The Working Classes in Revolutionary France

Industrialization in France
  • 1830 / 1832
  • 1848

    Works Cited


     Industrialization in France happened at a much slower rate than the English model would suggest. France experienced a slow change to commercialized agriculture, power driven machinery and mass production. Even by the end of the nineteenth century, the majority of workers were employed outside of industry. Factories were located mainly in a few cities in the northern part of France.

    Still, industrialization played a big part in the lives of those living in the nineteenth century. Railways were built, connecting areas of the country and creating the beginnings of nation and regional economies.

    And although change was slower than in other areas of Europe, foriegn competition did force the creation of some factories andd thus the demise of the skilled artisans who were previously employed in those trades. This change occured first and most dramatically in the textile industry, particularly spinning cotton and weaving certain types of wool.

    Increasing industrialization particulary hurt the family economy, or the cottage industries, as traders found they could increase their profits by buying from factories. Since it drove prices down, it also made it more and more difficult for cottage industries to find enough work and make enough money to survive. The breakdown of the family economy helped to create major cultural changes for the French working class as the family began to have less control over all aspects of one's life, such as choice of employment and marriage partner.

    Many in rural areas began to supplement their income by becoming seasonal migrant workers in the construction industries. During the height of the construction season they would travel around the country building railways and buildings, and digging canals.

    The shift to industrialization created uncertain economic prospects for skilled artisans during the nineteenth century. Factories also put pressure on the prices of goods they produced, driving down wages. Because of the high proportion of income consumed by food, a decrease in wages could often push workers to the brink of starvation. It also disturbed the functioning of shops. Although there was always a clear deliniation between the owner of a shop and his workers, they had managed to maintain fairly egalitarian relations. Now, as the means of production became more expensive to own and the skill required to do a particular job became less, the relationship became more defined and antagonistic.

    However, small industry in France was more secure than in other places because the special value of French luxury goods on the world market ensured a continuation of some highly skilled artisanal laborers.

    Information on this page comes from Maynes, 22