor Exchange safeguarding collective, specifies that that of the Gironde city is “one of the only ones in France that mixes living cultural heritage with workers’ struggle. This has a very strong resonance for workers. The Bordeaux Labor Exchange was born from this need to have a place for workers, where they could meet to look for work, put forward their demands, train, organize themselves… With this idea that culture had to be democratized , offering yourself to the greatest number, and not just to an elite. »

The city of Bordeaux, owner of the building, originally offered exclusive management to the Departmental Union of the CGT. From 1940, the German occupation forced the CGT to leave, the unions being declared illegal. “The Germans invade the place, where interrogations of those arrested are then carried out”, says Corinne Versigny. At the Liberation, the CGT regained possession of the Labor Exchange. But successive mayors view this space in a negative light, according to the CGT. “The union experienced a battle with Alain Juppé [maire de 1995 à 2004 et de 2006 à 2019], because there were political desires to raze the building. Before, a legal battle took place under Jacques Chaban-Delmas [maire de 1947 à 1995]who wanted to call into question the sole management by the CGT of the Labor Exchange”, explains Stéphane Obé.

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