History of medieval guilds, ancient unions

History of medieval guilds, ancient unions

During the Middle Ages in Europe, the workers were completely dependent on their lords and masters for accountability and performance of their work. Everything had to be to their liking and in most cases the working conditions were abusive. For reasons like these, the so-called workers' unions arose from the eleventh century and that they remained in society until the end of the Modern age, at which time they were abolished.

It was about economic associations in which workers who had the same trade were grouped. It could be said that they are the antecedents of the current labor unions.

Its main function was to protect your interests, controlling the quality and price of the products and ensuring that all the people belonging to the union had a job. They also tried avoid competition with foreign artisan groups and they offered a learning platform for those who wanted to join the guild and thus the profession. In addition, each guild had a symbol that identified them and differentiated them from the rest of the guilds of the population, thus indicating to which trade they belonged. Thus, there were for example the carpenters guild or bakers guild.

The guild structure was very simple. It was hierarchically divided into three levels: teacher, officer and apprentice. The authority was the teacher, the one at the top of the pyramid. A member of the guild could become one after passing an exam and a practical test of their skills. If he approved, he had the right to open his own workshop, own the tools, accept job requests and establish his own marketing system.

The officers they were one level below the masters, they were in the middle. These are craftsmen already with some knowledge who came to charge for their work, were under the supervision of the teacher and tried to perfect their skills.

Last and lowest, were the apprentices. Access was limited and Muslims and Jews were forbidden to enter, only the so-called old Christians were admitted, that is, those who did not have mixed blood. His admission became clear after the signing of the ‘Apprenticeship contract', Where the norms that the apprentice and the teacher had to fulfill were stipulated.

The age at which a apprentice could access it was between 12 and 14 years old and the process would last approximately 6 years. It only ended when that time had passed, by mutual agreement or by the death of one of the parties. The apprentice had the obligation to obey the teacher, be faithful to him and go to the workshop every day. On the other hand, the master had to teach him the trade of the guild and keep him.

The functions and obligations of the unions they were very varied. Among them are the supply of materials or the supervision of work, so that there would be no shortage of materials or work and it would be equal among the members of the union; An exhaustive surveillance of the workers' contracts was also carried out, a way of ensuring that what was stipulated in them was being fulfilled and finally, they kept a control of the number of workshops that there were.

But they not only took care of the working conditions as is, but They also cared about the spiritual health of the people belonging to the guild. Between his obligations there was the cult of the Patron Saint and even the foundation of hospitals in his honor. In addition, they had to take care of the widows and orphans of the members of the guild who had died, contributing financially with the funeral services and the care of their souls.

Guilds were an important part of medieval society. They looked after the economic interests of each locality and became regulators of the economy in the last centuries of the Middle Ages until the proclamation of freedom at work.

His disappearance came with the arrival of the Industrial Revolution, which brought with it the industrialization and capitalization of the economic system. Its harsh rules impeded personal initiative, they kept to individual progress, so the arrival of the first machines and work based on mechanization ended up condemning the unions to a slow decline and subsequent disappearance.

Image medieval shields: Times on Wikimedia
Image flags with shields: them on Wikimedia

With a degree in Journalism and Audiovisual Communication, since I was a child I have been attracted to the world of information and audiovisual production. Passion for informing and being informed of what is happening in every corner of the planet. Likewise, I am pleased to be part of the creation of an audiovisual product that will later entertain or inform people. My interests include cinema, photography, the environment and, above all, history. I consider it essential to know the origin of things to know where we come from and where we are going. Special interest in curiosities, mysteries and anecdotal events in our history.

Video: A brief explanation of Guilds