At the end of the 1880s, a second wave of populist mobilization roiled the political and social terrain of France. As described in Chapter 3, populist mobilization often exhibits a pattern of rapid mobilization that peaks and then splits, fragments, or collapses as participation falls off. In the early 1890s, these splits did occur. But the outcome of this second wave of populist mobilization ultimately pointed toward a fundamental realignment and unification of the French labor movement. Eventually, the unions withdrew their allegiances to competing party sects and forged the outlines of a unified union movement. The full consolidation of this second alignment would take over a decade and would require a reinforcing structural alignment on both the union and the party side. The details of the final consolidation of the union movement and the parallel unification of the party movement will be told in the next two chapters. This chapter will focus on those developments between 1884 and 1894 that first revealed the outlines of this new alignment.
The argument of this chapter is that the common schismatic pattern of populism was redirected by a structural innovation that both coincided with and resulted from the populist mobilization of the late 1880s and early 1890s. This innovation was the creation of an institution known as the bourse du travail, or “labor exchange.” The simplest description of the bourses du travail is that they were municipal job-placement centers.