In the mid-1970s, the automobile firm…
In the mid-1970s, the automobile firm employed more than 3,000 people in what was then only a large village at the gates of La Rochelle. Around the factory, spread over nearly 50 hectares, an area of activity has emerged which still lives under the name of the Four Knights (there is the postal sorting center, Sitel, etc.). With Simca, the town grows, its neighbors too, starting with Aigrefeuille-d’Aunis, or, closer, the La Rochelle district of Mireuil; the company had even reserved apartments there for its employees.
A factory in the fields
Before that, it was only fields of wheat and corn, owned by a dozen families. “In 1964, Simca, neck and neck with Peugeot, fought to be the third French manufacturer”, recalls Jean-Louis Loubet, co-author ” [des] Seven lives of Poissy: an industrial adventure”. Strasbourg had his preference, the American foreseeing the interest he would have in settling on the German border at a time of construction of the European market. But the State wanted to restore color to the port cities abused by international competition, it will gradually convince it – in particular by injecting a lot of public money – to deploy in Charente-Maritime.
This is how Périgny became an important production site for mechanical parts. In November 1964, the first stone was laid. The factory opens ten months later.
We were renowned for producing the best European shock absorbers »
His birth was the subject of a commissioned film shot in 16 mm. In the commentary, we hear the actor Jean Topart, one of the voices of the time. We see a wife convincing her husband to submit his CV. “You can become a trimmer all at once. And after, maybe technical officer, foreman. ” ” Chief Engineer ? Director ? “, quips the spouse. His wife retorted: “now, if you want to remain a simple worker…” 200 application letters were received in response to the first advertisement published in the local press.
In 1968, the factory employed 1,650 people who manufactured, among other things, suspensions and transmissions. In 1975, the number of employees almost doubled. The workers are known to work hard but their efforts are generously rewarded. “It was well paid: 3.18 francs [NDLR : 0,48 euro] of the hour,” recalls Michel Blandin. “Whoever wanted to work, he earned money. I was able to build my house thanks to my salary. And we had plenty of benefits. ” The company does not squander to retain its employees, 10% of the turnover was intended for social works: sports grounds, clay pigeon shooting, petanque, apartment in Albertville (“it was not big but the rental cost three pennies”), access to motor sports, unbeatable prices on Simca cars. “I bought my first car at the factory for 5,740 francs. We had to pick her up in Poissy but the day was paid for. »
“It was a way of buying social peace, analyzes Michel Eveno, former union leader. However, we worked hard. We had to respond in terms of quality and quantity. We were famous for producing the best shock absorbers in Europe. »
End of the golden age
While the ascent was dazzling, the descent was slow and grueling. In 1978, Chrysler sold its interests in Europe to PSA Peugeot-Citroën. The Talbot years then began.
In 1981, three years after the takeover, the workforce fell to 2,000 employees. There were fewer than 1,000 in 1987. When the Tersou group took over in July 1991, the factory, which became Triaxe, only employed 500 people. For some, the factory suffers from robotization, the economic situation, the death of the Glorious Thirties, for others from a programmed deboning.
I still have nightmares about it: the factory is restarting and I’m forbidden to enter”
The last few years have been made up of demonstrations, social plans, disappointed hopes. “We were crumbling under technical unemployment, we were transferring employees to all the factories to avoid disaster; we couldn’t prevent it”, breathes thirty years after Michel Eveno.
In 1996, the last 317 employees occupied the site for two months to snatch a dignified exit. The ending reeks of tear gas. There are clashes, injuries, arrests, police cars set on fire. “I still have nightmares about it,” says the former trade unionist. Always the same: the factory restarts and I am forbidden to enter. » With the disappearance of Triaxe, preceded by the liquidation in 1987 of the Workshops and shipyards of La Rochelle-La Pallice (ACRP), the city closed its industrial chapter.
The automobile adventure lived on for around thirty years, but the area it gave birth to survived it. In the wake of the Simca factory, many advantages persist from which the territory is still reaping the rewards. It is said that the day when Georges Pompidou, then Prime Minister, came to inaugurate the factory, he gave many other compensations during his detour by the town hall: the National 11, a railway line, housing HLM or even the first financing for the marina project, which was to become the Port des Minimes.