The Le Chapelier law (1791)


On June 14th 1791 the National Constituent Assembly passed a law banning workers’ associations. It was later dubbed the Le Chapelier law:


“Article 1. The destruction of all types of corporations of citizens of the same trade and profession being one of the fundamental bases of the French Constitution, it is forbidden to re-establish them in fact, under any pretext or in any form whatsoever.

Article 2. Citizens of the same trade or profession, entrepreneurs, those who have shops, workers and craftsmen of whatever art, may not, when they find themselves together, name a president, secretary or syndic, keep registers, make decrees or decisions, or form regulations on their supposed common interests.

Article 3. It is forbidden to all administrative or municipal bodies to receive any address or petition under the denomination of a trade or profession [and] to answer it…

Article 4. If, against the principles of liberty and the Constitution, citizens attached to the same professions, arts and trades make decisions or created agreements between themselves which would lead them to refuse, or only make available at a set price, their industry or their work, the said decisions, accompanied by an oath or not, are declared unconstitutional and detrimental to liberty and to the Declaration of Human Rights, and null and void… [Those who breach this law will be] given a 500 livre fine and suspended for a year from exercising all the rights of active citizens and from entry into the assemblies…

Article 6. If the said decisions or agreements, posted or distributed by circular, were to contain any threat to foreign entrepreneurs, tradesmen, workers or day labourers who may come to work in the area, or to those who are content with a lower wage, all authors, instigators and signatories of the deeds or writings will be punished through a fine of 1,000 livres each and three months in prison.

Article 7. If the individual freedom of entrepreneurs and workers were to be attacked through threats of violence on the part of these coalitions, the authors of the violence would be pursued as disturbers of the public peace.

Article 8. Coalitions of workers having as their goal to hamper the freedom that the Constitution grants to industry, and to oppose police rulings or the execution of judgements to that effect, will be seen as insurgents, and consequently punished.”