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Prisoners of Want: The Experience and Protest of the Unemployed in France, 1921-45

Lookup NU author(s): Professor Matt Perry


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Prisoners of Want examines the experience of the unemployed in France, their protests and their organizations from 1921 to 1941. Contemporary measurements of unemployment give the misleading impression that worklessness was not a serious problem in France. This statistical illusion has contributed to a relative disinterest amongst social historians of this subject. Although lower than in other industrial states, unemployment posed a serious problem for working-class households and there was more protest than has been assumed. Movements of the unemployed in France adopted a range of activity from advice work and self-help to protests. There were hunger marches, demonstrations, relief work strikes, school student strikes, occupations of town halls and riots. Crucial to explaining the characteristics of these movements are the changing tactics of activists, the psychological dynamics of jobless protests and the responses of the authorities. Above all, organizing the unemployed was riddled with paradoxes and frustrations. Many activists complained about the indifference and apathy of their jobless audience. Yet, at other times, even the authorities noted the militant ‘effervescence’ of those without work. The French Communist Party played a prominent role in the creation and leadership of the movements of the unemployed. Any examination of the unemployment movements would have to consider the relationship between the communists and the workless. This interaction forms an evolving and complex factor in this history. The communist approach changed significantly over time and was the product of international prompting, periodic national attention and the work of local activists. This study will assess the impact of unemployed protest upon the authorities in terms of policy and, in the longer term, on the development of the French welfare state. It is worth considering whether the nature of the protests in interwar France contributed to the late arrival of the unemployment insurance system in France. Other intriguing questions are the part played by the struggles of the unemployed in the wider context of social movements in the 1930s and their significance in the French collective memory.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Perry M

Series Editor(s): Chase, M

Publication type: Authored Book

Publication status: Published

Series Title: Studies in Labour History

Year: 2007

Number of Pages: 296

Publisher: Ashgate

Place Published: Aldershot

Library holdings: Search Newcastle University Library for this item

ISBN: 9780754656074