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Employment and work patterns

Emily Shmidt

    The early industrial era in France was a time when employment and work patterns underwent great changes for the worker as small artisan workshops gave way to larger dominating companies. During the earlier part of the nineteenth century the organization of the compagnonnage made it possible for young artisans to do the tour of France during which they would travel around the country working in various towns. The purpose of the tour of France was for the young artisan to gain experience and perfect his skills as a worker in whatever particular trade he specialized in and to learn new ideas from a variety of employers. This tour also served as a rite of passage for the young man to break away from his family and sow his wild oats before returning home and entering into real adulthood. It was not possible to do the tour of France without being a part of a compagnonnage. The compagnonnage provided the worker with food and lodging and it also served as an employment bureau. In essence it was the home away from home for the worker.

    The peasants during this time however had a much different work pattern and did not travel to work at all. They typically stayed in their own village and farmed until they were old enough to inherit the land and get married. As a result of this difference the artisans ended up having a greater sense of independence and therefore became more politically influential than the peasants.

    Many stonemasons went to Paris to work in the construction trade, but they did not stay there permanently and did not think of themselves as Parisians. They built stone buildings, working very long hours and doing physically hard work under very dangerous conditions. Because of the nature of the work, the times and seasons that they worked were governed by the weather. They could only work during the summer; therefore it was necessary to work such long hours in order to get everything done since they would not be building during the other seasons. Since they could not work during the winter they would go home and work on their farms. All of the money that was made during the summer while building in Paris would be sent home to their families. Even though families were not very close due to the separation of the father living in Paris for part of the year, there was a very strong sense of loyalty to the home and family.

    During the second half of the nineteenth century the compagnonnage began to disappear as industrialization took place and large companies began to dominate towns both economically and politically. It became difficult to separate the local government from the company, as the government became more like a branch of the company. The tour of France was difficult to accomplish during this time because there were not very many small workshops left where workers could come and go and the organization of the compagnonnage was receding. The companies wanted a more stable workforce that they could control and discipline, so the tour of France became less common and more difficult to accomplish although some workers still attempted it.

    This transition from the small workshop to the large company also caused a significant change in the relationship between the worker and the employer. In the small workshops the workers had always been in direct contact with and under the direct authority of the owner. The relationship between the two had generally been a good one. In the large companies, however, the workers were never in direct contact with the owner but rather a foreman who worked for the owner to get the workers to do what the owner wanted. If the workers did not accomplish what the owner required then the foreman would be blamed and would not receive pay. This caused the relationship between the workers and the foreman to be one of mutual dislike, very different from the previous worker-employer relationship.

    The industrialization of France brought the worker from a lifestyle of traveling from job to job in small workshops, as Perdiguier’s account of working with the compagnonnage shows, to a somewhat though not entirely more stable form of employment with more specialized skills in large companies.



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

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