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Workers’ Newspapers

Leslie McWhorter

    To be a part of the working class in France during the nineteenth century was to be a part of a whole class of individuals struggling to not only support themselves, but their families as well. Low wages, long hours, unsafe working conditions, and a lack of any educational opportunities gave the working class little if any hope of survival for the future. In The French Worker, by Mark Traugott, we learn that most of the individuals who comprised the working class in France during this time had little if any education. Most workers did not know how to read or write and for those individuals who were fortunate enough to be literate, how would they be able to bring about any change in the working conditions if they had no support from the masses? At this point in time most workers had no communication with much the outside world, but from the Traugott reading we do learn that some of the French workers were able to get their hands on a few books and newspapers to keep them somewhat informed. However, in the early 1830’s the development and creation of newspapers representing the working class began to change not only the methods of communication but also the whole working class way of thinking.

    A newspaper founded in Lyon in 1831 and became one of the first to publicize the problems of the working class. According to the newspaper itself, this was the first time that journalism and industry had combined to represent the interest of the working class. This papers, the Echo de la fabrique, was originally created to discuss just the plight of the silk workers in Lyon, but it soon began to focus on the whole "proletarian class". According to the Echo de la fabrique, workers of all trades needed to unite in order to be better off. The division between proletariat and bourgeoisie was not the only barrier to better life: divisions between the differing trade groups also hurt the workers. All the workers, whether skilled or unskilled, needed to unite to bring about any sort of change or movement. The paper served as a voice for those who did not have the strength to defend themselves. However, there were some clear distinctions between those reading the paper and those writing the paper. Many of the individuals writing for the paper claimed to be sympathetic to the working class's plight when in reality they had no personal experience of what life was like for much of the working class.

    The development of workers’ newspapers brought an end to the isolation of militant workers, and allowed voices of resistance to be heard. However, these newspapers were not greeted with completely open arms. Many representatives of the bourgeois government felt that this would cause dissension among the workers and lead to future uprisings. They feared violent uprisings and the creation of a whole new set of problems. Nevertheless, the creation of workers’ newspapers brought about an increased awareness of their cause and provided many workers a forum for debate. The Lyon press thought that the key to any movement was publicity because it provided the best means to increase awareness for any cause. Publicity was not the only tool the newspapers emphasized they also stressed the need for workers to educate themselves so that they would be better able to aid their cause.

    Source of information: Jeremy D. Popkin, Press, Revolution, and Social Identities in France, 1830-1835 (Penn State University Press, 2002).



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

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