Labour time, guild time? Working hours in the cloth industry of medieval Flanders and Artois(thirteenth and fourteen centuries)
Faculty of Arts. History
Tijdschrift voor sociale en economische geschiedenis. - Amsterdam
, p. 27-53
University of Antwerp
From their very early history, even before the craft guilds came of age, regulation of labour time was ubiquitous in most Flemish and Artesian cloth manufacturing cities. Nearly everywhere the working day was decided by the urban authorities and announced by bells; the working year was divided in working days and Sundays/religious festive days. Regulation, however, was refined and intensified in the course of the second half of the thirteenth and early fourteenth century when craft guilds pushed away the traditional relations between merchant-entrepreneurs and textile workers and replaced them with the late medieval small artisanal workshops. Labour time regulation was also clearly more developed in export-oriented cities: rules were stricter and the requirements of flexible workshops that could adapt to changing demand cycles necessitated more complex systems of regulation. Hence, labour time was not evenly organised across the different production stages. Cloth weavers have always been at the heart of regulation, while also cloth finishing and fulling were targeted. It is time-rate wages of journeymen weavers and subcontracting masters that set the standard for the intensification of labour time regulation once the guilds stepped in. Small-scale entrepreneurs needed to control more firmly the various production stages and adapt the scope of the enterprise to changing demand. Their mere economic survival depended, therefore, on the flexibility of labour markets. Once they gained access to political power, therefore, regulating labour time certainly became one of their main tools to control the organisation of labour.