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9-08-2015, 18:19

Proto-industry and manufactories

Many of the growing population found work in rural areas doing tasks directly related to agricultural production. More fi elds meant more harvesting, and greater specialization meant more transporting of goods to market. Commercial crops such as olives, wine, and fl ax (for linen) were very labor-intensive, as was caring for animals yearround. Silk was even more labor-intensive, providing work in the Italian and Ottoman countryside for women and girls who gathered leaves from mulberry trees, raised the silk cocoons, and processed cocoons into raw silk by reeling and spinning. Silk-making was regarded as an appropriate occupation for women, because women, or more accurately girls, were viewed as having greater dexterity and ability to concentrate than men, both necessary for the tedious task of unwinding silk cocoons. Girls were also probably the only ones willing to accept the extremely low wages paid for this task, though the life-long damage to their eyes that could result from unwinding fi ne thread in low light made even poor girls think twice about steady work in silk-winding. Silk producers were often forced to hire whole orphanages (without the assent of the residents, of course) in order to have enough labor. Landlords and more prosperous tenant farmers hired many workers for specifi c tasks, and they also hired permanent household servants. Servants were hired annually, often at local hiring fairs, and were supposed to stay with their employer for at least one year. Their period of service was rarely determined by a written contract, but instead by a verbal one sealed by a small sum of money. They received room, board, and some clothing from their employers, and, except for very young children, also an annual salary. This salary was paid only at the end of the year, or even held until the servant left the household, so that servants actually lent their employers the use of their salary during their term of service. Young people generally regarded service as a time to save for later marriage, though they were also occasionally forced into service to pay off their parents’ feudal dues, a practice that continued in Germany, Sweden, and Finland into the eighteenth century. Rural residents also increasingly engaged in handicraft production, using raw materials provided by merchants from nearby towns and cities, especially in the production of textiles. Such rural cottage industry developed fi rst in the Netherlands and Flanders, where merchants sought to escape the restrictions on quantity, quality, wages, and the nature of the workforce that guilds imposed on production in cities. Rural workers would work for less, as they generally produced much of their own food. Merchants purchased raw wool or fl ax, and then distributed it to peasant households to be spun into yarn. From there the merchant would arrange for it to be taken to a different household for bleaching, another for dyeing, another for weaving, and another for fi nal fi nishing, “putting it out” to each household, as the expression went at the time. Each household in this “putting-out system” would be paid for the tasks it did, but the merchant retained ownership of the product at every stage and took the largest share of the profi ts. Initially cottage industry was a by-employment, done during the winter or more regularly only by certain family members, but gradually families in some parts of Europe, especially areas with large groups of landless people, engaged in production fulltime. “Not only women and maids, but also men and boys, spin,” commented the German religious reformer Sebastian Franck, after visiting some villages around Augsburg and Ulm, going on to say, “One sees contradictions; they work and gossip like women, yet are still vigorous, active, strong and quarrelsome people, the kind any area would want to have.” 2 By the eighteenth century, increased demand for textiles, combined with a growing rural population, meant that certain rural areas of the Netherlands, Belgium, England, the Rhineland, and northern France specialized in textile production. For residents of those areas, wages were no longer simply a supplement to their food production, but a replacement for it, and they became completely dependent on market conditions that might be international in scope. Economic historians refer to this process of expanding wage labor as “proletarianization,” and note that wages were often so low that families remained impoverished even if all family members worked most daylight hours. The merchants and investors who hired households to spin and weave were similarly dependent on changing styles, political circumstances, and even the weather, but those entrepreneurs who were shrewd and fortunate could make tremendous profi ts. Economic historians have termed this more intensive putting-out system “protoindustrialization,” and note that it had important social, as well as economic, ramifi - cations. In parts of Europe where the land was poorest and the agriculture was more or less subsistence, entrepreneurs hired whole households, and proto-industry often broke down gender divisions. Men, women, and children who were old enough all worked at the same tasks, as the quotation from Franck notes. Domestic industry might also lead to role reversal, with women producing thread while, in the words of an eighteenth-century German observer, “men … cook, sweep and milk the cows, in order never to disturb the good, diligent wife in her work.” 3 In such areas, labor became a more important economic commodity than property, which led to earlier marriage, weaker parental control over children, and a faster rise in fertility rates. Some historians have suggested that this may have given young women more power within the family and a greater sense of independence, though these were balanced by the fact that young men were also freer, which increased the risk of young women being seduced and abandoned. In other parts of Europe, proto-industrialization began in areas where there was a high level of seasonal unemployment, especially among women. In these areas, including parts of France, individual women, rather than whole households, were hired, with men continuing to work at wage-paying agricultural tasks. In these areas there was no sharing of domestic duties or reversal of roles, for the men’s tasks were more highly paid and generally away from the household, so the women continued to do most domestic labor. Proto-industrialization in these areas did not lead to great improvements in women’s status, for, though the wages women earned gave the family some disposable income, it was the men of the family who decided when and how that income could be spent, and often gathered in taverns, and by the eighteenth century in cafés, to spend it. This may have been one reason why female spinners in Augsburg chose to pool their wages and live together rather than with their families or in the house of a master weaver, though the city tried to prevent this from happening. In rural areas where the population was dense enough, entrepreneurs sometimes brought together workers under one roof rather than putting work out to individual households. They opened what are often termed “manufactories” in which workers used hand tools or hand-powered machines – often owned by the entrepreneur, not the worker – and were paid by the piece with frequent quality checks. Women were favored as workers because they would work for lower wages and were thought to have more delicate and nimble hands; the investors did not realize that these women also did rough housework and seasonal agricultural labor, so that their hands were swollen and scarred, which made their work uneven and led them to be fi ned for poor-quality work. In the eighteenth century, manufactories were also opened in towns and cities, often in newer industries where craft guilds had not developed or in cities where the guilds were relatively weak. As we saw at the beginning of this chapter, Glickl bas Judah Leib owned just such a manufactory for stockings in Hamburg. Conditions in these manufactories were often unpleasant and unhealthy, with cloth fi bres fi lling the air and boiling vats causing workers’ clothes to be continually damp. Wages were low, but young people sometimes preferred work in a manufactory over domestic service because it did allow a small amount of free time and a greater sense of independence. City manufactories rarely outweighed rural production in the eighteenth century, however. In the 1740s in Silesia (part of Austria), more than 80 percent of the linen was made in rural areas, and in the 1780s nearly 75 percent of the looms in Picardy, the area north of Paris in which there was intense proto-industrialization, were in the countryside. The economic historians who fi rst coined the term “proto-industrialization” saw this as a middle stage in a historical process that began with independent artisanal production in craft guilds and ended with the mechanized factories of the Industrial Revolution. England led the way in this process, in this line of argument, and each stage made the previous stage obsolete, or turned areas that did not change into economic backwaters. More recently, economic historians have emphasized the fl uidity and simultaneity of various forms of production rather than one single line of development. The weaving of cloth had moved into manufactories in some places by the eighteenth century, but this cloth was then sent to individual homes to be sewn into clothing, so that in this case manufactories increased rather than decreased the opportunities for domestic production. Some industries, such as metal smelting, mechanized outside factories; the machines that powered the early Industrial Revolution were made in individual shops, often by members of craft guilds, not in factories. Toward the end of the eighteenth century, steam-driven sawmills produced wooden planks that carpenters used in their own shops to make furniture. In these cases, artisans were integrated into new systems of production rather than being displaced by them, though they were more dependent on capitalist entrepreneurs for raw materials and sales of fi nished products than their predecessors had been. Craft guilds remained strong in many parts of Europe throughout the seventeenth century, and in some places, such as Sweden and Austria, they were actually at their most powerful in the eighteenth century. City, regional, and royal governments worked through the guilds to regulate the economy. In France, the fi nance minister Jean- Baptiste Colbert issued hundreds of regulations about quality, price, production processes, competition, membership, and other guild issues, a policy imitated by other states. He also set up new guilds, particularly aimed at groups that might otherwise need public welfare. In 1675, for example, he set up an all-female guild of dressmakers in Paris, noting that since women were excluded from most guilds, “this work was the only means that they had to earn their livelihood decently.” 4 Such regulations were often diffi cult to enforce, especially in growing towns where the demand for products outstripped the ability of guilds to provide them. Rural putting-out enterprises provided some of the products needed to fi ll this gap, especially in textiles, and so did nonguild artisans, who simply made clothes, shoes, bread, or other products without guild membership and approval, selling these clandestinely or smuggling them from town to town. The economy was thus more fl exible than the regulations envisioned, and even within the regulatory structure there was some opportunity for individual initiative and competition.

SOURCE 34 Apprenticeship contract for an eleven-year-old boy, Paris, 1610

Parents and guardians placing their children into service or apprenticeships often did so by means of a written contract drawn up by a notary. Here a woman apprentices her son to a ribbon and trim maker, the same occupation as her husband’s, though he had long deserted her. Marie Frevel, wife but deserted for the last nine years, she says, by Mahis Deslandres, master ribbon and trim maker in Paris … affi rms that, for the benefi t of Adam Deslandres, son of the said Mahis Deslandres and of the said Frevel, aged 11 years or so, whom the said Frevel has pledged to complete faithfulness and loyalty, she has given and placed him in service and employment for the next three years. [She has placed him] with the respectable Henry Camue, master of the said ribbon and trim trade in Paris … [Camue] has taken and retained [Adam Deslandres] in his service for the said time, during which he will be obliged and promises to show and teach him [Camue’s] trade and all in which he is involved because of it; supply and deliver what he needs in terms of fi re, bed, lodging, and light, and treat him gently, as is appropriate. And [Frevel] placing him will maintain him during the said time with all clothing, linen, footwear, and other respectable clothing, according to his status. In consideration of this service, the said parties remain in agreement on the sum of 18 livres tournois that the said Camue promises and guarantees to pay to the said [Frevel] or someone on her behalf, to assist in the said support of the employee her son … To make this [agreement], present [was] the said employee, who has promised to serve his said master faithfully, work to his benefi t, and warn him of losses as soon as they should come to [the boy’s] attention; and not to run away nor go to serve elsewhere during the said time. And in case of fl ight or absence, the said Frevel promises to search in the city and outskirts of Paris and bring him back if she can fi nd him, to complete the time of his said service … Done and passed in Paris at the offi ces of the notaries signed below, the year 1610, Wednesday, the twenty-second day of December in the afternoon. The said [Frevel] has said that she does not know how to write or sign. (Paris, Archives Nationales, Minutier central, Etude X/15, December 22, 1610, trans. Carol Loats, in Monica Chojnacka and Merry Wiesner-Hanks, eds., Ages of Woman, Ages of Man: Sources in European Social History , 1400–1750 [London: Longman, 2002], p. 24.) This fl exibility was often vigorously opposed by journeymen, who thought that nonguild work lessened the available workplaces or somehow tarnished the honor of their crafts. With the support of their associations, journeymen organized strikes, refused to work next to nonguild workers, and destroyed shops and merchandise. In Germany, they termed nonguild workers Bönhasen (literally “bin-rabbits,” because they were regarded as stealing journeymen’s food in the same way that a rabbit might steal from a storage bin) and beat them up. An imperial edict ordering journeymen in Germany to relax their code of honor and halt boycotts or punishments precipitated a wave of strikes and riots in the 1720s, and again in the 1730s and 1790s. The same thing happened in Austria in 1770, after Maria Theresa issued a proclamation requiring journeymen to accept nonguild colleagues. Journeymen also opposed the new manufactories; in 1794, journeyman ribbon-makers in Berlin entered a new ribbon factory, grabbed the young women who were employed there, and beat them. Journeymen’s opposition to fl exibility and change was symbolic, in the minds of many observers of the economy, of a more general problem. By the late eighteenth century, some economic planners came to regard all corporate bodies – journeymen’s associations, craft guilds, merchants’ associations – as impediments to growth, and called for a policy of economic liberalism with free trade and unregulated markets. In The Wealth of Nations (1776), Adam Smith criticized sectors of the economy where corporate bodies exerted control, and advocated the expansion of the free market to all economic endeavors. This would best serve the “common good,” Smith asserted, for any attempt to “hinder the poor man from employing his strength and dexterity in what manner he thinks proper is a plain violation of this most sacred trust … [and] a manifest encroachment upon the just liberty both of the workman, and of those who might be disposed to employ him.” 5 In the same year, the French controller general of fi nance, Anne-Robert-Jacques Turgot (1727–81), abolished the guilds and called for an end to tariffs and other government regulation of the economy. Such a move was too radical for many in the French government, however, who feared social and economic anarchy if the established hierarchical relationships of master–journeyman–apprentice were simply done away with. Several months later they persuaded the king to fi re Turgot. In 1791, in the middle of the French Revolution, the guilds were abolished again, which happened slightly later in other parts of Europe as well. Because they were often illegal and operated somewhat clandestinely, journeymen’s associations survived long afterward, but by the middle of the nineteenth century the principles of economic liberalism had more or less triumphed and government regulation of trade and other aspects of the economy had diminished signifi cantly.