NATIONAL WORKSHOPS (in French, Ateliers Natio naux), the term applied to the workshops established to provide work for the unemployed by the French provisional government after the revolution of 1848. (The term is also incorrectly applied to the proposed ateliers sociaux of Louis Blanc [q.v.], state supported co-operative productive societies.) The revolution was both preceded and followed by a severe financial and industrial crisis which rendered the problem of unemployment in Paris very acute. The provisional government under the influence of one of its members, Louis Blanc, and on the demand of a deputation of Parisian workers, passed a decree (Feb. 25, 1848) which con tained bold promises assuring relief from the extreme conditions then prevailing. Moreover, this relief was to be immediate, effectual and universal. The following is an extract from the decree:— "The provisional government of the French Republic under takes 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 labour, but this was shelved by his colleagues who, as a compromise, appointed the "Luxembourg" labour commission, under the presidency of Louis Blanc, with power of inquiry and consultation only. The carrying out of the decree of Feb. 25 was entrusted to the minister of public works, M. Marie, and various public works were immediately started. These included clearing the trench of Clamart and conveying the earth to Paris for the construction of a railway station on the chemin de fer de l'Ouest ; construction of the Paris terminus of the Paris-Chartres railway ; improvement of the navigation of the Oise; extension of the Sceaux railway to Orsay.
Those applying for work far exceeded in number the jobs available. There was no effective administrative service and no real desire on the part of the government to make the experiment a success.
The disorder and waste were amazing.
Owing to the increase in the number of those claiming work or relief, disorganization set in, and both the bureaus and the maires became the centres of disturbances, those in charge of the offices being unable to control the crowds. As a consequence M. Marie commissioned Emile Thomas, a chemist, connected with the Ecole Centrale, to reorganize the works. When Thomas took the work in hand on March 5, the number of unemployed had increased to 14,000 in addition to some 4,000 or 5,000 employed on public works, and it was steadily on the increase. On March 16 the daily pay of the workmen who were not working was reduced to one franc ; work was guaranteed for at least every other day, in which case the pay was to be two francs for the day.
The National Assembly had in the meanwhile been elected, and met on May 4. The Executive Commission was elected a few days later; Louis Blanc was excluded, but all the other members of the provisional government were on it. Blanc renewed his motion for a ministry of labour; this was rejected. The dis persal of the emeute of May 15 freed the Assembly from fear of the revolutionary clubs, and on May 15 Thomas received in structions to dismiss all unmarried men under 25 years of age who would not enlist in the army, all men who could not prove six months' residence in Paris, and all who refused offers of private employment. Piece-work was to be established instead of time work, and men were to be prepared to be drafted into the prov inces. The protests of Thomas held this plan up, but he was removed from office on May 26 and on June 20 the proposals were approved, and the sequel was the insurrection of June 23 and following days (see FRANCE: History).