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The Proletarianizing of the Fonctionnaires: Civil Service Workers and the Labor Movement Under the Third Republic.

The Proletarianizing of the Fonctionnaries: Civil Service Workers and the Labor Movement Under the Third Republic. By Judith Wishnia (Baton Rouge, Louisiana: Louisiana State University Press, 1990. x plus 394 pp. $47.50).

Since the time of Napoleon the highly centralized French state has played a key role in all aspects of French life. As a result the civil service has grown rapidly ever since. Under the Third Republic (1875-1940) it grew from 200,000 employees in the 1870s to one million on the eve of WWI. Counting the military and nationalized industries, 1.8 million Frenchmen and women drew their salaries from the state: "One of every ten voters received a salary paid out of public funds."

Wishnia's study deals with the lesser fonctionnaires, the clerks in the finance office, the postal workers, the police, and the teachers. She analyzes their class consciousness, their struggle for the right to unionize, their search for a political identity and ideology, their eventual alliance with the blue collar working class, and their emergence as a major force within the labor federation in the C.G.T., in the Socialist Party, and therefore in national politics.

Wishnia agrees with Harry Braverman's theory of the deskilling of work, arguing that the expansion of state employment increased the routinization of work and lowered wages. The entry of large numbers of women into the teaching corps, the P.T.T. and civil service and other white-collar positions during the early part of this century intensified the deskilling of work. The fonctionnaires, though often better educated and of somewhat higher (lower middle class) origin than blue-collar workers, nevertheless ended up joining them because of the repressive policies of both the public and private employer, because their services had become necessary for the maintenance of production and because their social origins, their working conditions, and their salary scales became more like those of the industrial proletariat. Indeed proletarianization was experienced by clerical workers in both the private and public services, and the state proved to be even a more formidable employer than the private sector.

French functionaries were republicans and originally were supporters of the Radical Party, but they grew increasingly impatient with the bourgeois Republic, particularly after the intense struggles in both the public and private sectors during the time of the Clemenceau government, 1906 to 1909: "The record of Clemenceau's war against the syndicates during his first two years in office was impressive: 104 years of prison sentences, 667 workers wounded, 20 killed, and 392 fired" (85). Such struggles developed the consciousness of the functionaries and their willingness to ally with the blue-collar workers against oppressive employers. The labor struggle, combined with political and economic events, the great War, the inflation and depression of the interwar period, and the rise of fascism, further drew them into union and political activity on the left, in contrast to German civil servants, who drifted toward fascism.

Wishnia is particularly skilled at weaving together the intricate activites and alliances of many associations and unions (postal, clerical, teaching, professors, etc.), their experiences in the workplace and their involvement in labor, political and social activities. The scope of the book, the sheer number of groups and organizations dealt with, is impressive. This sometimes leads to gaps or slight errors of interpretation. Although it is true that civil servants and teaching groups took a politically liberal stand on many issues, they could (and can) be quite conservative in defending their positions acquises and in their endless wrangling over their conventions collectives and their statuts. Wishnia's strong sense of identification with the fonctionnaires and the union movement in France (she dedicates her book "aux Camarades de PTT") leads her sometimes to overlook their faults. For example, she implies that teachers and professors more or less uniformly advocated the introduction of the democratic comprehensive school, the ecole unique, during the 1920s and 30s, when in fact their often shortsighted differences have seriously weakened educational reform in France from the interwar period down to the present.

Such a broadly-based work is bound to have some weaknesses, but essentially this is a solid, well-researched book, which pulls together an extremely complex subject in a clear and comprehensible way and provides us with an understanding of the evolution of important socio-economic groups in the huge French state service.

C.R. Day Simon Fraser University
COPYRIGHT 1993 Journal of Social History
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Copyright 1993, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Author:Day, C.R.
Publication:Journal of Social History
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Mar 22, 1993
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