1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/National Workshops
NATIONAL WORKSHOPS (Fr. Ateliers Nationaux), the term applied to the workshops established to provide work for the unemployed by the French provisional government after the revolution of 1848. The political crisis which resulted in the abdication of Louis Philippe was naturally followed, in Paris, by an acute industrial crisis, and this, following the general agricultural and commercial distress which had prevailed throughout 1847, rendered the problem of unemployment in Paris very acute. The provisional government under the influence of one of its members, Louis Blanc, and on the demand of a deputation claiming to represent the people passed a decree (Feb. 2 5, 1848) from which the following is an extract:—
The provisional government of the French Republic undertakes to guarantee the existence of the workmen by work. It undertakes to guarantee work for every citizen.
For the carrying out of this decree, Louis Blanc wanted the formation of a ministry of labour, but this was shelved by his colleagues, who as a compromise appointed a government labour Commission, under the presidency of Louis Blanc, with power of inquiry and consultation only. The carrying out of the decree of Feb. 25th was entrusted to the minister of public works, M. Marie, and various public works were immediately started. The earlier stages of the national works are sufficiently interesting to justify the following detailed account:—
“The workman first of all obtained a certificate from the landlord of his house, or furnished apartments, showing his address, whether in Paris or the department of the Seine. This certificate was viséd and stamped by the police commissary of the district. The workman then repaired to the office of the maire of his ward, and, on delivering this document, received in exchange a note of admission to the national works, bearing his name, residence and calling, and enabling him to be received by the director of the workplaces in which vacancies existid. All went well while the number of the unemployed was less than 6000, but as soon as that number was exceeded the workmen of each arrondissement, after having visited all the open works in succession without result, returned to their maire's offices tired, starving and discontented. The, workmen had been promised bread when work was not to be had, which was reasonable and charitable; the great mistake was, however, then committed of giving them money, and distributing it in public at the offices of the maires instead of distributing assistance in kind, which might have been done so easily through the agency of the bureaux de bienfaisance. Each maire's office was authorized to pay every unemployed workman 1.50 frs. per day on production of a ticket showing that there was no vacancy for him in the national works. The fixed sum of 2 francs was paid to any workman engaged on the public excavation work, without regard to his age, the work done or his calling .... The workman made the following simple calculation, and he made it aloud: ‘The state gives me 30 sous for doing nothing, it pays me 40 sous when I work, so I need only work to the extent of 10 sous.’ This was logical....
“The works opened by the minister of public works being far distant from each other, and the workmen not being able to visit them all in turn to make certain that there were no vacancies for them, two central bureaux were established, one at the Halle-aux-Veaux under M. Wissocq, the other near the maire's office in the 5th arrondissement in the Rue de Bondy, entrusted to M. Higonnet. . . . The workmen went to have their tickets examined at one of these bureaux; and the absence of employment having been proved, they returned to get their 30 sous at their maires' offices.
Owing to the increase in the number of those claiming work or relief, disorganization set in, and both the bureaux and the maires became the centres of disturbances, those in charge of the Ufiices being unable to control the crowds. As a consequence M. Marie commissioned Émile Thomas, a chemist connected with the École Centrale to reorganize the works. When Thomas took the work in hand on the 5th of March, the number of unemployed had increased to 14,000 in addition to some 4000 or 5000 employed on public works, and it was steadily on the increase. On the 16th of March the daily pay of the workmen who were not working was reduced to 1 franc;, work was guaranteed for at least every other day, in which case the pay was to be 2 francs for the day. The possible usefulness of this order was stultified by the near approach of the elections, the moderate and extreme sections both trying to exploit the dissatisfied workmen. Private industry, too, was paralysed, the workpeople for the most part preferring 1 franc a day and idleness, with the possibility of future benefits. Thomas, left practically to his own resources, endeavoured to organize some special workshops where artisans could be employed at their own trades; but it was found almost impossible to persuade them to do serious work, as they knew that many of their fellows were being paid for loafing. On the 19th of May the number enrolled had increased to 87,942. The National Assembly had in the meanwhile been elected, and met on the 4th of May. The Executive Commission was elected a few days later; Louis Blanc was excluded, but all the other members of the provisional government were on it. Blanc renewed his motion for a ministry of labour; this was rejected. On the 15th the mob invaded the Assembly, and from that time the government abated their socialist tendencies, and cast about for means to put an end to what had become a serious danger to the state as well as an exhausting drain on the treasury. On the 24th of May Thomas received instructions to dismiss all unmarried men under 25 years of age who would not enlist in the army, all men who could not prove six months' residence in Paris, and all who refused offers of private employment. Piece-Work was to be established instead of time-work, and men were to be prepared to be drafted into the provinces. Thomas foretold trouble as a consequence of the order, and it was for a time withdrawn. On the 26th of May Thomas was superseded by M. Lalanne, and on the 3oth the National Assembly decreed the substitution of piece-work for time-work. On the zoth of June the remainder of the proposals were approved, and the sequel was the insurrection of the 23rd of June and following days (see French History). How far the real socialistic scheme of Louis Blanc would have been successful if it had been put in practice must remain a matter of speculation. It was entered upon hastily, without any organization, was looked upon coldly by those servants of the government who ought to have assisted it, and, in the circumstances, was foredoomed to failure from the start.
Authorities.-E. Thomas, Histoire des ateliers nationaux (1848); L. Blanc, Histoire de la révolution française de 1848 (1870–1880); 1848 Hist. révelations (1858); A. de Lamartine, Hist. de la révolution de 1848 (1849); a useful summary is given in the English Board of Trade Report on Agencies and Methods for dealing with the Unemployed (c. 7182, 1893).
- The term is also incorrectly applied to the proposed ateliers sociaux of Louis Blanc (q.v.), state-supported co-operative productive societies.
- Clearing the trench of Clamart and conveying the earth to Paris for the construction of a railway station on the chemin de fer de l'Ouest; construction of the Paris terminus of the Paris-Chartres railway; improvement of the navigation of the Oise extension of the Sceaux railway to Orsay.
- E. Thomas, Histoire des ateliers nationaux, p. 29.