(Jacobin) -- The sun didn’t shine for bourgeois France in summer 1936. Posh society ladies whined that the invading hordes of proles were taking up too much space on their favored beaches; restaurateurs on the Côte d’Azur even worried whether the factory workers arriving in their resorts would know how to use a knife and fork. In June, the Socialist-led government had guaranteed every worker two weeks’ paid vacation, making the summer holiday a reality for millions. Now, workers could stop making bicycles and baguettes for a fortnight and start building sandcastles — and their bosses had to pay them for it.
The law that gave workers holiday time was passed by Jewish socialist prime minister Léon Blum, who had been elected that May. Yet the change was most of all owed to the powerful strike movement that followed his election. Across the world, labor unions had long resisted the domination of life by work: the general strike that began in Chicago on May Day 1886 demanded “eight hours for work, eight hours for rest, eight hours for what we will.” After the achievement of legal limits on working hours, and then the invention of weekends, in the twentieth century, labor’s crusade for free time took up the fight for paid holidays.