Introduction - Beginning of the Eighteenth Century

Side by side with this evolution of economic classes from the gilds, another movement was going on. Industries were growing up that had no mediaeval antecedents, and these industries were of two kinds. Firstly, many of the domestic operations that supplied family wants directly were becoming the business of specialized workmen to a greater extent than ever before; while in the second place, many wants that had formerly been supplied from abroad, by the gradual immigration of foreign workmen were becoming naturalized in England. Though these new industries conformed to the traditional organization of the other trades, they had none of the rigidity and importance which made progress difficult; and it is to these industries that we must look for the great expansion of the eighteenth century. The textiles possibly employed fewer people at the end of the eighteenth century than they did at the beginning, though actually the total hours spent at work was greater and the production per man was increased a hundred fold.1 It is to industries like engineering, pottery, hardware, coal and iron-mining, that we must look for the development of industry in the industrial revolution.

The economic classes which the gilds had produced were the classes which now entered the new industries. The capitalists of the seventeenth century to a large extent provided the capitalist class of the eighteenth, while the journeyman of the gild system were the nucleus of the industrial wage earning class that developed under the new capitalist system. There was no break in continuity, no industrial revolution; the movements that were so slowly working out in 1700 became more rapid as the century progressed, and the application of steam power to machine industry hurried on the change so quickly that the idea of evolution is somewhat hard to trace. The gilds provided both the capital and the labour for the industrial expansion of the eighteenth century, and if in some cases they flowed along old channels and in others along new, their ever-widening power had as its sole source the old gild organization.

When the eighteenth century opens, the gild system was composed of large masters and merchants, small masters, journeymen, and apprentices. The small masters and journeymen were practically excluded from any power in the gild, and they began to form unions of their own to protect themselves.2 Even before the Civil War the small master was being driven to take his stand alongside the journeyman; but common interests were strong enough to preserve the unity of the gild, and, moreover, the Long Parliament refused the craftsmen incorporation. The refusal was not without its compensations, for many of the employing class made concessions to the rank and file.

This democratic movement inside the companies was the last rally of a dying cause, and, as far as its immediate object was concerned, the practical result was slight. After the Restoration, it disappeared altogether, although there was still a possibility that the excluded class would gain incorporation and have legal authority for the defence of its interests.3 At first, the question of incorporation was argued on the grounds of expediency, and the opposition usually urged that the proposed new grant would be an encroachment on the privileges of an existing corporation, and would weaken the authority that controlled the industry. Apart from these considerations, it was not claimed that the privilege of incorporation belonged to any one class: and thus the small masters, who were still master-craftsmen with journeymen and apprentices under them, seemed to be the nearest heirs of the traditions of the old craft gild.

Gradually, as the functions of craftsman and trader became more and more distinct, and as the latter gained control of the London gilds, and the former sank into a position of subordination and dependence, the idea arose that an incorporation of craftsmen was a dangerous thing. The City Council, as representing the main interests of capital, opposed all new incorporations.4 The workmen tried to obtain incorporation and to form combinations. For instance, the sawyers, who were labourers working by the day for wages, or by the load, upon material provided by their employers, attempted to secure incorporation, but the carpenters, in conjunction with the shipwrights and joiners, who employed the sawyers, united to prevent this. By their failure along these traditional lines, the wage-earning class was driven into secret combinations, from the obscurity of which the trade union did not emerge till the nineteenth century.

The intervening eighteenth century was a time of rapid growth; the hampering influence of the gild disappeared not by the thrusting from below, but from the mere fact that industry grew beyond it, and there was no need for the regulations and rules of the gild. The growth of trading capital by separating the craftsmen from direct contact with the market gave rise to those intermediate forms of industrial organization which are grouped together under the domestic system. "The decay of those forms and their ultimate displacement by the factory system was due to the growth of industrial capital." As long as the small master owned much of the industrial capital required for the exercise of his calling, he was not a mere wageearner, however much he might be dependent on the capital of the trader. With the appearance of the industrial capitalist, who organized manufacture on a large scale, and supplied not only the circulating but sometimes also the fixed capital, the small master was reduced either to the position of a mere journeyman or of a wage-earning master who, economically, was indistinguishable from a journeyman.

The labour troubles of the eighteenth century were partly caused by the efforts of this class of small masters to organize themselves along with the journeymen on a common footing as wage earners. However, the importance of laissez faire in the eighteenth century is not to be minimized; and the passing of the Combination Acts and the early prosecutions of trade unionists should not blind us to the fact that it was the comparative freedom of England in the eighteenth century that made the combination of wage earners possible.

1 There is a doubtful quotation on this head in Burnley, Wool and Wool Combing, pp. 79-80: " The influence of machinery on the wool trade . . . At the rate of production in 1738, a million and a half persons would be required to work up the annual growth and importation of wool into cloths whereas rather less than one hundred years afterwards only three hundred and fifty thousand operatives were required."

2 Unwin, op. cit., p. 209,

3 Unwin, op. cit., PP. 21O­11.

4 lb.. p. 212,

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