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Journeymen (Germany)

In the mid-19th century journeyman embraced a heterogenous category: some were in very reduced circumstances on the fringe of industries or in threatened professions like weaver, trimmer, glove maker, wig maker, etc. Wages for the few who found work fell close to subsistence. Low wages predominated among tailors, cobblers, joiners and other occupations whose numbers remained significant. Their situation contrasted to the comparatively better paid mason, carpenter, baker, butcher, but also the printer, type setter and furrier, whose income was often several times that of journeymen on the low side of earnings hierarchy. Although certain groups still lived and were boarded in the masters' household, while a growing number were paid in cash, it is impossible to appraise wage differences accurately. Matrimony was a further line of differentiation: as the promotion to master of a growing number of journeymen could no longer be taken for granted, the total of those married increased proportionately. For example, in 1849 in Leipzig the portion of married journeymen among lock smiths was 23%, among masons 74%. The situation of journeymen varied according to several additional factors: legal relationships in domicile; guild regulations; and greatly differing sizes of branches of the trade and factory classifications in particular states and regions. For example in Berlin in 1848 printers, masons and carpenters had ten journeymen or apprentices for every master, whereas among cobblers the proportion was 1:1. Strong differentiations existed also in sizes of factories and the type of wages among rural and urban journeyman. In large cities a significant proportion of industrial employees had to alter their profession from workshop to factory. Above all in the centers of early industrialization the status of numerous journeymen closely resembled modern wage labor; many of them were incorporated in industrial concerns with more impersonal relationships of dependency than in artisanal establishments. After the early 1840s social differences in mentality increased between journeymen and skilled workers.

The development benefited numerous worker and journeymen's improvement associations, likewise founded in the early 1840s, some with several thousand members. It is hardly possible to exaggerated their influence on changes in mentality, since they often allowed the journeymen to assimilate modern, bourgeois-rational theories and sometimes socialist ideas, in spite of the strong system of repression during the pre-March era prevailing in states like Prussia and Austria. The continuing importance of the itinerant tradition in many groups of journeymen to a certain extent allowed the spread of pre-Marxist early socialism. Above all, tailors, cobblers and cabinet makers learned "on the road" that led to Paris where they absorbed the prevailing early socialist theories which they in turn spread in the homeland. The prohibition on combinations and the strong police surveillance of journeymen's fraternities in most states likewise often contributed to a rejection of the pre-March system.

Under these circumstances it not surprising that the journeymen were a important social stratum transmitting the revolutionary movement of 1848. Among the Berlin barricade fighters, journeymen were over half of close to nine hundred arrested and casualties of the military. They included a disproportionately large number of tailors, cobblers, and cabinetmakers, the pasrticularly radical journeymen's groups of the pre-March. Viennese revolutionaries in late October 1848 comprised a similarly important number of journeymen among the wounded and those with known professions. At least in large cities like Cologne, Vienna or Berlin, the journeymen and workers provided the social basis for the largest radical democratic associations.

Parallel to the general political engagement, the journeymen formulated numerous petitions in the first phase of the revolution to the German and Prussian national assemblies, the Austrian Reichstag, the ministries, the responsible magistrates and their employer, giving expression to their social and economic demands. In addition to the usual summons for an increase in wage and shortening of hours of work, these petitions included many unprogressive, anti-modern requests like the termination or limitation in the use of machinery, ending women's labor, and prohibition of freedom of trade; the formulations clearly reflected a failure to escape from the traditional artisanal pattern of thought among a large proportion of journeymen. The traditional prejudices of many journeymen in 1848 was indicated by their leadership in brawls hostile to Jews at the beginning of the revolutionary year. On the other hand many of the journeymen's petitions included modern socialist or social state demands like the founding of a ministry of labor, adult education, health insurance, and national workshops on the Parisian model. When masters failed to respond to journeymen's demands, the conflict escalated relatively quickly into an open labor struggle. Most of the successful strikes followed the traditional pattern; a few like the Berlin printers took on a modern form of the conflict over wages, including inter-regional coordination, solidarity between trades, and public agitation. The beginnings of the labor movement, in particular the Berlin central workers' committee in early April and the worker fraternization at the end of August 1848 integrated the most important and largest journeymen and workers' groups and redirected their social-political wishes and initiatives. The unprogressive demands largely disappeared; social concerns were no longer raised separately by individual journeymen's groups, rather bundled together to a consistent catalog of complaints by the central committee or the worker fraternization, which would have led to a modern social state, if they had been implemented. In general the early workers' movement was transmitted and imprinted far less by the workers in a narrow sense than by the journeymen. However, although the democratic journeymen sympathetic to the working movement were in the majority in large cities, conservative tendencies continued among certain occupational groups, above all in nutritional trades like bakers and butchers.

Rüdiger Hachtmann translated by James Chastain


Jürgen Bergmann, Das Berliner Handwerk in den Frühphasen der Industrialisierung (Berlin, 1973).

Jürgen Bergmann Wirtschaftskrise und Revolution: Handwerker und Arbeiter 1848/49. (Stuttgart, 1986).

Wolfgang Häusler Von der Massenarmut zur Arbeiterbewegung: Demokratie und soziale Frage in der Wiener Revolution von 1848 (Vienna and Munich, 1979).

Jürgen Kocka. Lohnarbeit und Klassenbildung: Arbeiter und Arbeiterbewegung in Deutschland 1800-1875 (Berlin and Bonn, 1983).

Jürgen Kocka Arbeitsverhältnisse und Arbeiterexistenzen: Grundlagen der Klassenbildung im 19. Jahrhundert (Bonn, 1990).

Hartmut Zwahr, Zur Konstituierung des Proletaritats als Klasse: Stukturuntersuchyungen über das Leipziger Proletariat während der industrielllen Revolution (Berlin, 1978).

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