Debates - Guilds

How did journeymen’s boxes originate?


The immediate cause for journeymen to establish their own boxes was that they became excluded from the mutual aid their master’s guild offered. We illustrate this with the example of the Netherlands. After the Reformation, guilds directed their revenues — spent before on altar services and other religious activities — towards the support of their sick and needy guild brothers. With the formalization of this mutual aid, it became apparent that journeymen – officially not full members of the guild – were not to receive mutual aid. In reaction, journeymen founded their own boxes, especially in the period between 1700 and 1750, when economic opportunities declined and spreading risks became increasingly important for journeymen. These associations were not directed towards conviviality or the promotion of the journeymen’s economic interests, but were pure mutual aid funds. In exchange for an entrance fee and weakly or monthly contributions, the members received aid – either financial or in kind – for funerals and in case of sickness, and sometimes when old age or disability struck.

Additional causes for the foundation of journeymen’s boxes in the Northern Netherlands were the positive attitude of the local governments towards the foundation of mutual aid funds for journeymen, the rise in the general number of journeymen and the social split between them and their masters. In the first half of the eighteenth century a large part of Holland’s labour force proletarianised because trade slumped and employment opportunities in certain branches of industry were lost. An increasing proportion of journeymen remained journeyman for life. With the position of master out of reach, guild membership and the guilds' mutual aid became inaccessible (Bos, 1998, 38; Bos, 2006, 180-1; Lucassen, 1991, 29-30). The formation of journeymen’s boxes was therefore a logical step, but this had to be permitted by the (local) authorities. The authorities generally reacted negatively towards the creation of journeymen’s associations in the form of guilds, fearing that a united front of journeymen could lead to strikes and uprisings (Timmer, 1913, 8-9; Lucassen, 1991, 31). Journeymen’s boxes as pure mutual aid funds, however, were applauded by local authorities, as they lightened the burden for the city’s public relief fund (see for example Mud, 1998, 36-7).



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