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8. The Strength of the Parisian Bourgeoisie

Both Left and Right in France have often described the Popular Front as a révolution manquée, a missed opportunity for the working class to take control of the means of production as its Spanish counterpart had done. When French workers occupied factories and staged sit-down strikes during May and June 1936, commentators of various political persuasions believed that the workers were on the road to revolution. Yet despite an unprecedented one million workers occupying factories throughout France, the French capitalist elite, unlike the Spanish, retained its ownership of the means of production. Instead of making revolution during the governments of the Popular Front, the workers demanded—and received—paid vacations and the forty-hour week. In the midst of the greatest economic depression capitalism has never known, France gave birth to the weekend. In the face of high unemployment and the increasing threat of war, French workers fought for their forty-hour week with Saturday and Sunday off. Thus the Popular Front was not only an alliance of unions and leftist political parties to prevent fascism in France, it was also the birthplace of mass tourism and leisure. The demand for a social revolution in which the workers would take over and develop the means of production was superseded by numerous struggles against work. The second part of this book examines the revolts against work in Paris and its suburbs; it details the reactions to workers’ aspirations by the Communist and Socialist parties and the massive federation, Confédération générale du travail (CGT), which were, with the Radical party, the main components of the Popular Front.

To recall the different French and Spanish economic, political, and religious evolutions helps us understand the decline of revolution and revolutionary ideologies in France. In contrast to Spain, France had steadily and consistently industrialized from the middle of the nineteenth century and throughout the twentieth; its development of the productive forces had, as in other Western nations, severely restricted the revolutionary possibilities of working-class organizations. The French had created a thriving national market and slowly forged national unity. In the first third of the twentieth century, regionalist movements did not pose a threat to the indivisibility of the nation. Again, in direct contrast to Spain, there were no attempts at a coup d’état in the 1920s, and the conspiracies of the 1930s failed miserably. The French, too, had separated Church from state and the military from the civilian government. After the Dreyfus affair anticlericalism was no longer the burning issue that it continued to be in Spain and seemed after World War I to have become an outdated ideology, its appeal lost. Although anticlericalism did not disappear in the interwar era, it progressively dwindled and declined.[1]

Furthermore, in France and particularly in Paris, careers were open to the talented, regardless of religion. The French bourgeoisie became increasingly decatholicized and widened its ranks to include considerable numbers of Protestants and Jews, some of whom played essential roles in the most modern industries—electricity, automobiles, and aviation—that in Spain were either backward or nonexistent. The assumed aristocratic values of venality, oisiveté, and the prestige of titles gradually declined, as that of réussite (success) took their place: “The most modern and active part of the bourgeoisie defended the virtues of work and talent.”[2] If, in the nineteenth century, rentiers were an important minority of the French upper classes, the true idle rich (véritables oisifs)—those who never exercised a profession—were much less numerous. As the Socialist leader Jean Jaurès said, “The bourgeoisie is a class that works.” Periodic economic crises forced this class to renew itself; in so doing, it enlarged its numbers and broadened its base. The Parisian bourgeoisie was particularly fluid and supported a philosophy of effort and action.[3]

From such diverse national contexts, different paths emerged. In 1936 anarchosyndicalist militants in Barcelona took control of the underdeveloped productive forces that a weak bourgeoisie had abandoned, whereas the militants of the extreme Left in Paris—anarchosyndicalists, Trotskyists, and dissident Communists—who demanded soviets, workers’ councils, or some form of workers’ control, were largely ignored. They held little interest for the masses of workers and, quite unlike in Barcelona, for militants of the largest working-class organizations—Communist, Socialist, and the overwhelming majority of the CGT. In contrast to the Spanish organizations, by 1936 the largest French unions had relinquished their earlier doctrines of revolutionary workers’ control. In Paris the huge majority of workers and even most union militants in the industries under study here did not want to take over and develop the means of production. In fact, many workers often desired to avoid work and had little wish to labor for their employer, state, party, or union. As in Spain, the nature of the productive forces promoted struggles against work. The noise and vast space of the factories, the dirtiness of the workplace, the ugliness of industrial suburbs and anxious boredom of daily commutes, the ever-present danger of accidents, and the meaninglessness of many tasks encouraged workers to flee from the means of production. The spreading rationalization, the increased deskilling of labor, and the consequent necessity of army-like discipline in the factories aggravated resentments that expressed themselves through direct and indirect revolts against work. When closing time arrived in many factories, workers, even if exhausted, rushed madly for the exit. Thus, during the Popular Front in Paris militants and workers waged a daily guerrilla against work and its attendant discipline. This guerrilla became the most important form of class struggle during the Popular Front and damaged the Left’s hopes of economic growth through increased production and consumption. The workers’ struggles against labor discipline and for the weekend bring into question certain generalizations by historians that French workers had accepted the industrial system and had adapted to the factory.

Paris is the obvious subject for analysis because of its enormous political and economic importance to France, even greater than Barcelona’s to Spain. And the choice of the industrial branches is not totally arbitrary. Two of them—automobiles and aviation—formed the advanced sectors that led the working-class movement during the Popular Front; the occupation waves of the spring of 1936 began precisely in these sectors. Because of its more traditional character, the third branch, construction, contrasted sharply with the industrial modernity of the other sectors. The building industry reflected the small-scale, family concerns that, despite the success of the second industrial revolution in France, still dominated in many branches of the economy. In the World’s Fair of 1937, it took part in a huge construction project employing tens of thousands of workers that was to be the showcase of the Popular Front. The workers of the industries examined here expressed many of the desires of Parisian wage earners in other sectors (which, when relevant, have also been adduced). To put workers’ actions and desires into proper perspective requires a survey of French and particularly Parisian economic and social development.

After World War II, many historians emphasized French industrial backwardness compared to Germany, England, and the United States. More recently the focus of historiography has shifted, and historians have stressed France’s development of powerful industries in automobiles, aviation, and chemicals. If the French patronat (employers) often remained patriarchical and authoritarian, it was not always Malthusian. The growth of capital equipment in France during the first third of the twentieth century was comparable to that in Germany and the United States and faster than that in Great Britain.[4] Even before World War I, France was “unmistakably a country of advanced industrial capitalism.”[5] “In real terms, the French in 1913 enjoyed a standard of living higher than their German neighbors and had made substantial progress with regard to Great Britain.” The growth rate per inhabitant in France between 1870 and 1964 increased more rapidly than Great Britain’s and only a bit less than Germany’s.[6]

The economist Alfred Sauvy, who has emphasized the “Malthusianism” of French employers, has nonetheless declared that between the wars France, “like other industrial nations,” imported raw materials and exported manufactured products.[7] From 1911 to 1936 French industry began to dominate a previously agricultural nation, and by 1931 the majority of the population was no longer rural.[8] Although the number of farmers declined by one million from 1911 to 1936, agricultural production increased. Industrial progress surpassed agricultural advances, and from 1898 to 1913 industrial production grew 3.4 percent per year, a very respectable figure.[9] The First World War produced even greater industrial growth, and the industries of the second industrial revolution—automobiles, aviation, and chemicals—expanded rapidly. With the assistance of an activist state, French industry successfully met the test of World War I and then adapted to the loss of the heavy industries of the north and northeast, regions occupied by the Germans. In a remarkably short time, the armaments ministries organized arms and airplane production, and after several years of war, a dynamic Ministry of Commerce regulated trade.[10]

In the 1920s these modern industrial sectors did not suffer a postwar crisis, and the growth rate for French industry was the highest in Europe.[11] Industrial production more than doubled from 1921 to 1929, although population grew only 14 percent in the same period. Thus, industrial expansion occurred in those industries that used machinery extensively and attained levels between 1906 and 1929 that were matched again only in the 1950s and 1960s.[12] In the 1920s Spain too experienced significant industrial growth, but its expansion was based on the employment of large quantities of inexpensive labor, not the introduction of new machinery.[13] Between 1920 and 1930, Spanish industrial productivity increased, at most, by 20 percent, whereas French industrial productivity grew nearly 100 percent. Even during the depression of the 1930s, hourly productivity continued to rise 2.1 percent per year, a rate similar to the gains registered from 1896 to 1929.[14] C. J. Gignoux, the leader of the French manufacturers’ association, CGPF (Confédération générale de la production française), during the Popular Front and a supporter of Vichy’s Révolution nationale during World War II, nonetheless declared that France had made significant industrial progress from 1919 to 1939.[15] He noted that after World War I the Third Republic had provided the modern infrastructure of the French economy by building roads, airports, power stations, and ports; it constructed or improved schools, hospitals, and telephone and postal communications.

A tendency toward concentration or elimination of small, relatively inefficient firms characterized industrial developments in the first third of the twentieth century.[16] From 1906 to 1931 the number of firms employing from one to five workers decreased approximately 35 percent, whereas the number of establishments with over five hundred workers almost doubled. Even though the majority of French enterprises remained small, the economic significance of very large factories with over one thousand workers increased substantially. The majority of workers labored in firms employing over one hundred workers. Modern metalworking firms began to employ more workers than the older textile industries, which had been the base of the nineteenth-century industrial revolution. In metalworking, those businesses that employed over five hundred workers formed only 1.2 percent of metalworking firms, but these companies employed 37.8 percent of the work force. The technologically most advanced industries—iron, steel, chemicals, and motor vehicles—were the most concentrated. By 1936 French industry had reached a certain balance between large and small firms, a kind of interdependent dual economy in which small and medium-sized businesses coexisted with large enterprises and in which rather backward regions contrasted with the very advanced.

Again, unlike in Spain, the automotive industry played a fundamental role in France in the first half of the twentieth century. The French had been pioneers in automotive construction before the First World War, and they adopted mass-production techniques during the conflict. At the end of the war France remained second only to the United States in production of automobiles.[17] Between 1906 and 1931, the number of workers in the automotive sector grew by a multiple of five. From 1923 to 1938 French motor-vehicle production increased 180 percent, compared to a 20 percent growth in the United States. Throughout the 1920s France remained the largest automaker in Europe, surpassed in exports only by the United States in 1931. Continuing concentration characterized this industry: in 1924 there were 155 firms; in 1932 there were 60, but by 1939 only 31 automakers remained. In 1934 the majority of the eighty-eight thousand workers directly involved in motor-vehicle manufacture labored in firms with over two thousand workers. The three largest companies—Renault, Peugeot, and Citroën—produced 56 percent of the vehicles in 1925 and 70 percent in 1932.

In 1936 the automotive industry, including its spin-off activities such as repairs, sales, and services, was capable of employing up to eight hundred thousand workers, making it perhaps the key sector of the French industrial economy. During the Popular Front, France was second, again, to the United States in the number of vehicles in circulation and in the ratio of automobiles per inhabitant. In 1935 the over two million vehicles traveled on a relatively good road system. By the 1930s the railroads, the transportation achievement of the nineteenth century, were surpassed by automobiles, which had 650,000 kilometers of roads compared to 67,000 kilometers of track and employed directly or indirectly six hundred thousand workers compared to five hundred fifty thousand railway employees.[18]

At its birth the French aviation industry had a symbiotic relation with the automobile industry. Most of the early French aviation pioneers had begun their industrial and technical careers in automobile-related activities; many pilots had been bicycle or race-car drivers.[19] The First World War had considerably promoted investment in this sector, and production jumped from 50 planes per month in 1914 to 629 per month in 1918. Post-war output fell sharply, but the French state, in contrast with the Spanish, actively promoted an independent national aviation industry. The government aided private aviation companies and built the necessary airport facilities.[20] In 1926 France transported 1,067 tons of merchandise by air, compared to 1,050 tons for Germany and 679 tons for England.

The chemical industry closely followed the growth of automobiles and aviation. Rubber and petroleum products were needed to build and fuel the vehicles, in addition to the more traditional uses of chemicals in agriculture and textiles. Prior to World War I the French chemical industry was prosperous but weak in comparison with the German since it did not produce chemicals such as coloring agents, bromine, and chlorine.[21] During the conflict French industry learned how to replace chemicals that it had previously imported from Germany. After the war the state, with the cooperation of chemical industrialists and sometimes with the participation of labor organizations, created committees—such as the Commission de défense nationale pour les industries chimiques and the Conseil national économique—to assure French self-sufficiency in chemicals and other products. By 1929 the French balance of trade in chemicals was favorable, and in 1932 France had risen to second place in the production of phosphate fertilizers.[22] Although the French chemical industry remained behind its American and German competitors, in the decade that followed the First World War, “France equipped herself with a chemical industry that could stand up to most in Europe.”[23]

As in industrial sectors like chemicals, automobiles, and aviation, the French capitalist elite created a powerful electrical industry. On the eve of the First World War the city of Paris had already unified the production and distribution of electricity.[24] In 1907 there were approximately forty plants in the Paris region, but by 1914 their number had been reduced to nineteen. Between 1906 and 1931 the numbers of workers in electrical construction multiplied by 7.5. In the 1920s, “French technology of electrical construction…freed itself from foreign techniques.”[25] In 1925 the Conseil supérieur de défense nationale concluded that the electrical construction industry was capable of satisfying potential French war needs. In 1930 France produced more electrical power than Japan or England, and in 1933 the nation was reportedly fourth in the world in the generation of electricity.[26] Between the wars, concentration continued. In 1936, 80 percent of the electrical power of the Paris region was generated by six plants, and a significant part of the railroads and the public transportation of the Paris region had been electrified. The French industry contrasted sharply with the backward and scattered character of Barcelonan electrical firms.

The dynamism of French industrialists not only altered the factory and production, but in certain industries it also changed the quality of labor itself. The modern industries of the Paris region, particularly the automotive, were pioneers in the rationalization of work. Unlike in Spain, where union militants were sometimes responsible for the introduction of scientific techniques of rationalization, in France the capitalist elite often proved quite capable of industrial reorganization. It viewed Taylorism and other forms of scientific organization at work as following in the tradition of Saint-Simonian productivism and étatisme.[27] French technological and industrial elites often welcomed the latest methods of rationalization and believed that they could bring prosperity and power to the nation. The experts thought that the increasing consumption of goods produced by the new techniques would dampen class conflict and create the material and spiritual climate for class collaboration. As in America, capital and labor would be reconciled on the neutral ground of science and technology. In contrast to the Spanish situation, a collection of Taylor’s articles appeared in French in 1907. His famous work, The Principles of Scientific Management, was immediately translated and made available to French readers in 1912, less than a year after its American publication. French advocates of scientific management wanted to make the American engineer’s writings known to French industrialists to “avoid false interpretations of Taylor.”[28] Taylorism was adopted in the French automotive industry before World War I, when its introduction provoked strikes against production speed-ups and the lowering of piecework rates. A minority of workers, mainly skilled personnel, resisted the deskilling of their labor caused by the new methods of organization.

The First World War and its consequent requirements of production accelerated the application of Taylorism and other forms of scientific organization at work. During the conflict, M. Hourst, a Michelin director, defended Taylorism against attacks by arguing that it enabled wage earners to perfect their skills in several days or weeks, as opposed to the years that were previously required.[29] In addition, it allowed unskilled and new workers, including women, to replace qualified personnel. The Michelin executive cited the shorter workweek and the higher wages that would result from the correct application of the procedures of the Philadelphia engineer. To obtain these advantages, the workers must, of course, give up idling (flânerie).

The trends toward the deskilling of labor and mass production continued after the war. Several firms that had produced armaments during the conflict reconverted to the mass production of automobiles.[30] During the 1920s assembly lines multiplied throughout the motor-vehicle industry where “the skilled worker with his habits, his own rhythm of work, and his particular consciousness of a job well done” was replaced “by the unskilled laborer, the o.s. (ouvrier spécialisé).”[31] At Renault between the wars “intelligence was incorporated into the machine.” Workers found themselves before a mechanism that aimed “to replace their own labor; and their initiative was thus more and more limited by the engineer.”[32] In 1925 at Renault, approximately 46 percent of the workers were skilled (ouvriers professionnels), while 54 percent were relatively unskilled (manœuvres and o.s.). By 1939 the percentages were 32 percent skilled and 68 percent relatively unskilled. On the eve of the Second World War in the large automobile factories around Paris, 60 percent of the workers could learn their jobs in three days.[33]

The development of the assembly line gave rise to a new kind of factory space. “Assembly-line work leads to the construction of buildings that have only outside walls. The interior is divided by a very small number of partitions, in contrast to the compartments of the era of specialized and skilled workshops. The new spatial organization permits a large view of the whole production.”[34] Presumably, the new space helped managers to oversee and control workers.

In addition to an altered organization of space and labor, a new measure of time was devised in the modern automobile factory. Piecework, or rather production incentives, an intrinsic part of scientific organization at work, became the established form of payment for most autoworkers between the wars. Workers were forced to be conscious of the clock from the time they punched in until the siren ended the working day. Simone Weil, the intellectual who worked in several of the large metalworking concerns around Paris, described factory life in the 1930s:

Piecework, the purely bureaucratic relation between the various parts of the firm, and the separated production processes are all inhuman. Your attention has no worthy goal and is forced to concentrate on a small-minded task, which is always the same with some variations: do fifty pieces in five minutes instead of six, or something similar.

There are two factors in this slavery: speed and orders. To succeed, you must repeat the same movement at a pace that, being quicker than thinking, stops not only reflection but even dreaming. When you are in front of your machine, you must destroy your soul, your thoughts, your feelings, everything.[35]

The unskilled and the semiskilled were subordinated to the operations and the pace of their machines. At best, workers could control their working speed, but certain methods of piecework reduced even this limited degree of autonomy. Working too rapidly might eventually result in a lower rate per piece; a slow pace meant a skimpier paycheck. Important decisions were made by managers and technicians, and hierarchy was an intrinsic part of a metallurgical worker’s life. In the huge space of the noisy factory, a stringent discipline was needed to force the semiskilled laborers to perform their repetitive and boring jobs. Foremen and controllers, with virtually absolute authority over their subjects, were hired to ensure that workers produced how and what they were ordered. Sometimes a foreman played the sultan and sexually harassed female subordinates.[36] Every aspect of wage-earning lives was tightly controlled: at Renault the management, not the unions, issued special identity cards to workers.

With other important French firms, Renault participated in the Exhibition on Waste promoted by the Service of Scientific Organization at Work of the Union des industries métallurgiques et minières in November and December 1932.[37] The war against gaspillage (waste) was considered by Left and Right alike to be an integral part of scientific management. The goal of the exhibition was to encourage a “spirit of thrift” and economy among French employers and workers in order to reduce waste whenever possible. Renault was determined to “expose the nefarious and sometimes deadly role of waste” through lectures and displays. The exhibition on wasting time displayed a clock that replaced the usual divisions of hours and minutes with calculations that each lost hour cost the factory 175,000 francs. The display on squandering office supplies confirmed that if all the sheets of paper consumed by factories every year were placed end to end, they would reach halfway around the globe. The staples used would have linked Paris to Montargis, some hundred kilometers away. Other stands presented tools and materials broken by carelessness or lack of maintenance and showed parts and materials found in the trash and in the washrooms. The Exhibition on Waste argued that it would be better to “kill squandering” than to rely on protective tariffs to ensure the future of French industry.

Renault’s efficiency experts wanted to cut costs by simplifying tasks and eliminating superfluous movements. Renault management understood that its drive to save money needed at least some cooperation from the rank and file:

A surveillance that is too apparent becomes aggressive and leads to a struggle between the workers and the controllers. Then there is a constant, silent, and underhanded war in which the personnel, more numerous and knowledgeable about the details of the work, always have an advantage.…Time used in this warfare is time paid by the employer and lost to production.

[The problem is] how to encourage the personnel to produce more and better without having to watch them constantly.[38]

The company’s ideal was to encourage self-control: “The controllers in the workshop ought to be replaced as soon as possible by machines of control and verification, permitting the workers to control themselves.”[39]

Yet Renault’s efficiency experts were trapped in a logical and practical impasse. For if industrial societies usually exercised surveillance and control of the workers, then they would have no simple task to create conditions under which workers would labor without control and coercion, especially when jobs were becoming increasingly deskilled. Indeed, the demand for the simplification of tasks and for scientific organization of work, including Taylorism itself, arose precisely because workers often resisted work and required the control of supervisors, human or machine. In fact, managements faced the real dilemma of whether to permit the production of inferior and flawed goods or to spend considerable sums to control workers and cut down on defects. Verification of production was costly, and management strove to make certain that the services were as effective as possible. In the early 1930s inspections occurred periodically, but not regularly, to maintain the element of surprise. All controllers were obliged to sign a prepared checklist to verify that they had really inspected what had been assigned. A chief controller spot-checked the inspectors; sanctions were taken when inspectors were negligent.[40] Those who checked payrolls and parts were to receive a certain percentage of the money they saved for the company in order to encourage them to find errors and reduce overall expenses. Inspection was not completely effective, however, and in April 1931 Louis Renault complained that “what kills our country is that nobody wants to be sufficiently disciplined to demand from those who execute that they do what they are told quickly and scrupulously.…Those who will not act so that parts without defects are made will first be penalized and then dismissed.”[41]

Renault wanted to avoid the predicament of Citroën and certain American companies where the cost of quality control exceeded the damages that an increase in defective parts would have caused if inspections were reduced.[42] It should be remembered that not only the workers but also the controllers themselves had to be monitored. During the Popular Front, the firm tried to reach a proper balance between the number of productive workers and the number of unproductive personnel who watched those who produced. To avoid continuous surveillance, Louis Renault wanted to “make the worker as responsible as possible for his work so that he is interested in it and loves it.”[43] As will be seen, this goal was not to be realized.

Management wanted to foster upward mobility. Workers who had demonstrated competence and commitment to the company must be allowed to advance. A Renault executive concluded that “experience has shown that it is indispensable that a good inspector be a good professional who had performed assembly-line jobs before he acquired his position. Besides, this is the method used in American factories.”[44] In fact, one major reason that Renault engineers and executives admired American industry was its ability to integrate and promote workers who desired to climb the professional ladder. In 1936 Renault officials who were visiting automotive plants throughout the United States commented on the 4 to 1 salary differential between skilled and unskilled workers: “It is this enormous difference between the salary of the laborer and the salary of the highly skilled worker that allows the quality of the labor force that America possesses. [American] workers make a constant effort to educate themselves in their profession and to advance into a higher class.”[45] The Renault engineers lamented that “this mentality is difficult to implant in France.” As evidence, they noted that at the Société des aciers fins de l’est (S.A.F.E.), a metallurgical firm controlled by Renault, “we frequently run into difficulties when the laborers protest against the supposedly excessive salaries of an excellent roller (premier lamineur) even though the difference between the pay of the rolling-mill hand and an excellent roller is hardly 1 to 2 compared with 1 to 3 or 1 to 4 in America.” Management’s desire to reward the upwardly mobile was forced to confront the egalitarianism of many French wage earners.

During the Popular Front, management continued to struggle against this egalitarianism and attempted to create its own company culture. One way of assuring that supervisory personnel would be disciplined was to follow their careers from the beginning. Apprentices who might eventually become foremen or superintendents were supposedly subjected to “total training—professional, technical, and moral.”[46] Foremen, whose “moral and professional capacities” were absolutely necessary to obtain greater output from workers, must be able “to reach higher ranks through their knowledge, experience and moral values.”[47] In other firms, technical knowledge and ability were not the only criteria for selecting supervisory personnel. Michelin, which controlled Citroën after 1935, chose to train not only technicians for its service des économies but “above all, former law students.” In other words, what was really important was that these efficiency experts be committed to the company values of cutting costs and reducing waste.[48]

The Renault executives admired the Americans not only for their ability to implement policies that promoted social mobility among workers but also for their organizational methods. “Cleanliness,” “order,” and “discipline” were the terms French visitors frequently employed to describe American factories.[49] At Ford in Detroit, “an extreme discipline governs the entire factory. It is absolutely forbidden to smoke.” Although Ford workers were paid hourly and not by piecework, each wore a highly visible number and had to produce a minimum output (recorded by counters on the machines) or be discharged.[50] Walkways raised above the shop floor facilitated surveillance of the rank and file.

Renault officials also praised the organization of the General Motors plant in Antwerp, where the foreman was freed from all tasks other than surveillance of workers. To help the foreman with his job of control, an inspector and his assistants marked each operation on a card that accompanied the automobile on the assembly line. If a customer complained about a defect, the controller could be immediately identified and dismissed.[51] Workers who wore distinctive red and blue hats supplied the assembly lines with tools and parts and “helped the foreman maintain order.” By bringing the needed parts and equipment directly to the assembly lines, these specific workers reduced the movements of their colleagues and increased the rhythm and steadiness of production. Renault attempted to copy General Motors and to free its supervisory personnel from tasks other than control; in 1938 new machinery and an innovative system of accounting permitted foremen and superintendents to devote their time to “technical surveillance of production.”[52] Thus Renault often succeeded in implementing the latest techniques to reduce the gap in productivity between French automakers and their American competitors.

Not all industries were as rationalized or as concentrated as that of automobiles. Rationalization in the aviation industry was less advanced, and manufacture of airplanes often required a precision and a perfection that was not compulsory in automotive fabrication. Prior to the First World War, to an even greater degree than in auto production, workers in aviation were largely skilled artisans who labored long hours but lived “at the same rhythm as their employer, eating and drinking when he did.”[53] The earliest aviation workshops were frequently located near the airfields of the Paris suburbs. When the first large factories were constructed as early as 1911–1912, with management’s offices separated from the shop floors, assembly lines were still rare. Between the wars rationalization progressed: in the suburb of Argenteuil, the Lioré et Olivier company replaced its wooden hangars with massive concrete and glass constructions. Visitors to an aviation plant at Mureaux were impressed by the “order and ease of execution that permitted better and quicker production.” Despite increasing rationalization in all sectors, workers in aviation remained more skilled than their counterparts in other metalworking industries.

The construction industry was commonly a refuge for workers in various crafts. Compared to the “militarized territory of the factory,” the independent employment of plumbers or roofers, for instance, was remarkable.[54] Most construction was decentralized and family-run; whereas in 1931 in metallurgy firms with more than one hundred workers employed 98.3 percent of workers, in construction and public works such firms employed only 23.8 percent of workers. In 1931 construction occupied one million workers, approximately 10 percent of the labor force; about 40 percent of construction workers labored in establishments with fewer than fifty workers.

Yet even within the rather traditional structure of the construction industry, the character of work was changing between the wars. Like aviation, chemicals, and automobiles, construction was among the fastest growing industries in France in the first third of the twentieth century.[55] The use of machinery like bulldozers, cranes, cement mixers, pumps, and jackhammers eliminated considerable amounts of hard physical labor; spray-painting machines and the beginning of mass production in locks and hardware made other old métiers obsolete. Large public-works projects in the Paris region, the extension of the subways and the World’s Fair of 1937, employed hundreds and even thousands of workers.

The modern industries examined here changed the face of Paris and particularly of its suburbs. The automobile industry started up in the western part of Paris proper, where its wealthy clientele resided.[56] During the war, the industries of automobiles and aviation expanded rapidly and huge factories rose in the banlieue. The Renault establishments in Boulogne-Billancourt, employing over thirty thousand workers, were probably the largest in Europe. The Citroën firm was located only a few kilometers from Renault; thus the giants of the French motor-vehicle industry were located inside their largest market. The aviation industry was even more concentrated around Paris than the automotive industry. In 1936, one estimate claimed, 65 percent of the factories manufacturing aircraft bodies and 90 percent of the plants producing airplane engines were in the Paris metropolitan area.[57] Both industries were willing to pay the greater costs and higher salaries that the Paris region entailed in order to be situated in perhaps the largest market on the Continent.

The increasing concentration and intensified division of labor found in the advanced industries of the Paris region were paralleled by a growing specialization of urban space. In eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century Paris, aristocrats, bourgeois, and workers had often lived in the same neighborhood or even in the same building. Many industries were established in the heart of the city, and there was little need to leave one’s quartier to commute from home to work.[58] During the nineteenth century, neighborhoods began to take on the character of a specific class, and some workers left the center of the city for outlying arrondissements while bourgeois went to the western parts of Paris. The twentieth-century development of the suburbs reinforced the tendency of the working class to move from the urban center to its periphery. The ratio of workers living in Paris to the total Parisian population in 1931 was lower than in 1848.[59]

By 1936 the strength and dynamism of the Parisian bourgeoisie had considerably altered the everyday life of workers in the Paris region. The commute from home to work lengthened as both factories and personnel moved into the suburbs of the city. The graceless nature of the banlieue contrasted sharply with the more intimate atmosphere of the traditional working-class quartiers of Paris. In some industries, the specialization of urban space was complemented by a further deepening of the division of labor at the workplace, and many workers were reduced to mere executors of orders from superiors. During the Popular Front workers would respond to the changes not by making a revolution but by continuing struggles against work and by fighting for paid vacations and the weekend, which opened the prospect of escape from jobs and residences alike.


1. René Rémond, Histoire de l’anticléricalisme en France de 1815 à nos jours (Paris, 1976), pp. 225–30; Michel Winock, Histoire politique de la revue «Esprit», 1930–1950 (Paris, 1975), p. 37. [BACK]

2. Adéline Daumard, “Caractères de la société bourgeoise,” in Histoire économique et sociale de la France, ed. Fernand Braudel and Ernest Labrousse (Paris, 1976), 3:839. [BACK]

3. Maurice Lévy-Leboyer, “Le Patronat français a-t-il été malthusien?” Le Mouvement social, no. 88 (July–September 1974): 28; Ingo Kolboom, “Patron et patronat: Histoire sociale du concept de patronat en France au 19e et 20e siècles,” Mots, no. 9 (October 1984): 98. [BACK]

4. J.-J. Carré, P. Dubois, and E. Malinvaud, French Economic Growth, trans. John P. Hatfield (Stanford, 1976), p. 150. [BACK]

5. Tom Kemp, Economic Forces in French History (London, 1971), p. 223. See Patrick O’Brien and Caglar Keyder, Economic Growth in Britain and France, 1780–1914: Two Paths to the Twentieth Century (London, 1978), p. 21: “Our central point is that something called relative backwardness cannot be inferred from characteristic features of French industrialization.” [BACK]

6. Rondo Cameron, “L’économie française: Passé, présent, avenir,” Annales Economies, Sociétés, Civilisations, no. 5 (Sept.–Oct. 1970): 1418–33. [BACK]

7. Alfred Sauvy, ed., Histoire économique de la France entre les deux guerres (Paris, 1972), 1:304. [BACK]

8. Jacques Néré, La Troisième République, 1914–1940 (Paris, 1967), p. 84; André Armengaud, “La population,” in Histoire économique de la France entre les deux guerres, ed. Alfred Sauvy (Paris, 1972), 3:31. [BACK]

9. Sauvy, ed., Histoire économique, 1:265. [BACK]

10. Richard F. Kuisel, Capitalism and the State in Modern France (New York, 1981), pp. 31–51; Gerd Hardach, “La mobilisation industrielle en 1914–1918: Production, planification et idéologie,” in 1914–1918: L’autre front, ed. P. Fridenson (Paris, 1977), p. 88. [BACK]

11. François Caron and Jean Bouvier, “Guerre, crise, guerre,” in Histoire économique et sociale de la France, ed. Fernand Braudel and Ernest Labrousse (Paris, 1976), 4:648. [BACK]

12. François Caron, Histoire économique de la France, XIXe–XXe siècles (Paris, 1981), p. 158. [BACK]

13. Albert Carreras, “La industria: Atraso y modernización,” in La economía española en el siglo XX, ed. Jordi Nadal, Albert Carreras, and Carles Sudrià (Barcelona, 1987), p. 293. [BACK]

14. Jean-Charles Asselain, Histoire économique de la France (Paris, 1984), 2:78. [BACK]

15. C. J. Gignoux, L’économie française entre les deux guerres, 1919–1939 (Paris, 1942), p. 104. [BACK]

16. Charles P. Kindleberger, Economic Growth in France and Britain, 1851–1950 (Cambridge, Mass., 1964), p. 122; Sauvy, ed., Histoire économique, 1:232; François Caron and Jean Bouvier, “Structure des firmes—emprise de l’état,” in Histoire économique et sociale de la France, ed. Fernand Braudel and Ernest Labrousse (Paris, 1976), 4:771; Gérard Noiriel, Les ouvriers dans la société française (Paris, 1986), p. 123; Pierre, George, “Etude statistique des dimensions des établissements industrielles,” in Matériaux pour une géographie volontaire de l’industrie française, Gabriel Dessus, Pierre George, and Jacques Weulersse (Paris, 1949), p. 123; Kemp, Economic Forces, p. 54; Lévy-Leboyer, “Le patronat,” pp. 46–48; Asselain, Histoire économique, 2:73; Ingo Kolboom, Frankreichs Unternehmer in der Periode der Volksfront, 1936–1938 (Rheinfelden, 1983). [BACK]

17. M. Schwartz, “L’industrie automobile,” Conseil national économique, AN, F128798; Patrick Fridenson, Histoire des usines Renault (Paris, 1972), pp. 10–11; Noiriel, Ouvriers, p. 123. [BACK]

18. M. R. Musnier, “Le problème des transports,” Conseil national économique, AN, F128798. [BACK]

19. Edmond Petit, La vie quotidienne dans l’aviation en France au début du XXe siècle (1900–1935) (Paris, 1977), p. 58. [BACK]

20. M. Dautry, “Rapport sur l’aéronautique marchande française,” Conseil national économique, AN, F128798. [BACK]

21. A. Matagrin, L’industrie des produits chimiques et ses travailleurs (Paris, 1925), p. 67. [BACK]

22. M. Fleurent, “Les industries chimiques,” Conseil national économique, AN, F128796. [BACK]

23. Claude Fohlen, “France 1920–1970,” in Fontana Economic History of Europe, ed. Carlo Cipolla (Glasgow, 1976), 1:85. [BACK]

24. Ernest Mercier Collection, Hoover Archives; Charles Malégarie, L’électricité à Paris (Paris, 1947), p. 67; Noiriel, Ouvriers, p. 123. [BACK]

25. Caron and Bouvier, “Guerre, crise, guerre,” 4:650. [BACK]

26. “La question des industries,” Conseil supérieur de défense nationale, 19 September 1925, AN, F22316; Marcel Ulrich, rapport, Conseil national économique, AN, F128796; L’Europe nouvelle, 15 February 1936. [BACK]

27. Judith A. Merkle, Management and Ideology: The Legacy of the International Scientific Management Movement (Berkeley, 1980), chap. 5. [BACK]

28. Henry Le Chatelier, preface to F. W. Taylor, La direction des ateliers (Paris, 1913); F. W. Taylor, Etudes sur l’organisation du travail dans les usines (Angers, 1907); F. W. Taylor, Principes d’organisation scientifique des usines (Paris, 1912). [BACK]

29. [Commander] Hourst, Le problème de la main d’œuvre: La taylorisation et son application aux conditions industrielles de l’après-guerre (Paris, 1916), pp. 46–47. [BACK]

30. Maurice Daumas, “Les techniques industrielles,” in Histoire économique de la France entre les deux guerres, ed. Alfred Sauvy (Paris, 1972), 3:158–59. [BACK]

31. Michel Collinet, L’ouvrier français: Essai sur la condition ouvrière (1900–1950) (Paris, 1951), p. 69. [BACK]

32. Alain Touraine, L’évolution du travail ouvrier aux usines Renault (Paris, 1955), pp. 28, 84. [BACK]

33. Georges Lefranc, Histoire du travail et des travailleurs (Paris, 1975), p. 335. [BACK]

34. Touraine, Evolution du travail, p. 42. [BACK]

35. Simone Weil, La condition ouvrière (Paris, 1951), pp. 20, 28. [BACK]

36. Annie Fourcaut, Femmes à l’usine en France dans l’entre-deux-guerres (Paris, 1982), p. 99. [BACK]

37. Campagne contre le gaspillage, March 1932, AN, 91AQ3; Jules Moch, Socialisme et rationalisation (Brussels, 1927), pp. 38– 49. [BACK]

38. Du chapitre des économies, AN, 91AQ3. [BACK]

39. Note de service no. 816, 22 October 1931, AN, 91AQ22. [BACK]

40. Résumé de notes de M. Renault, Jan.–Feb. 1931, AN, 91AQ22. [BACK]

41. Note 391, 14 April 1931, AN, 91AQ22. [BACK]

42. Note de service, no. 2093, 29 April 1932, AN, 91AQ22. [BACK]

43. Note concernant le service d’économies, 1937–1938, AN, 91AQ3; Conférence de M. Renault du 10 novembre 1937, AN, 91AQ3. [BACK]

44. Note 975, 1 July 1931, AN, 91AQ22. [BACK]

45. Rapport général du voyage de M. Reynaud en Amérique, 11 November–16 December 1936, AN, 91AQ69. [BACK]

46. L’apprentissage aux usines Renault, 2 March 1937, AN, 91AQ3. [BACK]

47. Recherche des moyens propres à améliorer les prix de revient, 10 May 1937, AN, 91AQ3. [BACK]

48. Résumé d’un entretien avec un agent de service des économies de l’usine Citroën, AN, 91AQ3. [BACK]

49. Visite à la maison Ford (1929), AN, 91AQ67. [BACK]

50. La fabrication automobile en Amérique (n.d.), AN, 91AQ77; Résumé—voyage aux Etats-Unis de M. Guillemon (1929), AN, 91AQ67. [BACK]

51. Visite de la G.M., AN, 91AQ24. [BACK]

52. Rapport sur la mécanisation comptable dans les départements, 8 July 1938, AN, 91AQ3. [BACK]

53. The following paragraph is derived from Petit, La vie quotidienne dans l’aviation. [BACK]

54. Arnold Brémond, Une explication du monde ouvrier: Enquête d’un étudiant-ouvrier dans la banlieue parisienne (Saint-Etienne [Loire], 1927), p. 47; Sauvy, ed., Histoire économique, 1:232; Félix Battestini, L’industrie française du gros matériel mécanique et électrique (Paris, 1937); M. Hervé Detton, “Les industries des matériaux de construction, du bâtiment et des travaux publics,” 1 May 1931, Conseil national économique, AN, F128797. [BACK]

55. Sauvy, ed., Histoire économique, 1:268; Adolphe Hodée, Les travailleurs devant la rationalisation (Paris, 1934), p. 17. [BACK]

56. Jean Bastié, La croissance de la banlieue parisienne (Paris, 1964), p. 141; Schwartz, “L’industrie automobile,”AN, F128798. [BACK]

57. Pierre Cot, Triumph of Treason (Chicago, 1944), p. 322. [BACK]

58. Philippe Ariès, Histoire des populations françaises (Paris, 1971), p. 130. [BACK]

59. Ibid., p. 145. [BACK]

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