3.2.7: 1725 - 1830 - Working conditions

In the eighteenth century, the guilds continued to be important organisations through which employers could act in concert with respect to the urban authorities and which enabled them to regulate competition and, if necessary, to agree on a common strategy regarding personnel. In most cities the guilds were, therefore, an organisation for the employers. The names of workers are to be found in a number of guild records, but this registration was intended to check on compliance with regulations, workers were not members. Very little is known about collective arrangements by and on behalf of personnel. We know, for example, that in Utrecht a separate 'bos' (a kind of social security association) for book printers' and typesetters' labourers existed where the labourers contributed to a collection fund which paid out in the event of illness, pension or death. Whether, however, the labourers of the members of the booksellers' guilds in other cities were also able to enjoy such a facility is not known.

Conflicts of interest which, of course, existed between employers and personnel were sometimes reason to amend the guild regulations. There was no separate training for the typographical crafts and transfer of knowledge therefore took place within the company. All too often, however, were apprentices predominantly used as cheap labour. The favoured weapon used by an individual worker against poor treatment, was to change employer. In some guilds the employers agreed among themselves not to recruit personnel from one another without obtaining further information. On the other hand, foremen enjoyed some protection. Some guilds had separate trainee provisions in which the number of apprentices was restricted to a small number per master in order to prevent misuse of cheap child labour at the cost of more experienced workers.

Little is known about wages in the sector. Around 1800, the average wage of a compositor or printer in Holland was about a guilder (€ 0.45) a day. A foreman earned a little more and an apprentice a little less. Wages differed per area, however, and outside Holland it was probably lower. Printers' and publishers' personnel will also have experienced the unpleasant consequences of the periods of sharp price increases in the second half of the century where wages remained the same, followed by the French period which probably showed a decline in work on offer. After the French had left, however, there was a rapid revival of production.

The Vereeniging ter Bevordering van de Belangen des Boekhandels (Association for the Promotion of the Interests of the Book Trade) was established in 1815. From that moment the employers had a national organisation, something that would only come about in 1866 for the other workers in the form of a trade union. The first local typographers' association was, however, established in 1830 in Breda.

author: J. de Kruif

Working conditions