Patrick Fridenson, Bénédicte Reynaud

France and the Age of Work (1814-2004) Publication date : February 1, 2004

In this history about working hours in France during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, the authors present two highly original theses which go against some established ideas. Their first thesis is that the limitation or reduction of labour hours was not a political, social or economic issue but primarily a question of public health. They point out that in the nineteenth century, it was the medical profession that argued for and obtained shorter hours for women and children, at first. The authors’ second thesis is that the movement for shorter hours was never a major demand of the trade unions — since absenteeism served to regulate working hours — but the policy of national and international institutions (the French Conseil National Economique, the International Labour Organisation). In this book the issue of labour time is not limited to shorter hours, for it includes various other aspects such as paid holidays, sick leave and training periods. The authors have broken up the time period studied into coherent sections. The introduction, by Fridenson and Reynaud, highlights the fact that the book fills a gap in historiography. The first chapter deals with the issue of working hours in the nineteenth century, and chapter 2 covers the period till 1936. Chapter 3 is concerned with social measures such as shorter working hours and paid holidays that were passed from 1936 to 1938, during France’s Popular Front government. Chapter 4 covers the period from 1950 to the 1970s, characterised by the monthly payment and regulation of overtime, and chapter 5 deals with 1978-1996 and the adjustment of working hours. The sixth and final chapter is concerned with the Aubry Laws on the 35-hour week, in the context of very high unemployment. This is a history book which responds to an impassioned issue in recent French political events.

Patrick Fridenson, a historian, is a director of studies at the Ecole des Hautes Etudes des Sciences Sociales.

Bénédicte Reynaud, an economist, is a research fellow at Cepremap.