The laboring classes. As early as the middle of the fourteenth century a "labor class" came into existence. 58 The reasons given for this are (1) increase in the population, (2) a larger and more anonymous market, (3) influx of labor from rural districts which followed the gradual relaxation of the bonds of serfdom, and "finally, the sheer selfishness of the masters in limiting their own numbers. But whatever may be the cause, of the fact itself there can be no manner of doubt." 59Next Page
Wage workers (and industrialists) were known in parts of France hundreds of years before the establishment of the factory system. The valleys of the Meuse and the Sambre and the provinces of Flanders and Brabant were active in manufacture and export. Knight reports: 60
In these export trades, the distinction between employer and laborer was sharp . . . the actual workers were day laborers, often owning nothing but the clothes they wore. They lived in hovels hired by the week, and starved, begged or wandered about in search of work whenever crises or personal misfortunes deprived them of their wages. Their daily grind started and stopped at the sounding of a bell; they drew their pay Saturday nights, and were held in contempt as "blue nails" by the more fortunate classes . . . . The one characteristic of the early nineteenth-century factory system at its worst that was wanting in the Low Countries at the close of the Middle Ages was the concentration in large shops.
Gonnard, surveying these trends, says that as "early as the sixteenth century . . . a new aristocracy arises, an aristocracy of the merchants, industrialists, and bankers. Beneath them, the working class . . . . " 61
Later, there was introduced the famous domestic or putting-out system that, along with the still later introduction of the factory method, was a powerful blow in the face of labor. Through these new technical arrangements the worker was not only prevented from rising, a condition to which he was relatively well adjusted, but he was made insecure, often uprooted, and utterly neglected. To imagine that the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries were eras of opportunities for the workers is to be in double error. It is to interchange the minus and the plus signs.
Concerning this period when the middle and upper middle classes were becoming rapidly wealthier, Sorokin quotes the old notion that "the path by which they rose to eminence was open to any man in the kingdom," which has a hollow ring, when one sees what was actually happening to the masses of humanity during this period. In contrast to Sorokin's oblique reference to great social mobility, Carman states: 62
We have already noted that the English working man did not share the hard-won victories gained by the English middle class during the seventeenth century. His status remained unaltered or because of changing economic conditions became even worse . . . and his children at an early age were forced to toil that they might contribute their bit to the meager support of the household. He was always face to face with starvation and beggary, and struggle and economize as he might he was unable to save anything for sickness or old age.
The artisans of this period, descendant from those who had long practiced the ancient crafts, were not generally sharing in the opportunities offered by the age; they were, in fact, slipping. See states: 63
We find a small minority of artisans tending to rise above their class, but the great majority were losing their independence more and more . . . . Thus an aristocracy of merchants held the proletarian workmen under their thumb. This was the result of an unfortunate development. The merchants, who often had considerable capital at their disposal, reached a point where they dictated to the workmen, who had no ready cash.
. . . The abbot Berthelon declared: "Invariably the master-workman rises before dawn and continues his work until well into the night, in order by long hours to make up the inadequate compensation."
The same author, an outstanding authority on the eighteenth century, states also that, in France, "in the eighteenth century . . . it was impossible for the majority of journeymen to rise above their station . . . they were doomed to remain journeymen all their lives." 64
58. Ashley, op. cit., Part II, pp. 101 - 102.
59. Loc. cit.
60. Knight, op. cit. (9) p. 231.
61. René Gonnard, "Quelques considérations sur les classes," in the Revue Economique Internationale, 17th year, vol. II, No. I, April 10, 1925, p. 80; translation ours.
62. Harry J. Carman, Social and Economic History of the United States, vol. I (Boston, 1930) p. 85.
63. Henri See, The Economic and Social Conditions in France in the Eighteenth Century (New York, 1931) pp. 177 - 178; italics ours.
64. Loc. cit.