Societies of journeyman in certain craft trades in France. The compagnonnages traced their origin to fraternities of workers on medieval cathedrals or even the Temple of Solomon, but they assumed a stable institutional form in France by the 1600s. Outlawed by the Le Chapelier law of 1791, they survived clandestinely during the Revolutionary and Napoleonic periods to flourish under the Restoration and July Monarchy, when 100,000 workers passed through the compagnonnages every three years. In 1848, a compagnonnage spokes person and writer, Agricol Perdiguier, a joiner by profession, won election to the Constituent Assembly. He hai led the brotherhoods as progressive workers associations; Louis Blanc, Lamartine and George Sand (who wrote a novel about the compagnonnage) shared his enthusiasm. Factionalism, challenges from new forms of worker organizations, economic changes, and opposition to the confraternities' exclusiveness, however, led to the decay of the compagnonnage system in the late 1800s.
Particularly strong in the building trades, compagnonnages also existed for among thirty ty pes of tradesmen represented in the movement, such as carpenters, printers, blacksmiths and farriers. Compagnonnages were associations of journeymen, typically eighteen to twenty-five years old, travelling and gaining training on a three- to seven-year tour de France. Apprentices (aspirants) could join, but full members (the compagnons reçus and compagnons finis) possessed a certain level of skill. Because of the lack of opportunities to achieve master status, many artisans remained compagnons for extended periods. Entry into the compagnonnages entailed elaborate ceremonies of initiation, adoption of `godfathers' and a nickname, baptism with water and wine, ritual humiliation, swearing of oaths and the issuing of an identity card and secret password. Members promised to maintain the secret of their rituals and to uphold their duty (devoir) to fellow compagnons. Members enjoyed the right to lodge and take meals at their compagnonnage's boardinghouses (mères) around France and to call on an organization official (the roleur or rouleur) for help in finding work. The compagnonnages also controlled the labor markets for their particular trades and pressured employers, the master craftsmen, on such concerns as wages and working conditions and boycotted uncooperative masters. The compagnonnages gave aid to sick members and organized the funerals of deceased members. They celebrated the feast-days of their patron saints and developed a corpus of craft ballads and customs. Compagnonnages reached decisions by majority vote of members, and all offices rotated among senior colleagues. Members usually withdrew from active participation when they completed the tour de France, but then sometimes formed mutual-aid societies among themselves.
Compagnons gained a reputation for their ceremonies and rituals and, also, for their rowdiness during the tour de France. The existence of three rival groups of compagnonnages (the Enfants de Salomon, Enfants de Ma”tre Jacques and Enfants du Père Soubise) led to violent conflicts among compagnons. After the February revolution of 1848, a new club, the Compagnons de Tous les Devoirs, and a newspaper, the Atelier, called for the unification of the factions. In March and May 10,000 compagnons celebrated their reconciliation with marches through Paris. However, the June Days ended the euphoria, and members rejected a constitution for the union. Lack of solidarity kept the compagnonnages from becoming a modern, united working-class movement. Observers see them as ancestors of trade unions and cooperatives. The resemblance between the compagnonnages and Freemasonry is also noted. Other historians point to their importance in mobilizing journeymen against master craftsmen in an early class struggle. All agree on the significance of the compagnons' traditions, and their ideal of their trade as a moral community, as part of artisan culture in the ancien régimeand nineteenth century.
Benoist, L. Le Compagnonnage et les métiers (Paris: P.U.F., 1971).
Coornaert, E., Les Compagnonnages en France du Moyen Age à nos jours (Editions ouvrières, Paris, 1966).
Perdiguier, Agricol, Le Livre du compagnonnage (Paris, 1839).
_______. Mémoires d'un compagnon (Geneva: Duchamp, 1854).
Sewell, William H. Jr., Work and Revolution in France (Cambridge: University Press, 1980).
jgc revised this file (http://www.cats.ohiou.edu/~chastain/ac/companon.htm) on September 9, 2004.
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