By Matthias Grenon
For thirty years after the end of World War 2, France underwent a process of economic reconstruction that spurred strong economic growth and expansion. In order to maintain positive economic trends, the French government and private sector determined that the country’s economy required a larger manufacturing and labor force. The French government thereby established policies and institutions that facilitated immigration to France. The result was the greatest period of immigration to France in the country’s history. More than just contribute to the country’s economic development, the sheer volume of new immigrants came to play a substantial role in shaping modern French society and culture as well.
The purpose of this online research guide is to provide sources and materials that educate the reader about immigration to France during the period of, “Les trente glorieuses” (in English, the “Thirty Glorious”). My guide will include sources that provide historical context for this unprecedented immigrant wave as well as examine the factors and forces that comprised the immigrant experience during the period. Curiously enough, there is no substantive historiography of immigration to France published before this period. Despite centuries of documenting and analyzing immigration trends, the French historically consigned matters pertaining to immigration to the study of economics, not history. Author and historian Gerard Noiriel is generally accepted as the pioneer of the historiography of French immigration. His seminal work is a good place to start this guide.
- Noiriel, Gerard. Le Creuset Francais: Histoire de l’immigration XIXe-XXe siecle. Paris: Le Seuil, 1988
“Any reflection concerning French identity should account for the history of the assimilation of foreigners.” Noiriel asserts that immigration is a fundamental component of French identity, and therefore French history. He first analyzes the station the immigrant holds in French society before examining the social dynamic between the immigrant and the native. The history of immigration dating back to the 19th century is chronicled, and Noiriel identifies that economic necessity is the commonality shared by different waves of immigration.
- Noiriel, Gerard. “Difficulties in French Historical Research on Immigration.” Bulletin of the American Arts and Sciences, Volume 46, Number 1 (October, 1992), pp 21-35.
Noiriel seeks to answer why immigration was never thought of as an integral part of France’s history. He suggests that the phenomenon might be due to early accession to universal suffrage, which led to a drastic fall in proletarian birth rates in order to minimize the division of wealth when it came time to collect inheritances. As a result, the French population stagnated because of the French people’s Malthusian attitude toward reproduction. A stagnant French population induced the economic need for immigrant labor during times of economic expansion.
These sources provide a timeline for French immigration from 1945 to 1974 and include socioeconomic and political factors that influenced the process. They detail how the French government closely monitored the economics of immigration to inform their policies.
- Assouline, David and Lallaoui, Mehdi. Un siecle d’immigrations en France (de 1945 a nos jours) Du chantier a la Citoyennete? Paris: Au Nom de la courte Memoire (October 1997)
This source places special emphasis on the evolution of immigrant civil rights over time. The authors discuss the importance of French policy permitting the families of the immigrant workers to join them as permanent residents in France, among other policy developments that helped immigrants integrate into the French community.
- Tapinos, Georges. “L’immigration etrangere en France de 1945 a 1973.” Cahier de L’I.N.E.D., Volume 30 Numero 2 (1975) pp 315-317
The author’s article in the I.N.E.D. (National Institute for Demographic Studies) journal divides the time period into three separate phases of immigration as confirmed by economic and demographic numbers.
Social Conditions of Immigrants to France
Immigrants occupied the lowest rung of the French social hierarchy. They suffered from wage disparities with their French counterparts, inferior working conditions and social benefits, and were often employed without a legally binding contract. By nature of the work afforded to them, most immigrants were illiterate or lacked formal education. The preconditions affecting many immigrants impeded their attempts to truly assimilate into broader French culture.
- Granotier, Bernard. Les Travailleurs Immigres en France. Paris: Francois Maspero (1976)
Granotier’s work was widely considered as the most accomplished and authoritative appraisal of the immigrants’ standard of life in France. His assessments of their labor conditions, living conditions, housing, and countries of origin were supplemented by substantial documentation of his sources.
- Domenach, Jean Marie. “Les Etrangers en France.” Esprit, Special Issue (April 1966) All-inclusive.
This edition of intellectual publication Esprit is a veritable treasure trove of sources and information. It is comprised of over dozen articles, including: “An introduction to the foreigners in France,” “French Immigration Policy,” “Literacy,” “In Marseille” and “Conversation with a Syndicalist.” The special issue also provides profiles of different immigrant groups, such as “Here, we wait,” “The Portuguese,” “Blacks in France,” and “A Ukranian in Paris.” If the reader were to ask me which source he should consult if he could only read one from my research guide, I would advise to read this issue of Esprit. The series of articles published offer profound, broadly encompassing insight on the state of immigration in France in April 1966.
- Vieuguet, Andre. Francais et Immigres. Paris: Editions Speciales (1975)
The author was a prominent leader of the French Communist Movement, and he utilized immigrants in France as a proletarian base from which he advanced his arguments and ideology about French society. He sought to illustrate the similarities and parallels between the Immigrant proletarian class and the native working class by dissecting immigrant life in France.
French natives’ perspectives on immigrants
Immigrants were often met with racism and bigotry. French entrepreneurs were notorious for manipulating and exploiting immigrant workers because they were poorly educated or spoke little French. They were mostly well received by students and the younger generation, however.
- Girard, Alain. “Attitude des Francais a l’egard de l’immigration etrangere–Enquete d’opinion Publique.” Population, 26eme annee, numero 5 (1971) pp 827-875
- Girard Alain, Charbit Yves, Lamy Marie-Laurence. “Attitude des Francais a l’egard de l’immigration etrangere–Nouvelle Enquete d’opinion.” Population, 29eme annee, numero 6 (1974) pp 1015-1069
Both sources are studies conducted on a sample population of native French people. What is revealing is that the French held more benevolent views of the immigrant population in 1971 than in 1974. By 1974, France’s economic growth had slowed with the rise of inflation and native French people grew increasingly hostile towards their immigrant counterparts.
- Farinaux, Martine. “L’Accueil des Etudiants” Esprit, Edition Speciale (Avril 1966) pp 610-631
Author attests to the difficulty immigrant students encounter when they arrive in France. Native students are sympathetic for the most part, but since the majority of both French and Immigrant students study in Paris it is difficult to truly help integrate them.
The End of the “Trente Glorieuses”
1974 marked the end of the strong economic growth France had become accustomed to and the nascent politicization of immigration. Whereas it had been ordinarily considered from an economic standpoint, rampant inflation and the ascendance of Valerie Giscard d’Estaing to the French presidency shifted the debate away from the economic forum to the sociopolitical one. D’Estaing took a hard stand on immigration by placing severe restrictions on the inflow of immigrant workers from Europe and Africa. The “Trente Glorieuses” were officially over.
- Gastaud, Yvan. “La volte-face de la politique francaise d’immigration durant les Trente Glorieuses.” Cahier de L’Urmis, Mai 1999 (Online Journal) http://urmis.revues.org/index338.html
Gastaud emphasizes the myopia that plagued the French government when it encouraged the biggest immigrant influx in the country’s history without projecting the socio-political implications of its policies.
- The French periodical Population provides annual accounts on immigration and its status in France.
- The Institut National d’Etudes Demographiques is plentiful with information about immigration and its evolution in France.
Last but not least, a Youtube retrospective of the evolving perception of immigrant youth in France into the 21st century: