STM history

STM history :
Forwarders of Marseille, where do we come from?

This research is a summary drawn from the following documents, found in the Bouches-du-Rhône departmental archives;

“Les Portefaix et le Dock” (The Porters and the Dock), December 1864, completion date of the Dock project (development of the Joliette site into wharf warehouses), by Jacques Rostand.


The Society of Porters

In addition to its known definition – a trader dealing with the transit of goods, in his own or in his customer’s name – the forwarder profession is the product of a long transformation. Initially in
direct contact commodities, forwarders are porters: they carry and store parcels, and often specialize by traffic. They are on the quay to state the departure/arrival of commodities and report
information to the merchant.ouvrier portefaix

The porter profession is de facto bound to ship transport which, until the end of the 20th century ,almost constitutes the entirety of international exchanges of goods. Railroads are still partitioned on national scales, while planes and trucks remain experimental transportation.


Until the 1950’s, the profession was coordinated through societies of Porters and had its golden age in the 19th century, even though the Le Chapelier law of 1791 had abolished trade unions, hence forbidden workers to incorporate as associations or syndicates (repealed in 1864 when the right to strike was obtained, and in 1884 with union freedom; our syndicate is n°120 among those created in 1888). Thanks to a strong identity, informal organization and recognized internal solidarity, the Porters were able to withstand the prohibition and even profited from a prefectoral acknowledgment in 1816.

Until the 1860’s, the Porters hold a monopoly on handling activities in Marseille. They ensure commodity handling, customs and storage, which generate most of their work and revenue. The port is their field, and the association bears no competition; prices are set by the Society of Porters, recognized as an association by the prefectoral authority since 1816. The syndicate even establishes a charitable organization in 1853 to oppose rising protests in public opinion; indeed Porters are viewed more and more as a privileged class, operating in a corporate manner at the expense of the whole city’s marketplace. However, workers and supervisors of the profession are reputed for their probity, loyalty and precision. But the archaic ways in which the work is done cannot match the need for modernization in the port of Marseille.

The decline of Porters and the rise of the Dock Company, birth date of forwarders in Marseillecie des docks

“In the first half of the 19th century, the traffic of the port transforms, the old port gets cluttered, the size of vessels increases apace, which makes the Lacydon basin hardly suitable. The amount of exchanges increases all the quicker, more and more commodities clutter up the quays, hence efficient distribution systems become essential for loading and unloading goods.

With the advent of steamboats, constant scheduled traffic becomes possible. The nature of carried commodities changes, the proportion of homogeneous loads increases. Once a trading port, Marseille becomes an industrial one. This development leads to the construction of the Joliette port and the Docks.”

In this modernizing context, in 1854, the Dock Company was created by the State, then granted to the city of Marseille two years later..

Along with the planning of the Docks, modern handling tools appeared. New warehouses were built with the help of private funds.

The Society of Porters opposed this situation, which toppled its monopoly by providing cheaper commercial terms and more competitive cargo handling conditions for customers. Not willing to
adapt, undermined by direct competition from new workers at the Docks, the Society was more concerned with internal dissension (between pro and anti Dock Company) than with tackling the

The Society of Porters declined antl it lost all leeerage in the early 1870’s.

“The retraining of Porters went to very different directions: some of them turned towards onshore activities and tried to impose their monopoly on the central market, others worked for the Dock
Company, and others kept working on the old port to do weighing, customs clearance and onshore handling instead of loading and unloading cargo.

 Syndicat des ouvriers portefaix du commerce de Marseille

In 1904, the workers established the “Porters trade union of Marseille”, and the “Porters, packers and millers trade union”. Supervisors gathered as syndicates in 1909, before joining the Federation of employers’ organizations. The word porter kept being used until the 1970’s, while all workers operating on ports had to adopt the statute of docker, which was established in 1955.

The forwarder designation, notably in Marseille, seems to originate in the modernization process of the port. Compelled to retrain, it is likely that some supervisors and workers chose to become independent (from the initial corporation and from the Dock Company) by creating this new

In 1888, on the initiative of Joseph Veux, Alexandre Crotte, Mr Bruzzo and Guy Laffont, they constitute an employers’ organization named Forwarders’ Syndicate of Marseille, settled at 29 La Canebière.