Immigration of workers in France

Immigration of workers in France

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Title: At the port of Vénasque: Spaniards going to work in France.

Author : LANCRENON Paul (1857 - 1922)

Creation date : 1907

Date shown: 31/07/1907

Technique and other indications: Negative gelatin silver bromide glass.

Storage location: Architecture and heritage multimedia library website

Contact copyright: © Ministry of Culture - Médiathèque du Patrimoine, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais / Paul Lancrenon

Picture reference: 08-535682 / LCR01904

At the port of Vénasque: Spaniards going to work in France.

© Ministry of Culture - Médiathèque du Patrimoine, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais / Paul Lancrenon

Publication date: March 2016

Historical context

The immigration of workers to France from 1850 to 1914

Marie-Paul Lancrenon (1857-1922), professional soldier, took advantage of his missions to write travel and excursion diaries made up of texts and photographs that he took as an "amateur". We owe him in particular Three thousand leagues paddling, from the Seine to the Volga published in 1898 and Winter impressions in the Alps. From the blue sea to Mont-Blanc published in 1906. It is in this context that, with his talents as a hiker and climber, he captures the life of Spanish migrants as they cross the Port of Vénasque, the Pyrenees pass at 2,444 meters above sea level. altitude at the Franco-Spanish border near Luchon (Haute-Garonne).

Image Analysis

Portrait of Spanish migrants

The photo represents six Spanish migrants who, on July 31, 1907, momentarily interrupted their walk and pose for the photographer, their bundles and their sticks on the ground. Stopped on a steep slope on a rocky "path", they took a stand in a row, so that everyone was visible. The group consists of five men and a child behind which appears a mule or a mule with its pack. Like one of the men, the young boy is dressed in a long "peasant" shirt, while the others wear clothes typical of the Pyrenean regions of northern Spain as well as their berets. All set the goal seriously and quite dignifiedly, although the child also seems somewhat intrigued.

The clothes and faces show destitute workers, forced to come and seek employment in France. The "simplicity" of the baggage goes in this direction, as much as it in turn gives credence to the idea that these men have come for the summer farm work. Despite everything and beyond the pose of circumstance, the dignity of these men who stand upright in the face of the goal indicates that these proletarians are proud to make a living from their work.


Proud workers

From 1851 to 1881, the immigrant population in France grew rapidly, from around four hundred thousand to nearly one million people. From 1881 to 1911, growth was much more measured (150,000 additional foreigners), even if this was also explained by a more flexible naturalization policy. The vast majority of this is immigration of foreign and poor workers. Indeed, the industrial boom experienced by the country from the Second Empire as well as the development of a more intensive market agriculture, itself linked to the growing phenomenon of rural exodus, caused a strong demand for labor in France. low-skilled work. Temporary, seasonal or permanent, the installation of newcomers is therefore closely linked to the labor market. From 1850 to 1914, this immigration also remained largely "border", migrants coming from neighboring countries and settling, depending on the possibilities of employment, in neighboring regions. Thus, even if Paris also attracts foreign workers, there are many Belgians in the North and North-East (workers in the textile factories, then in coal and in heavy industry), Italians in the South-East and of the Spaniards in the South-West (agricultural workers, construction, handling and transport).

Marie-Paul Lancrenon seems to have met these men while he was walking and photographing the Pyrenean pass, as he had done in the Alps a few months before. If he asks them to pose, it is neither to reveal a fact - the migration of these workers from Spain is a phenomenon already widely known at the time - nor to convey any message, but rather to present objectively certain realities of the migratory process at the beginning of the century.

On the one hand, the influx of Spanish migrants in the South West. They are 30,000 in 1850 and 80,000 in 1886 (a figure more or less stable until 1914) to work and live in the border departments as well as in Gironde, Dordogne, Lot, Lot-et-Garonne, the Gers, the Tarn and the Tarn-et-Garonne. In this great Southwest, they represented more than 5% of the population in 1906, against barely 1% in 1890. They are employed in industry, transport, fishing and construction, and as agricultural workers. The time of year (July) may also suggest that these are seasonal migrants, who came like many others for the picking or the grape harvest. On the other hand, the fact that the new arrivals, even more so when it comes to temporary migrations, are almost exclusively men. If in 1907, there were 45,000 Spanish men and 35,000 women (thus a good rate of "support" which corresponds to the fact that this type of immigration is quite old), it is only once settled that they bring in women and children, which is not the case with the characters in the photograph. The presence of a child, quite rare (only 7% of new migrants are so young), could confirm the hypothesis of seasonal migration.

  • workers
  • Spain
  • Luchon


Guy HERMET, The Spaniards in France: Immigration and Culture, Paris, Éditions Ouvrières, 1967. Guy HERMET and Jacqueline MARQUET, Spanish seasonal emigrants in France, Paris, F.N.S.P., 1961 Gérard NOIRIEL, Workers in French society (19th-20th century), Paris, Le Seuil, coll. "Points", 1986.Gérard NOIRIEL, Le Creuset français: History of immigration (19th-20th century), Paris, Le Seuil, coll. "The Historical Universe", 1988.

To cite this article

Alexandre SUMPF, "The immigration of workers in France"

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