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Relations with the Government

Mary Wells    

    The government of France had a poor relationship with the emerging working class of the nineteenth century. Since 1791, labor unions had been illegal, thus crippling all power workers possessed to collectively bargain for higher wages and better working conditions. According to worker Norbert Truquin, the French government only allowed French workers rights to assemble in times of particular hardship. Further, the most common tactics like strikes that workers used to achieve raises or better their conditions constituted illegal behavior until late in the century. The French government stripped workers of all their bargaining power, thus reinforcing their exploitation during the French Industrial Revolution.

    Despite this, the French government made a few efforts to alleviate the burdens of the French working class. These laws were, however, rarely enforced, allowing the factories to take advantage of workers, especially working women and children. A law passed in 1841 limiting children under 12 to an eight-hour workday, for example, was never enforced, according to French worker Jeanne Bouvier. Bouvier continued to work thirteen hours per day when she was 11 years old despite the new law, and her family remained desperately poor regardless. Clearly, the French government's few legislative efforts to relieve the poor lacked proper application. Some workers, like Bouvier, blamed the government for its inability to enforce labor laws. Other workers, however, perceived these restrictions as additional obstacles standing between them and their livelihood.

    The French government also failed to provide workers with any type of social protection or insurance. Working families were often devastated by work-related injuries, while workers never received compensation for lost wages. French worker Martin Nadaud, for example, endured a debilitating injury while working as a mason. According to Nadaud, his father was overcome with anger because his family was facing possible financial ruin as a result of his injury. Further, workers were not assisted in the event of sudden unemployment and no type of security or insurance was offered by the laissez-faire government. In comparison, workers in the neighboring Bismarckian Germany were granted a range of worker protection programs like unemployment benefits and accident insurance in the late nineteenth century. The French working class, however, worked for lower wages and endured more deplorable working conditions, but the government failed to effectively address these issues and improve conditions for the working class.




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