A survey of the French workers (1880) – La Revue Socialiste

19th Century French Workshop

The text of a questionnaire circulated among working class and trade union circles in France in 1880 by the editors of La Revue Socialiste, as part of an attempt to generate a statistical database to facilitate a detailed understanding the situation of the working class in France, and to promote much-needed reforms similar to those enacted in Great Britain with respect to reducing the length of the working day, regulating female and child labor, and implementing industrial safety and sanitation guidelines.

A Survey of the French Workers (1880)1– La Revue Socialiste

No government (neither monarchies nor bourgeois republics) has dared to carry out a serious investigation of the situation of the French working class. Just consider, however, the numerous investigations of agricultural, financial, industrial, commercial and political crises!

The infamies of capitalist exploitation revealed by the official inquest of the English government, and the legal consequences that these revelations set in motion (the limitation of the working day to ten hours, laws on female and child labor, etc.), have made the French bourgeoisie even more timorous concerning the dangers that such an impartial and systematic investigation might entail.

In the hope that we can oblige the republican government to imitate the English monarchy and to perform a large scale investigation on the realities and misfortunes of capitalist exploitation, we shall, with the feeble means at our disposal, attempt to initiate such an investigation on our part. We hope that we will be assisted in this effort by all the workers of the cities and rural districts, who understand that only they are capable of accurately describing the evils that they endure; that only they, rather than some providential saviors, can energetically apply the remedy to the social miseries that they suffer; we are also relying on the socialists of all schools who, desiring social reform, must also desire precise and positive knowledge of the conditions in which the working class works and lives, the class to which the future belongs.

These Notebooks of Labor comprise the first task that is incumbent upon socialist democracy to prepare for social renewal.

The one hundred questions that follow are the most important ones. The answers should be marked with the number of the question. It is not necessary to respond to every question; but we do recommend that all answers should be as comprehensive and as detailed as possible. The name of the worker who fills out the questionnaire will not be published unless he or she expressly consents to its publication; but we must ask all the respondents to provide their names and addresses so that we can contact them.

The completed questionnaires should be sent to the editor-in-chief of La Revue Socialiste, M. Lécluse, 28, Rue Royale, Saint Cloud, Paris.


1. What is your profession?

2. Does your workplace belong to an individual capitalist or to a joint stock company? Provide the names of the capitalist employers or the directors of the company.

3. Provide the number of persons employed at your workplace.

4. Give their ages and gender.

5. What is the youngest age at which children are allowed to work at your workplace?

6. Tell us the number of foremen and other employees at your workplace who are not ordinary wage workers.

7. Are there apprentices? How many?

8. Besides the full time workers, are there other workers who work temporarily at certain positions?

9. Does the industry of your employer work mainly for local customers, for the general domestic market, or for export?

10. Is your workplace located in a rural district or a city? Provide the name of the municipality where it is located.

11. If your workplace is located in a rural district, is your industrial job sufficient for you to earn a living, or do you have to supplement it with agricultural labor?

12. Do you perform your job manually or with the help of machinery?

13. Provide details concerning the division of labor in your industry.

14. Is steam power utilized as a source of energy?

15. How many buildings are used for the various branches of your industry? Describe the specialization in which you are employed; please tell us not just about its technical aspects, but also about the degree of physical and nervous fatigue that it involves, and its general effects on the health of the workers.

16. Describe the sanitary conditions of your workplace: the size of the working areas, and the amount of space assigned to each worker; ventilation, temperature, whether the walls are whitewashed, whether there are washrooms, and about the general degree of cleanliness; how loud are the machines, whether there is metallic dust, dampness, etc.

17. Are there any inspections carried out by the municipal or national government concerning the sanitary conditions of your workplace?

18. Does you industry generate any harmful emissions that cause any specific illnesses among the workers?

19. Is your workshop crowded with machinery?

20. Are the power sources, the transmission apparatus and the machines protected in order to prevent accidents?

21. Tell us about the accidents that have occurred with which you are personally familiar.

22. If you work in a mine, list the safety measures implemented by your employer to ensure proper ventilation and to prevent explosions and other dangerous accidents.

23. If you work in a factory that produces chemical products, in a workshop in a metal products factory, or in any other industry that entails special dangers, list the safety measures taken by your employer.

24. What is the source of illumination in your workshop (gas, oil, etc.)?

25. In case of fire, are there adequate emergency exits?

26. In case of accident, is the employer legally obligated to compensate the worker or his family?

27. If the employer is not obligated to compensate the worker or his family in case of accident, has he ever compensated anyone who has suffered misfortune while working to make him rich?

28. Is there a medical dispensary at your workplace?

29. If you work in your home, describe your working conditions. Do you use hand tools only, or small machines? Are you assisted by your children or other persons (adults or children; men or women)? Do you work for individual customers or for a merchant? Do you deal directly with the merchant or do you work through an intermediary?

30. Tell us how many hours you work each day and how many days you work each week.

31. List the annual holidays during which you do not have to work.

32. How many breaks do you have during the working day, and how long do they last?

33. Do you have regularly scheduled meal times or do they vary from day to day? Do you eat your meals inside or outside of the workplace?

34. Do you work during your mealtimes?

35. If steam power is employed at your workplace, when are the boilers fired and when are they shut down?

36. Is there a night shift at your workplace?

37. How many hours are worked each day by children and by young people under the age of 16?

38. Are there relief shifts for children and adolescents during their working hours so they can take breaks?

39. Are the existing labor laws concerning child labor enforced at your workplace by the national government or the municipality? Do the employers comply with those laws?

40. Are there schools for the children and young people who are employed at your workplace? If so, what are their scheduled hours? Who teaches in them? What is taught in them?

41. If your workplace operates twenty-four hours a day, what kind of shifts are employed?

42. What is the usual number of overtime hours worked in your workplace during periods of high demand for your industrial product?

43. Are the machines at your workplace cleaned by workers who are specially employed for just this purpose; or are they cleaned occasionally by the workers employed at these machines during their ordinary working hours?

44. What rules or penalties are in effect for arriving late for your work shift? When does the workday begin, and when does it recommence after meals?

45. How much time is lost in traveling to and from your workplace?

46. What kind of contractual relationship do you have with your employer? Are you employed by the day, by the week, by the month, etc.?

47. What conditions are stipulated by your contract with regard to giving notice of dismissal or resignation?

48. In case of a violation of the terms of the contract, if the violation is the fault of the employer, how is he penalized?

49. When the worker is at fault for a breach of contract, how is he penalized?

50. If your workplace employs apprentices, what are the terms of their contracts?

51. Do you have a steady job or are you employed only intermittently?

52. Do you work only during certain seasons, or is your work distributed more or less evenly over the whole year? If you work only during certain seasons, how do you live during the intervals when you are not employed?

53. Are you paid by the hour or day, etc., or with piecework wages?

54. If you are paid for the time you work, are you paid by the hour or by the day?

55. Are you paid extra for overtime? How much?

56. If you are paid on the basis of piecework, how is your pay rate established? If you are employed in an industry in which the work performed is measured by quantity or weight, as in the case of the mining industry, does your employer or his agents utilize tricks to cheat you out of part of your earnings?

57. If you are paid by the piece, does your employer use the quality of the product as a pretext for fraudulent deductions from your pay?

58. If you are paid by the piece or by the hour or day, when are you paid? How much credit do you advance to the employer before receiving the price of the labor you have performed? Are you paid weekly, monthly, etc.?

59. Have you noted that the delay in the payment of your wages forces you to frequently resort to the pawnshop, where you have to pay a high rate of interest, and forfeit the use of certain necessities; or to go into debt with shopkeepers, so that you become their prisoner as a debtor? Do you know of any cases where workers have lost their wages due to the bankruptcy of their employers or the closure of their factories?

60. Are your wages paid directly by your employer or by intermediaries (contractors, agents, etc.)?

61. If your wages are paid by agents or other intermediaries, what are the terms of their contracts?

62. What is your wage level in money terms per day or per week?

63. What are the wages of the women and children who are employed in your workplace?

64. What was the highest wage paid at your workplace during the last month?

65. What was the highest level of piecework wages paid at your workplace during the last month?

66. What was your wage during the last month and, if you have a family, what are the wages of your wife and children?

67. Are your wages paid entirely in the form of money or in some other way?

68. If you rent your home from your employer, what are the terms of your lease? Is your rent payment deducted from your wage?

69. What are the prices of the items you need most, such as:

a) the rent of your home; terms of the lease, number of rooms in your apartment, and the number of persons who live in your household; repairs and insurance; purchase and maintenance of furniture, heating, lighting, water, etc.

b) food: bread, meat, beans, potatoes, etc., milk, eggs, fish, butter, oil, lard, sugar, salt, coffee, chicory, beer, cider, wine, etc., tobacco.

c) clothing for adults and children, laundry, general cleaning, bathrooms, soap, etc.

d) miscellaneous expenses: postage, obtaining loans and redeeming goods from the pawnshop, expenses for children’s education, costs of apprenticeship, buying books, newspapers, etc., contributions to mutual aid societies, for strikes, for associations, for resistance funds, etc.

e) expenses, if applicable, incurred in connection with the performance of your profession.

f) taxes.

70. Try to estimate your monthly and annual budget for your income and that of your family, and of your monthly and annual expenses.

71. Have you noticed, in your personal experience, that the prices of the things you need to live, such as housing, food, etc., have risen more than your wages have increased?

72. List the variations in the rates of the wages with which you are familiar.

73. Provide information concerning wage cuts during times of economic stagnation and industrial crises.

74. Provide information concerning wage increases during alleged times of prosperity.

75. Tell us about interruptions in employment, due to changes in fashion and local and general crises. Tell us about your experience of involuntary unemployment.

76. Compare the price of the articles that you produce or of the services that you provide with the price of your labor.

77. Tell us about any cases you are familiar with in which workers were displaced by the introduction of machines or other improvements.

78. Has the intensity and the duration of the working day increased or decreased with the development of machinery and the productivity of labor?

79. Do you know of any instances in which wages rose as a consequence of the progress of production?

80. Have you ever known of any ordinary workers who were able to retire at the age of 50 and live on the money they earned as wage workers?

81. In your profession, how many years can a worker of average health continue to work?

82. Are there societies of resistance at your workplace, and how are they managed?

83. How many strikes have affected your workplace over the course of your experience?

84. How long did these strikes last?

85. Were they general strikes or partial strikes?

86. Was their purpose to obtain wage increases or did they consist of attempts to resist wage cuts, or were they attempts to obtain a reduction of the working day, or did they have other causes?

87. What were the results of these strikes?

88. Tell us about the activity of the labor Magistrates.

89. Has your trade benefited from strikes carried out by workers belonging to other trades?

90. Tell us about the regulations and the penalties established by your employer for managing his wage workers.

91. In your industry, are there employers associations whose purpose is to impose wage cuts and longer working hours, and to place obstacles in the way of strikes and generally to impose their will?

92. Do you know of any cases in which the government has abused the public forces of law and order by placing them at the service of the employers in conflicts against their employees?

93. Do you know of any cases in which the government has intervened to protect the workers against the depredations of their employers and their illegal associations?

94. Does the government enforce the existing labor laws against the will of the employers?

95. Does your workplace or your trade have a Mutual Aid Society to support the victims of accidents, illness, death, temporary disability, old age, etc.? Send us its statutes and rules.

96. Is membership in these Societies voluntary or compulsory? Are their funds under the exclusive control of the workers?

97. If dues payments are compulsory and under the control of the employers, are they deducted from your wages? Do they pay accrued interest on these withholdings? Are these contributions returned to the workers if they are fired or laid off? Do you know of any cases in which the workers have benefited from these employer-managed pension funds, whose capital is nonetheless deducted from the wages of the workers?

98. Are there cooperative societies at your workplace? How are they managed? Do they employ outside labor in the same way as capitalists? Send us their statutes and rules.

99. Do you know of any workplaces in your trade where part of the workers’ pay is paid in the form of alleged dividends from such Mutual Aid Societies? Compare the sums received by these workers with those received by other workers in workplaces where there are no such alleged dividend payments. List the obligations imposed on the workers who live under such conditions. Can they engage in strikes, etc., or are they merely allowed to be the humble servants of their masters?

100. Describe the general, physical, intellectual and moral conditions of the workers employed in your trade.

101. General observations.

Translated in June 2017 from the Spanish translation entitled, “La estadística obrera. Encuesta entre los obreros franceses (1880)”. Source: https://elsalariado.info/2015/03/01/la-estadistica-obrera-encuesta-entre-los-obreros-franceses-1880/

Original title: “Enquête Ouvrière”, La Revue Socialiste, No. 4, April 20, 1880. A facsimile of the original publication is available online (as of June 2017) at: http://www.cedias.org/pdf/rs/RS-num04-avril-1880.pdf.

  • 1. La Revue Socialiste, No. 4, April 20, 1880. 25,000 copies of this questionnaire were printed and distributed to workers associations, groups and socialist circles and also to French newspapers. Marx proposed a survey of this kind in order to call the attention of all social classes and public authorities, etc., to the situation of the working class, for propaganda purposes and also to instigate reforms, and to put into practice the principle according to which, “in order to be effective you must be familiar with the matter at hand”, in the interest of the trade union organizations and the workers party. The interest of this survey resides in the fact that it is an attempt to make the workers aware, by filling out the questionnaire with its details and further ramifications of their working conditions and to call their attention to the immediate system of exploitation as a whole.


Jun 26 2017 11:38

Interesting stuff. All the answers available anywhere?

Alias Recluse
Jun 26 2017 20:56

I haven't seen anything in Spanish translation but maybe there is something out there in French. I suppose La Revue Socialiste must have collected and tabulated the responses; maybe a summary of the results was published in a subsequent issue of the journal.