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The French Worker and the Revolution of 1848

Shane White

    What was France like in the years leading up to the Revolution of 1848? After the mid-1840ís, starvation and unemployment swept across the land. The year 1845 had seen an economic boom on account of the railroad construction, but the construction stopped and the workers lost their jobs. Agriculture was also seeing some hard times. France was experiencing the same potato epidemic that swept through Ireland in 1846. Norbert Truquin (1833-1887), a common laborer at this time, tells of the many times when he was near starvation and barely made it by to the next job. With conditions as they were, the stage was set for yet another revolution to take place. In February of 1848, the citizens of France rose in rebellion against their government.

    With the vast amounts of unemployment amung the working classes, why were they not demonstrating as much against the current regime? Norbert Truquin tells of the time when on the 22nd of February, the workers in the factory where he worked left their posts and filled the streets in demonstration against the government. They wanted reform and higher pay for their work. Truquin was advised by a soldier friend of his that he should in fact not get involved with this situation because he needed money! He was barely making enough money to feed himself throughout the entire week. For him, not working would eventually lead to starvation. This proved to be a prophetic warning because Truquin states that after only four days on the 26th of February, his funds had nearly run out. Finding work was not easy. All the factories were closed at this time. He was able to eventually find work with some pavers for two francs and fifty centimes per day, again barely enough to feed and house himself throughout the week. The job, however, lasted only twelve days. This shows just how unstable the jobs were at this time and for someone who had just enough funds to support themselves, taking time off from work to protest was a bad thing to do.

    A new government came to power, and sought to do away with the unemployment throughout France. The government set up what they called National Workshops to again bring employment to French society. Truquin signed up and worked for the National Workshops, as did many other French men. This program, however, ran into problems. By May, ten times the expected amount of applicants had applied for the job. The government was not able to accommodate the amount of workers that had come looking for work. Many opponents within the new government criticized this new program because the workers spent most of their time sitting around. It was decided by the government that on the 21st of June, 1848, these programs would be stopped.

    The result of the closing of the National Workshops was the June Days, an uprising staged by workers who were tired of the economic situation that they had been placed in. Truquin states in his autobiography that since the shootings had taken place in Paris, he could no longer think of the fun things that he used to do whenever he had a few extra sous left over. It shocked him to see that men could be so cruel to one another.

    The government was able to repress the rebellion of the June Days with the use of military force and many of the captured men were sent to prison camps in Algeria. This was not the time for the workers to rise up and take their country and get their rights back. All the June Days did was convince the more conservative parts of the government that this was proof that they needed a stronger government.

    France would eventually go through yet another revolution in 1871 when the people again tried to establish their rights. The Revolution of 1848 had started out as a middle-class movement that pressed for more reforms in the government and broadening of the right to vote. The working class did become involved, but they were disappointed when the new government failed to do anything to improve their situation. The working class tried again to establish their rights as a people in the Commune uprising of 1871.



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

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