The Origins, to 1825

  • Henry Pelling


The concept of a separate organisation of employed workers, to determine wages and conditions by negotiation with their employers, had no place in the medieval system of industry. The recognised crafts were catered for by the gilds, which were combinations of both masters and journeymen. The journeymen were skilled workers who had served an apprenticeship to their trade. The gilds had the responsibility of protecting the standards of their respective crafts by defining the terms of service for apprentices, which usually ran for a period of seven years. Furthermore, they could fix the prices for the manufactured product and determine the piece-rate to be paid to the journeyman. The journeymen were of course vitally interested not only in the level of the piece-rate but also in the conditions of their work and in the protection of their status vis-à-vis the unskilled. They were anxious to restrict the number of those who could enter their craft and share their privileges: and to this end they favoured the limitation of the proportion of apprentices to journeymen. But if they combined and went on strike to enforce their views on any of these matters, they risked punishment under the common law of ‘conspiracy in restraint of trade’. The incentive to combine, however, was not present to any great extent in a society where it was quite normal for journeymen to become masters in due course, and where, with skilled workers at a premium, there was a sufficient community of interest between master and journeyman to satisfy both.


Eighteenth Century Late Eighteenth Century Wage Bargaining Wage Regulation Skilled Artisan 
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© Henry Pelling 1976

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  • Henry Pelling

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