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Journeymen's Congresses (Germany)

The 1848 revolution to a great degree exposed the social and political division of artisan masters and journeyman. The inter-regional congresses were the most obvious expression of this cleft. First in importance was the "First Representative Assembly of the North German Artisans and Trades" which met in Hamburg June 2-6, 1848. Originating in the rather liberal "association to improve the business class" and including delegates from the Hanseatic cities and some small north German towns, the congress quickly fell under the influence of Hamburg's guild masters. The delegates unanimously condemned freedom of trade, without entirely wishing to return to former guild regulation. A petition journeymen to be allowed voting delegates occasioned some commotion in the congress which refused its endorsement. From the Hamburg assembly came the call for the first German artisan and trade congress, which met with around one hundred twenty voting delegates from July 15 to August 18, 1848 in Frankfurt am Main and which exposed the social cleavage between a majority of masters and most journeymen. However, before the formal division came, the delegates of the Frankfurt congress resolved to send to the Frankfurt national parliament the draft of a general trade law, soliciting compulsory guilds in towns and recalling the old guild regulation of crafts, while at the same time also proposing reforms like the elimination of local constraint of the masters' rights. The congress split on July 20, when the masters, who were a majority of the delegates, rejected a motion to allow journeymen at the meeting the same voting rights as a masters and proposed instead that they choose a master to speak for them. On July 22 the journeymen left the meeting and constituted their own congress which met until July 29 and--after more journeymen-delegates arrived--continued their business on September 4 as a "workers' congress." The congress proved that the conflict between masters and the journeymen who gathered there could have been bridged: They were united in rejecting absolute freedom of trade and strong opposing capitalist middle men. The journeymen's critique was primarily directed towards the masters' refusal to allow them to participate in question of professional regulation of conditions of work (the worker books, certificates of good character, the requirement of travel (Wanderpflicht), freedom of movement, etc.) and not prepared to grant fundamental social political concessions (relief and health insurance). The journeymen's congress ended in the confusion of the Frankfurt insurrection of September 20, 1848.(see "September Crisis")

The founding to the first organization in Germany resembling a trade union, the workers' fraternization (Arbeiterverbrüderung) came not primarily from the Frankfurt journeymen's congress, rather from the Berlin "Central Committee of Workers", which in the beginning of April (in Stefan Born's phrase) constituted a sort of "workers' parliament" in the Prussian capital and represented a majority of the resident journeymen and workers. Disappointed that the congress of north German societies which met in Berlin June 18-20, 1848 could only agree on a noncompulsory coordination of the existing instructional work to uplift workers and artisans, Born and his friends called for their own workers' congress which assembled from August 23 to September 1848 in the Prussian capital with thirty four voting and five advisory delegates, principally from north German worker confederations. Incorporating modern social political demands that the Berlin central committee had already presented in mid-April under Born's guidance, the journeymen and workers gathering in Berlin the end of August demanded on a social-political level setting up regional employment bureaus, general freedom of movement, freedom of workers to travel to new employment, and a minimum wage on the local level; in addition they demanded on the general political level universal passive and active male sufferance at age twenty-one for all Germans in the local, regional, and national elections, free public education, the separation of church and state, and the establishment of public libraries. Although the previous congresses of artisans and journeymen primarily addressed their resolutions to the Frankfurt national assembly and awaited from them the recognition of their wishes, the delegates in the Berlin worker congress essentially relied on self-help. Thus they planed to found their own production associations, consumer cooperatives, and societies to care for health; in a short time, in particular in Berlin and Leipzig, these were introduced.

At the end of August, contrary to the original resolutions of the Berlin central committee and counter to Born and his friends' arguments, the participants at the worker congress, could not deny their artisan mentality. Thus, the delegates gathered in the Prussian capital, like the previous Frankfurt representatives, demanded compulsory membership in guilds, rigidly regimented master examinations, and a strict limit on the number of apprentices. They rejected a resolution suggested by Born and other Berlin delegates for a legally guaranteed right of every individual to have a job. The Berlin worker congress attained decisive importance because it founded the worker fraternization, whose central committee took up residence in Leipzig under Born's guidance.

Primarily dominated by journeymen who put their mark on its politics, the worker fraternization allowed them to feel united as industrial workers rather than masters and to understand themselves as essentially part of a "working class."

For a time two organs coexisted and competed: the central committee of the worker fraternization and a journeymen's committee that was founded at the Frankfurter congress; both claimed to speak for the interests of journeymen and workers at the national level. Relatively quickly the more agile Leipzig central committee of the worker fraternization won out over the Frankfurt committee who could not conceal strong roots in artisanal-guild thinking. The Heidelberg congress of January 28-29, 1849 was decisive; following it the Frankfurt committee partially disappeared, and the worker fraternization also got a stronger foot hold in southwestern Germany. The success of the worker fraternization was strengthened in subsequent regional congresses: the district congress of the north German worker associations in Hamburg on February 10-15, 1849 and the assemblies in Halle and Nuremberg of March 11 and April 2-4, 1849. Two months after the second general assembly that gathered February 20-26, 1850 in Leipzig the police dissolved the worker fraternization as a legal entity.

In addition to the worker fraternization, with its more than ten thousand members in overlapping trades, and the two national professional unions of book publishers and cigar workers organized in the spring and late summer of 1848, the very numerous journeymen and workers' improvement societies founded in the pre-March years remained important. They were also close to the democratic movement politically, often maintaining intimate political and personal relations to the worker fraternization and to its allied associations; at least some of these workers' improvement societies as well as the worker fraternization fell victim to authority's restrictions in 1850. Yet even in the center of the revolution under no circumstances did all journeymen and workers sympathize with the democratic movement and the onset of the labor unions. Conservative journeymen's associations sprang up which claimed important local significance, for example the artisan league founded in Berlin in the summer of 1848 with close to a thousand members, however, they could never achieve a viable coordination on an interregional scale.

Rüdiger Hachtmann translated by James Chastain


Sozial-Demokratie: Die erste deutsche Arbeiterorganisation Allgemeine deutscher Arbeiterverbrüderung nach der Revolution (Stuttgart, 1962) 2 vols.

Gerhard Beier, Schwarze Kunst und Klassenkampf vol I. Vom Geheimbund zum königlich-preussischen Gewerkverein (1830-1890) (Frankfurt/Main, 1966).

Jürgen Bergmann, Wirtschaftskrise und Revolution: Handwerker und Arbeiter 1848/40 (Stuttgart, 1986).

Paul H. Noyes, Organization and Revolution: Working Class Associations in the German Revolutions of 1848-1849 (Princeton, 1966).

Toni Offermann and Dieter Dowe (eds.) Deutsche Handwerker- und Arbeiterkongresse: Protokolle und Materialien (Berlin and Bonn, 1983).

Franziska Rogger, "Wir helfen und selbst!" Die kollektive Selbsthilfe der Arbeiterverbrüderung 1848/49 und die individuelle Selbsthilfe Stephan Borns - Borns Leben, Entwicklung und seine Rezeption der zeitgenössischen Lehren (Erlangen, 1986).

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