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National Workshops (French: Ateliers Nationaux) refer to areas of work provided for the unemployed by the French Second Republic after the Revolution of 1848. The political crisis which resulted in the abdication of Louis Philippe caused an acute industrial crisis adding to the general agricultural and commercial distress which had prevailed throughout 1847. It rendered the problem of unemployment in Paris very acute. The provisional government under the influence of one of its members, Louis Blanc passed a decree (25 February 1848) guaranteeing government-funded jobs. 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 labor, but this was shelved by his colleagues, who as a compromise appointed a government labor Commission, under the presidency of Louis Blanc, with power of inquiry and consultation only. The carrying out of the decree of February trusted to the minister of public works, M. Marie, and various public works were immediately started. The earlier stages of the national works prompted the following 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 visd 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 existed. 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 maires 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[dubious ] 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 francs 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[dubious ] : 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. (But the previous paragraph states, and the next expresses, that the problem was one of shortage of work, not shortage of workers - at no point does the author of the article discuss the question of funding).
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 bureaucracies were established; one at the Halle-aux-Veaux under M. Wissoc, the other near the maires office in the 2 Clearing the trench of Clamart and conveying the earth to Paris for the construction of a railway station on the chemin de fer de Ouest; construction of the Paris terminus of the Paris-Chartres railway and improvement of the navigation of the Oise extension of the Sceaux railway to Orsay.