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Livrets des ouvriers mineurs du Bois-du-Luc
7000 paper booklets, variable dimensions
Created in 1803 during the French regime and made obligatory by imperial decree ten years later, the livrets des ouvriers were officially-issued booklets that workers were required to submit to their employers, who used them to confirm a worker’s identity and provenance. They also served as unofficial records of a worker’s performance on the job, both moral and professional, though this was legally forbidden in 1840. That same year, a royal decree incorporated the livret d’ouvrier into Belgian law, and livrets became widespread there after 1845. They were initially instituted as a way of controlling worker mobility and reinforcing supervisory controls. Early on, the livret d’ouvrier was perceived by workers as a mark of servitude. During the riots that shook the Borinage in the 1830s, the workers destroyed their livrets, after which their use was temporarily abandoned.
They were made entirely optional for a brief period beginning in 1883, though many employers still demanded them from their employees (Dewier 2009). In 1889 they were made mandatory once again in order to protect child and women labourers. A miner’s retirement pension, established in 1911, was calculated based primarily on the information contained in the booklet.
The collection of livrets des ouvriers held at the Ecomusée du Bois-du-Luc is a valuable source of archival material on the lives and careers of miners during the 19th century. These booklets provide detailed information about each worker, including name, surname, parentage, date and place of birth, address, and profession, as well as a physical description and eventually a photograph. Functioning as both identity card and passport, these booklets can be used trace the movements of miners, to identify different migration patterns, and to understand the “physical and intellectual price paid in the coal mines” (Chapelle-Dulière 1985: 103). More than mere administrative documents, these booklets form a portrait of the mine. KH