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More About the Lower Class...

During the 19th century, the lower, or working, class developed from the groups of 18th century traditional rural peasants and laborers. At the same time, some new occupations were created which primarily used physical labor rather than mental skills; the number of individuals and families in these fields exploded in number, creating a substantial lower class. The lower class was composed primarily of workers in extractive, manufacturing, and service industries, who were dependent on wages and who primarily used physical skills. The lower class was divided into occupational sub-groupings of highly skilled handicrafters, semi-skilled workers, and unskilled laborers. Below the lower class was an impoverished underclass, often called the sunken people.

Powerless Poor
In 19th century Paris, individuals from a broad range of occupations of varying status and income comprised the lower class. At the beginning of the century, the poorest 30% of the French population possessed 10% or less of the nation's income. Members of the working class did not generally own property, were not well educated, and were largely excluded from the political process. The wage structure and values of the lower class were modeled after those of the middle class; most lower class workers earned enough to obtain decent housing, educate their children, and invest their surplus income. However, they rarely rose into the middle class; their number and socioeconomic position remained constant as the economy evolved. Highly skilled (upper-working class) and skilled (middle-working class) workers were generally paid more than the semi-skilled and unskilled (lower-working class) laborers.

Journeymen with Jobs Upper-working class, highly skilled occupations paid approximately the equivalent of $500 per year and included handicrafters, construction supervisors, factory foremen, scientific instrument makers, cabinetmakers, musical instrument makers, jewelers, bookbinders, engravers, printers, shipbuilders, machine-tool makers, railway locomotive engineers, textile spinners, and metalworkers. In the 1880s, there were over 98,000 artisans' workshops in Paris, most with six or fewer employees. Poor families encouraged their offspring to pursue practical occupations, and thought that fine arts careers were not serious enough, and their income too uncertain. Middle-working class, semi-skilled workers included carpenters, bricklayers, pipe fitters, and factory employees. Early in the 19th century, Paris factories hired entire families, and husbands, wives and children could work together (as many had previously on the farm). After mid-century, as the population grew, industries were able to hire primarily men, and the women were forced to seek or create non-factory job opportunities. Skilled workers emulated the middle class by seeking education for themselves and their children, and by acquiring non-essential domestic items such as pianos.

Servants and Sweatshops
Lower-working class, unskilled laborers, also called day laborers, performed many kinds of tasks. Day laborers included domestic servants and those individuals working in the sweated industries. The sweated industries, also called the cottage industries, were often small and home-based. Small cottage industry enterprises were made of isolated individuals, often women, working in their homes as seamstresses, laundresses and small item manufacturers, for middle class families and firms. By 1900, there were 85,000 small and domestic producers in the Paris ready-made clothing industry.

Family Farmers
Rural farmers were also included in the lower class, even though they were landowners, as their land debts were high, and incomes were so very low, that their standard of living was in most respects similar to lower class industrial workers. Farming had been a family enterprise until the 19th century when advances in technology in the forms of the mechanical reaper and combine, scientific plant and animal breeding, better food processing and preservation, more effective fertilizers and pesticides, and industrial management techniques transformed it into a industrial business. As a result of increased farming technology, fewer workers were required year-round. Instead, more seasonal workers were needed for planting and harvesting, especially for fruits and vegetables which required hand-picking.

Death by Dung
During much of the 19th century, living conditions for the lower class were appalling. Both male and female unskilled workers tended to have higher mortality rates due to medical problems resulting from unsanitary working conditions, widespread alcohol abuse, alcohol related violence, working accidents, and urban crime. Poor families of six to a dozen people lived in one-room apartments. Building courtyards filled with dung which was sold and transported to farmers for fertilizer. Relocated rural villagers were accustomed to unsanitary conditions on their farms and tolerated their new, but squalid, city dwellings. Many rural families were accustomed to not bathing in the winter and only occasionally bathing in summer. Those who did bathe used low tubs filled with only a few inches of water. By the mid-1880s, regular bathing was encouraged by doctors and the government to prevent disease epidemics and reduce bodily odors.

More Marriage, Less Kids
Legal marriage, which had been rare in lower class families, became more common, stimulated primarily by increasing incomes which reduced the economic burden of spouses and children. In the home, women controlled the family finances, made domestic decisions involving children's education, religious instruction, household furnishings, and whether to take in boarders for additional income. Some women delayed marriage, choosing to remain domestic servants as long as possible. Living conditions for these women were far better and exposure to diseases were far less with their middle class employers than with lower class relatives. These women also tended to have smaller families as they usually deferred having children until they were older. One of Claude Monet's many cooks, Marguerite, became so valued in the household that when she married, Monet immediately employed her new husband, Paul, as a butler to prevent losing her.

Beggars Become Workers
During the 19th century, French government restrictions attempted to prevent excessive numbers of impoverished individuals from streaming into Paris to beg from the wealthy, to prevent rural people from seasonally traveling into cities (to find spouses or to supplement their farming income), to limit overpopulation, and to protect craftsmen's guilds from competition. Small farmers and rural craftsmen aspired to become retail traders and craftsmen. Paris governments passed laws prohibiting begging, making charity harder to obtain, and forcing the poor to work. Industrialization demanded factory workers, so migration helped create a new urban working class, and the expanding railway system facilitated the movement of these workers into Paris and the surrounding suburbs. The new industrial workers encouraged additional migration of other craftsmen and family members into the city from their home communities through their communications which described the city's higher wages and increased opportunities. The increasingly urban population was very mobile, and was characterized by continuous turnover of lower class skilled journeymen and servants. By mid-century, relocation and migration policies were relaxed to increase available labor for factories, and thereby enabled some men to more easily avoid mandatory conscription into military service. Rural single women in France came to work in Paris as domestic servants or factory workers; some sending their income home to the family farm, others hoping to marry up and out of the farming community.

Church to Beer
Lower class non-work activities shifted from the religious to the secular. Church attendance among the lower class in Paris declined during the 19th century as churches were not constructed or expanded quickly enough to accommodate the growing population. The lower class turned from worship to indulge in leisure activities: seeing popular theatre and vaudeville shows, dating and drinking in beer halls, dancing in music halls, and spectating and gambling at sporting events (horse racing and soccer were the most popular sports). Many lower class individuals became literate primarily to read the racing forms. From the 17th to 19th centuries, supporting theatre characters were almost exclusively servants and rustics; their poverty and low social position automatically made them entertaining, whether ridiculous, endearing, or pathetic. Burlesque and pantomime were favorites as they ridiculed the rich, pompous, and high-born upper class.Social contact was also common at the local furnaces and ovens; people gathered to warm themselves and talk with pottery makers, bakers, glass blowers, and blacksmiths. Some upper-working class families were wealthy enough to visit the countryside for short periods; some vacationed for a weekend, week or month. They rented small homes or stayed in country inns. With the expansion of the railway system and increased competition between the rail companies and horse drawn trolleys, train fares declined, and day travel became more affordable for the lower class.

Laborers Protest
As the industrial revolution progressed through the 19th century, the Parisian lower class became increasingly hostile towards the upper class and middle class as mass production machines developed by innovators from the United States and Great Britain were able to produce more pieces and products with fewer workers. Tasks were minutely subdivided into, and performed by, semi-skilled and unskilled workers. In 1843, labor disturbances in Paris resulted in higher wage scales. By mid-century, skilled workers began to establish trade unions; they demanded political power to improve their status and conditions. The lower class had become a powerless majority; to support its booming population, it wanted access to ownership of land and targeted the property held by the aristocracy and the churches. The working class sought relief from all traditional manorial and feudal services as well as an end to taxation. After 1870, labor unrest escalated as the ever increasing number of lower class workers grew more angry about their existing living and working conditions. After the 1871 Paris Commune, the threat of further political upheavals was never absent; alcoholism, crime, prostitution, vagabondage, and begging increased due to poverty and unemployment. Vendettas and personal quarrels gave way to anonymous crimes perpetrated upon strangers. Derelicts and criminals hid in Pere Lachaise Cemetery. In the 1880s, national political parties of radicals formed, and anarchists and socialists organized; many of these groups gained support and membership among the lower class. Especially in the years from 1889 to 1894, cities and industrial areas were the targets of strikes, sabotage, raids and bombings. In 1893 alone, there were over 600 strikes in France which were supported by more than 120,000 workers. In response to this violence, the government passed repressive and conservative laws which stalled any social, political or occupational improvements for the lower class.

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