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Workers As Citizens

Jeremy  Dulaney

    In discussing the conditions of Nineteenth Century French workers, a necessary point of interest is that of the workers and the state. More specifically, workers as citizens is an area that gives insight into the relationships between workers and the state. Author Mark Traugott compiles autobiographies that give some insight on this subject in his book The French Worker. The autobiographies provided by Traugott span several different generations. During this time, the roles of workers as citizens changed. Throughout the book The French Worker, the selected biographies showcase the displeasure of the French worker and France’s being prone to numerous revolutions. The working class was partly responsible for the different revolutions.

    The working class was often involved in the political movements, like the four Revolutions, that took place in France. This is evident in Jacques Etienne Bede’s (1775-1820) biography. It is in his writings he discusses his witnessing of the French Revolution of 1789(51). This is also true of Suzanne Voilquin who, although never witnessing in person, praises the French Revolution (98). Martin Nadaud (1815-1898) gives in great detail an account of his and his father’s involvement in the Revolution of 1830(198). Jean-Baptiste Dumay (1841-1926) gives an account of the Revolution of 1848 and the planting of "Liberty Trees"(312). These numerous Revolutions in such a little time period, less than 100 years shows the workers’ ill feelings toward the government of France.

    Throughout the autobiographies selected by Traugott the mention of the government is rarely positive. Most of the workers support revolution to protest the poverty that haunted them. Suzanne Voilquin describes the years after the Restoration as "terribly distressing for workers to live through" (101). The poverty that followed French workers would only further fuel the flames of revolution (101). Workers were further saddened by the empty promises of Louis-Philippe (217). There was also a lack of justice according to Norbert Truquin (1833-?), a disenfranchised citizen of France. According to him, the judges in the courts were from the same group that persecuted the poor working people; therefore they could not deliver true justice (303). This feeling was probably held among many in the working class in France. On top of these things was the constant oppression by government officials. Agricol Perdiguier (1805-1875) tells of his fathers displaying of the tri-color flag and the Royalists taking it down through violence (124). People did not have the liberties they wanted. One can understand in reading why someone would fight in an attempt to get those liberties. Martin Nadaud gives an account of the citizens of France celebrating victory over the King and his attempts to limit freedom (198). The French worker, along with other poor French citizens, was not treated equally despite the Revolution of 1848. These people were subject to the draft lottery. In this a number was selected and those who got a certain number had to enlist. This benefited the wealthy because they had enough money to pay someone to take their place. The French worker had no such means (118, 231). In saying all this it must be mentioned that despite the workers problems with the governments of France they remained very patriotic as can be seen in Suzanne Voilquin’s account of 1815 and the defending of France by its citizens.

    While the governments of France did not always serve the people, the revolutions that took place each time did extend more freedom to the citizens of France. As time goes on in the book, it is obvious through the writers’ accounts that the government showed little concern for the workers of France despite their importance to its growth physically, socially, politically and economically. This can be seen in the laws described by Martin Nadaud in which the state was allowed to imprison its citizens two years for going on strike, and prohibited the meeting of 21 people or more (244). From there one can see the government attempting to help its citizens with relief committees during unemployment although these were poorly organized and failed due to lack of work (286). For those who did work in these programs it was not a very pleasant operation. Also discussed are France’s attempts to make relief projects to help the unemployed (292). Eventually, the French government allowed assemblies of workers in 1867 (306). While this was a gain for the French worker, it came about only after many striking workers were sentenced to five years in prison. Also, the workers were allowed to meet, but merchants often opposed ideas of the assemblies, which put an end to it (306). One of the best laws, according to Jeanne Bouvier (1865-1964), passed by the government in favor of the workers was the law of 1892, which regulated the workday for women and children. This law, however was rarely enforced (373).

    Despite the Revolution of 1848, the French worker felt that the liberties that they had longed for and were promised never really developed in the manner they felt they should have. The French government only paid attention to the French worker when it was forced to. One can understand how such desperate times can fuel the revolutions that took place in France.



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All essays copyright students of History 541,  University of Kentucky 2002

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