Man, Work, and Society: A Reader in the Sociology of Occupations

By Sigmund Nosow; William H. Form | Go to book overview

period of social legislation in the nineteenth century and as an institution which at the height of its development assured the craftsman an existence as satisfactory from the economic as from the social point of view.


2. TRADE ASSOCIATIONS

A. ORIGINS · Myron W. Watkins

The organization of producers in the same trade or industry is not a peculiarly modern development. It existed in one form or another in ancient Egypt and throughout classical antiquity and has been found in China as far back as records extend. Whether the Roman "corporations" were primarily professional groups interested in the development of the arts and the preservation of decent standards of living and of workmanship or were essentially capitalistic in character, designed to improve bargaining efficiency, it is impossible now to determine. To some extent the interpretation of the medieval craft guilds encounters similar difficulties. Their main purpose appears originally to have been social protection rather than self-help; but from what were primarily police agencies with public responsibilities they developed more and more of the character of instruments for the exploitation of opportunities for gain, earning eventually a richly deserved opprobium.

The distinction between the modern trade association and the medieval guild, in view of this functionally shifting character of the latter, may be based more definitely and concisely upon their structural peculiarities. The medieval organizations of persons in the same trade were composed of all those who made their livelihood by it--those who gave as well as those who took directions, although of course with varying powers and duties. On the other hand, the modern trade association is composed of and represents solely the interests of a special class in each industry; those who give directions, the enterprisers. It was the shift in the basis of control of production from skill to ownership accompanying the radical changes in width of the market and in technology during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries which not only sharply differentiated the directors from the directed but opened up an almost impassable gulf between them. In these circumstances the more energetic, resourceful, and versatile elements in every trade were alienated from the guilds by the advantages of independent pursuit of their own private interests regardless of any social responsibility toward either consumers or workers.

The trade associations, which are the modern counterpart of the guilds among the propertied enterprisers, as the trade unions are among the propertyless workmen, did not immediately take the place of the defunct guilds. It was only after about a century and a half, from 1700

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