The Depression and unemployment set off riots (1934) and was a major factor in the election of Léon Blum's socialist Popular Front Government (1936). The Popular Front was the coalition of Communists, Socialists, and other left-wing political parties which developed emerged in France during the 1930s to achieve political power and social reform in France. It was also in reaction to the threat of Fascism, especially the rise of the NAZIs in Germany. The Popular Front won the elections of 1936 and Léon Blum became France's first socialist premier. The Depression was a major reason for the Popular Front's victory. Elation with a socialist government resulted in a wave of strikes. Some 2 million workers went out in strike. The workers seized factories and stores. The strikes were not ordered by Blum, but were spontaneous and largely unorganized. The business community saw a Communist revolution coming. They met secretly with Blum and negotiated major labor law reforms known as the Matignon Accords. [Rossiter] The labor strife and economic confusion was in sharp contrast to the NAZIs who had seized control of the unions and put the economy on a war footing. The Popular Front's economic policy generally failed. They achieved gains for workers such as shorter hours and summer vacations. This was not, however, accompanied by increased productivity. The impact thus was to weaken French industry and production at the same time German labor was prevented from making similar demands and German factories were producing arms and other military equipment at full capacity. The strikes of 1936 affected the Government's image. The Government decided not to intervene in the Spanish Civil War, the first Fascist military exploit in Europe. The Popular Front was not just a political movement, but rather a social and cultural movement as well. The movment's goal was to break down the trditional barriers that separated the highly compartmentalised society of France in the 1930s. As such, the Popular Front was reviled by traditional and right-wing elements in French society, feeding into social divisions. The phrase, "Better Hitler than Blum" began to be heard./ Aftr the Germany victory in 1940, Blum and the Popular Front were blamed by Vichy politicians rather than the French military planners. While the Popular Front failed in many of its goals and failed to prepare France to resist the Germans, the myth of the Popular Front has achieved legendary status in modern France. [Jackson]
The Popular Front was the coalition of Communists, Socialists, and other left-wing political parties which developed emerged in France during the 1930s to achieve political power and social reform in France. It was also in reaction to the threat of Fascism, especially the rise of the NAZIs in Germany.
The impact of the American Stock Market Cash (1929) and resulting Great Depression arrived in France later than it did in Britain, Germany, and other European countries. France remained relatively prosperous for some time, primarily because it was not as tied to the American economy as Britain and Germany and the country was self sufficent in food production. France was, however, not imune. The first obvious impact was the disappearance of American expatriats from Paris who could no longer aford to live abroad. Finally the French economy began to feel the impact of the Depression (1932). Tourism declined sharply as Americans and other foreigners could no longer aford foreign trips. And tourism was an important industry. Exports also declined. Many important French exports (perfumes, wine, chese,and food and other high-end foods) were luxury goods that Americans and oithers could no longer afford. Orders were cancelled and prices fell. The overall impact was to serious reduce French export income. Unemployment increased to 15 percent and inductrial production declined 25 percent (1932).
Elections in 1932 brought to power conservative André Tardieu. He had campaigned one the threat of Communism. He formed a coalition government of conservatives and rightists. They opposed the New Deal style spending demanded by the left-wing parties for the unemployed and poor workers adversely affected by the Depression. The Tardieu Government was committed to limit taxation, balance the budget, and prevent inflation. It hoped to achieve recovery by replacing lost markets with increased trade with the country's colonies and restricting government spending. Tardieu Government was also committed to the gold standard. His policies were in many wys similar to those of the Hoover Administration in the United States. Retaining the gold standard even after America, Britain, and Germany went off it, meant that the French Franc was overvalued which further impaired export sales. French businessmen saw a devaluation coming. Many sent funds abroad, further impairing the economy. The French economy did not decline further after the sharp 1932 decline, but it also did not recover. The econmy stagnated for 3 years. This meant unemployment, low wages, and a decline in their standard of living. Unemployment and industrial production in 1935 were basically the same as in 1932. [Hill, p. 37.] The left-wing parties increasingly attacked the Government and charged it with a callous social outlook. Tardieu defended his policies and warned that the left-wing parties (Communists and Socialists) would bring further economic decline, anarchy and ruin.
The mid-1930s in France were a time of great political unrest. There were many strikes, and totalitarian regimes were coming to the fore in Europe. The stagnant economy generated increasing support for political change. The Depression proved to be a major reason for the rise of the Popular Front. The Conservatives were aided by the long running differences between the Socialist and Communists.
A wave of strikes swept France (1936). The strikes of 1936 affected the Government's image.
The Popular Front won the elections of 1936. It was the most important Popular Front goverment was fomed in France. The Popular Front (Front Populaire) was an alliance of left-wing political parties that came into power in France following the 1936 elections. Its leader was Léon Blum. Blum became France's first socialist premier.
The NAZIs after seizing control, moved to lengthening the work week as part of the preparations for war. Longer hours mean increased productioin and fuller use of war plants. France despite the NAZI challenge moved in the opposite direction, shortening the work week with a rigid 40 hour week week. Some authors charge that this was a factor in the catertrophic French defeat in 1940. The Popular Front program had at its center-piece a 'reduction in the time of work', at first without specifying a 40 hour week. Workers pressed their demands with strikes. Something like a million workers wentnout on strike, a good many sit-down strikes. The Government passed a 40 hour week, but with the same eranings as received with the previous 48 hour week (June 21, 1936) Some econonmists believe that this and other labor legislation adopted by the Popular Front increased production costs some 80 per cent (June-July 1936). [Werth, p. 611]
The initial Popular Front (PF) Labor Act required that for all workers in private and state enterprises and offices, both industrial and commercial, that work week should not routuninely exceed 40 hours a week. There was no provision as to how those hours should be arranged over the work week. It also did not deal with with the number of shifts that could be worked in a factory. Just how the Act as to be applied to different industries was to be addressed in ministerial decrees after consultation with the companies and associated unions. The decrees finally issued were largely reflected the outlook of the unions and not plant managers. They were rigid and inflexible and clearly not designed to maximize production.
And the regulations went far beyond just limiting hours. There were regulations restricted the hours of factory operations. There was also a 40 hour-five day week. The exact amount of overtime hours allowed by the different decrees
varied as to the job and the the situation creating the need for overtime (1936-38). The justification included repairimg equipment, national defense requiremebts, or work demamds.. The secrees established no maximum hourly limit for national defense, however, provided that a limit should be set by the Minister of Labor. The overtime rate of pay were to be based on rovisions of existing-collective bargaining arrangements with the unions. The PF labor decrees theoretically permitted employees a limited amount of overtime. There was, however, a rigid complocated system for actgully authorizing the overtime. The employer had to obtain permission. And a complicated beaureax=cratic system was set up to obtain that permission. The red tape involved was both costly and effected the eficent management of factories. And France had a smaller indistrial base than Germany to begin with.
Factory oners began to compalin and these complaints became serious (Sping 1937). This was just when the situatiin with Germany was becoming inceasingly serious. Compaonies were reporting that productiin was being adversely affected.
One observer reprts that while production was not falling, French comapnies were unable to increase output at a ctitical time in its effort to prepare for the increasinkly NAZI aggression. [Lee] The Goverment took some limited measurs to relaxed the inflexible work hour and overtime measures. Mnisterial decrees permitted a few additional hours to be worked for limited periods in specfied. The measures had no real impact. A good example is potash minimg. imprtant in the production of munitioms. Here overtime could be authorized, but only for 31 hours over a period of 6 months. All of this was of course in sharp contrast compared to what was going on in NAZI Germany at the time. Here he unions were not allowed to interfere with efforts to increase production.
The Popular Front was not just a political movement, but rather a social and cultural movement as well. The movment's goal was to break down the trditional barriers that separated the highly compartmentalised society of France in the 1930s. As such, the Popular Front was reviled by traditional and right-wing elements in French society. The phrase, "Better Hitler than Blum" began to be heard.
The Popular Front's economic policy generally failed. They achieved gains for workers such as shorter hours and summer vacations. This was not, however, accompanied by increased productivity. The impact thus was to weaken French industry and production at the same time German labor was prevented from making similar demands and German factories were producing arms and other military equipment at full capacity. Blum tried to improve the living conditions of the working class, nationalized the trains, and the Bank of France, and controlled the price of grain, but prices shot up anyway and runaway inflation resulted affecting his popularity. The Popular Front's efforts to deal with the Depression generally failed. Government mandated wage increases without increasing productivity clearly was not a roafd to prosperity. Blum's PF government fell from power (June 1937). Another Blum PF Government remained in office for less than two months March-1pril 1938).
The Popular Front in Spain set off a bitter civil war. The Spanush military rebelled against the Popukoar Front Repubkican Government. Hitler and Mussolini decided to intervene and support Franco and the rebel military forces. The French Government while sympathetic to the Republic decided not to intervene in the Civil War, the first Fascist military exploit in Europe. Despite the opposition to Fascism, the Popular Front Government refused to intervene in the Spanish Civil War which also began in 1936. Blum and the Popular Front Government failed in addressing the challenge of Hitler and the NAZIs or in preparing France for war.
After the Germany victory in 1940, Blum and the Popular Front were blamed by Vichy politicians rather than the French military planners. After the NAZI victory and the fall of France (1940), Blum was arrested by Vichy officials and tried for treason. Aftr the Germany victory in 1940, Blum and the Popular Front were blamed by Vichy politicians rather than the French military planners. While the Popular Front failed in many of its goals and failed to prepare France to resist the Germans, the myth of the Popular Front has achieved legendary status in modern France. [Jackson] Blum was no only a Sicilist, but Jewish. He was thus a target during the occupation. He was confined in a NAZI concentration camp, but survived the War. His brother René, founder of the Ballet de l'Opéra à Monte Carlo, was arrested during the Paris Roundups (1942). He was deported to Auschwitz, but not immediately killed. According to the Vrba-Wetzler report, he was tortured and killed (April 1943). We are not sure why Blum himself was not killed. We suspect that the NAZIs were planning to use him in show trials after the War. He was rescued by the Allies (May 1945).
Many people think that The Nuremberg Trials were the first war crime trials of World War II. Actually they were not. The Germans were hard at work collecting information on war crimes for trials they would conduct after they won the War. The first trials, however took place in Riom, France--the Riom Trials (February-April 1942). Since the fall of France (June 1940), the lively French press had been silenced, both by the Germans in the Occupied Zone and Vichy in the Un-occupied Zone. This changed for a brief period with the Riom trials. The seven carefully chosen defendants were: Léon Blum (leader of the SFIO Socialist party and former prime Minister), Édouard Daladier (another former prime-minister), Paul Reynaud (another prime-minister), Georges Mandel (former Interior Minister and also Jewish), Maurice Gamelin (commander of the French Army), Guy La Chambre (Minister for the French Air Force), and Robert Jacomet (former Controller-General of the Army Administration). Blum was premier during the Popular Front (1936-38). As a Jew and Socialist, he was seen as the principal target. The defendants were held by Vichy in Fort Portalet.) Court sessions began (February 19, 1942) and were turned into a kind of parliament to put the blame on five carefully chosen defendants. The principal purpose was salvage the reputation and honor of the French Army. Petain was determined to prove that the Socialist Third Republic was at fault and not the French Army. Preoarations befan in 1941, but the actaul trials were held in 1942. The Vichy procecutors were especially anxious to blame defeat on the Popular Front in and Léon Blum who was both a Socialist and Jewish. The Vichy men had, however, not quite mastered the art of a Communist or NAZI show trial which entailed bashing the defendent good and proper and threatebing his family. Blum mounted a spiiruted defense with his inteogators (October 20, 1941. before the Special (War Guilt) Court at Riom. He claimed thst his armament production was advancing ahead of schedule ny the time France entered the war. And tghat 'for the greater part of the mechanical equipment which played a determining part in the battle there did not exist a decisive numerical disproportion between ourselves and the enemy.' We would take issue with his comment about aams oroduction. But his commnts about the relatue numbers of tnks nd plsnes is correct. He also nsuggested that the Court concentrate Its investigation on 'the manner in which these arms were employed, and the strategic conduct of operations' and on an examination of certain acts or 'outright treason'. An evaluation of the Frenvh generals and their strategy nd tctics is id course just what the Vichy men did not want.
While the Popular Front failed in many of its goals and failedc to prepare France to resist the Germans , the myth of the Popular Front has achieved legendary status in modern France. [Jackson] Despites its economic failures and ultimate defeat by the NAZIs, the Popular Front has an enormous cultural cache in modern France.
Hill, Kim Quaile. Democracies in Crisis.
Jackson, Julin. The Popular Front in France: Defending Democracy, 1934–38 (1990), 369p.
Lee, K. "Hours of work in wartime," Editorial Research Reports Vol. 2 (1942).
Werth, Alexander. "The Front Populate in Difficulties," Foreign Affairs (July 1937).
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