Palais Bourbon

Arrondissement 7

National Assembly, 8 Place du Palais Bourbon

The existing Bourbon Palace that has been used as the Chamber of Deputies or National Assembly ever since 1815 was originally built between 1722 and 1728. It was then enlarged considerably between 1771 and 1789 under the neo-classical architect Marie-Joseph Peyre (who also designed the Odeon Theatre) before being nationalised in 1792 after its then princely owner had fled France.

Under the Directory the Council of Five Hundred began to meet in the Palais Bourbon. from January 21 1798. By then it had been modified to include a hemicycle theatre. Napoleon’s powerless Corps Legislatif also met there in a building that was now adorned by a new corinthian facade facing the Seine and on the opposite bank at the end of the Rue Royale, Napoleon’s Temple to the Glory of the Great Army (now the Church of the Madeleine).

At what is now the back, or south-facing side of the Palais Bourbon is the Square (Place du Palais Bourbon). In 1883 and 1884 Félix Fénéon published poetry by Paul Verlaine and the Illuminations by Arthur Rimbaud from No. 8 in the Libre revue.

Many of those in LeftinParis were deputies in the National Assembly at one point or other in their lives: Jean Zay, Leon Blum, Ledru-Rollin,

PLACES

Rue de Bourgogne

Arrondissement 7

Numbers: 4

Virtually the entire revolutionary left of the 1840s used to visit No. 4. This was where the Slav exiles lived and where Bakunin used to meet Proudhon, Leroux and many others. Bakunin was finally expelled from France in 1847.

After receiving threats to his life, in 1937 Jean Zay moved to the road that was so close to the heavily guarded Chamber of Deputies.

PLACES

Rue de Verneuil

Arrondissement 7

Numbers: 46

The road was named after the Duke Henri de Bourbon-Verneuil, a son of Henry IV who was Abbott of the nearby St Germain-des-Pres abbey in 1640 when the road was first opened.

Jean Zay lived in a flat at No. 46 from 1934. His eldest daughter was born there in 1936, the year he became Minister of Education and Culture in the Blum Popular Front government.

There is now a rare plaque to a leftist on the wall outside the flat.

After facing increasing threats from La Cagoule, the undergorund fascist organisation, the Zay family moved to the Rue de Bourgogne.

PLACES

1936

Popular Front Factory Occupations

1936 saw a dramatic rise in working class confidence

By 1930 the growing advance of Taylorist management in France’s larger workplaces against the backdrop of the 1919 48-hour week law meant that their workers’ annual hours had fallen to about 2,300, a reduction echoed elsewhere in Europe. Working time then, however, dropped dramatically and uniquely in France by another 400 hours a year between 1935 and 1937.

This was the result of a wave of mass factory occupations, that were legitimated by the Matignon agreements and the Law of June 24 1936. What was significant about this reduction was that while it reflected the temporary weakening of the hold of French employers, it was essentially politically-driven rather than the outcome of  worker demands.

Election, Factory occupations, Matignon agreement, Blum Popular Front Government – in progress

The factory occupations that followed the 1936 Popular Front election victory initially called upon local mayors to arbitrate the reinstatements of workers fired for striking on the May Day that fell between the two rounds of elections. Other workers then used the same defensive tactic (to prevent non-strikers from working) over wages.

Factories occupying – in progress

As the movement spread occupying workers began first to call for trade union rights and the recognition of shop stewards and, less frequently, for two weeks’ paid holiday and, even more rarely, for the 40-hour week. The reduction of the working week without loss of pay, however, had been included in the Popular Front’s 1936 election programme.

What difference did the factory occupations make?

The reformist CGT leader, Jouhaux, had campaigned vainly for years for a 40-hour week agreement, and in 1935 a measure proposing two weeks’ annual paid holiday was brought before the Senate. But these were not major rallying issues for French workers devastated by the loss of 1.3 million industrial jobs between 1931 and 1936. Between 1919 and 1935 only 1.3% of single-issue strikes and 13.1% of multi-issue strikes recorded in France concerned a shorter working week.

When faced with employers who, even as thousands of their factories were being occupied, still refused to negotiate with the unions, the new prime minister Léon Blum saw the opportunity to go considerably further than had the 1919 Law in reinforcing the collective bargaining machinery that had been increasingly ignored since the mid-1920s by the employers. 

The 1936 Law gave the Minister of Labour powers to convene ‘joint commissions’ of ‘the most representative’ of employers’ associations and trade unions in a regional or national ‘branch’ of any industry to negotiate collective agreements. It reintroduced a First World War procedure whereby the Minister could order all the employers in the branch to comply with the agreements – whether or not they had participated in them – if their workers were trade union members.

And it prescribed a minimum substantive content (the 40 hours, two weeks’ paid leave, minimum wages for different job classifications and periods of notice) and minimum procedures (recognising workers’ rights to trade union membership, the election of workplace delegates). Labour inspectors were, however, also granted powers to make exemptions, powers that were used more and more frequently as the slow economic growth from 1937 was blamed by the employers on the 40-hour week.

The law of June 24 1936 was the most important pre-Second World War advance in state intervention on wage formation. It specified that the collective agreements negotiated should lay down minimum wages for each level of worker in the sector and included the possibility that the agreements reached between the negotiating parties could be extended by Ministerial order to all firms within the particular industry or region. It thus created a state mechanism for generalizing standard minimum rates for all workers.

Rue Ramponeau

Arrondissement: 20

Number 40-42, 51

The school where Albert Treint taught in 1919-1921 before being fired for his active role in the formation of the French Communist Party

It’s a big haul walking up from the boulevard de Belleville to the Boys’ Elementary School (now mixed) where Albert Treint taught from 1919 to September 1921. He was then dismissed for his political activities as a leader of the new French Communist Party.

His victimisation was revoked in 1936 when Jean Zay became Minister of Education in the Popular Front government. Three years later, however, Treint was dismissed again when the Daladier government passed a law interning all those considered a threat to the security of the state.

The last barricade of the Commune was taken by the Versaillais army at 1 pm on May 28 1871

Hazan (IOP) quotes the Communard historian Prosper-Olivier Lissagaray as writing that the last of the 1871 Commune barricades to hold out on May 28 1871 was across the Rue Ramponeau at numbers 40-42, rising above the Rue de Belleville (then Rue de Paris), and within a kilometre of the Père-Lachaise cemetery where the last Communards were gunned down.

The entrance to rue Ramponeau from the Belleville Boulevard photographed in 1900

Paris Revolutionnaire

Socialism

Accused of being drunkards in several areas of France the early SFIO campaigned against alcoholism as well as against capitalism

French socialism began to distinguish itself both from Proudhon’s anarchistic appeal to humanity’s moral responsibilities and from Blanqui’s insurrectionism in the 1890s. Founded by Blum, Jaures and Vaillant in 1905 in the aftermath of the Dreyfus affair, the SFIO united left reformist republicans and Marxist sectarians. The alliance broke up in 1920 when a majority at the Tours Conference voted to affiliate to the new Communist International.

Despite being a minority at that SFIO conference, the SFIO of left reformist socialism became the leading left political current through nearly all the interwar period. After the Communist Party ended Stalin’s ‘class against class’ propaganda against the Socialists and proposed a Popular Front alliance, Blum became prime minister in 1936.

Under the Fourth Republic its internal divisions over Algerian independence, with Mendes France and the challenge of the stronger Communist Party allowed De Gaulle to take power. In 1981 Mitterrand won a decisive majority on a left platform that he abandoned three years later. From then the Socialist Party became largely a party of elected national and local officials, without any real mass membership. In 2017, following five politically disastrous years under Hollande, the Socialist Party suffered a major defeat in both the presidential and National Assembly elections. A new left party, La France Insoumise (France untamed), did relatively well, with the Left Front’s presidential candidate getting 19.6% of the vote in the first round.

The vote for the La France Insoumise leader Mélenchon in the first round of the 2017 presidential elections shows stronger support in the less wealthy parts of Paris

Like the Socialists, though, Melonchon’s La France Insoumise has still virtually no local membership base. In the European elections of 2019, its share of the vote fell to 6%.

Work in progress