Urban Revival

Craft corporations and urban production

The cities did not disappear completely in the High Middle Ages ; but, although they retained some of their old commercial activities, they began to have a predominantly administrative-episcopal character. This situation began to change in the eleventh century, when the population of Europe grew, commerce revived and feudalism came into crisis. Thus began the Commercial and Urban Renaissance , when cities became centers of mercantile activities and, by extension, industrial centers; or, more specifically, crafts and manufactures.

The great merchants sold products from other regions, such as the silk from Italy, the wool from the Flemish cities and the spices from the East. These opulent merchants formed the upper bourgeoisie(or, as was said at the time, the urban patriciate). They were organized in associations called guildsand had the monopoly of the great commerce.

Below them lay the smaller merchants, that is, the petty bourgeoisie . They were the owners of street stores and masters of artisan production workshops (the last small industrial entrepreneurs known as master craftsmen ).

The lower strata of the urban population were made up of artisan workshops, day laborers (paid workers for daily work), the servants of wealthy families, and also by undeclared individuals and beggars. 
Most urban production was for local consumption and for the surrounding rural areas. Only in the more developed regions, such as Flanders and Italy, was there production destined for the international market.

The production of handicraft workshops was regulated by the craft corporations (associations that brought together all the artisans of a city when linked to the same productive activity). The purpose of the rules was to maintain the balance between production and consumption and to avoid competition between producers. Since it was not possible to intervene in the consumer market, it was done in the producer market, by fixing prices, quantity and quality of products, payments to workers, working hours, etc.

The corporation also had assistance functions, since the contributions paid by its members could be partially intended for sick members, invalid or whose workshop had suffered a claim. At times of war involving his city, corporations could participate in the fighting, organized in urban militias. Connected to the corporations, there were the confraternities , organizations sponsored by the Church that gathered the craftsmen around the patron saint of their profession.

The urban industrial production form varied according to the economic development of the Late Middle Ages. At first, the typical form was craft production . In it, a master craftsman, owner of the means of production (tools, raw material, facilities), sold its products directly to consumers. With him he worked a variable number of employees (the officers or companions), whose remuneration was based on participation in the realized sales and that could become masters-artisans with own workshop. In the workshop there were also apprentices, often relatives of the master or an officer, who worked for seven to nine years without pay, in exchange for housing, food and initiation in the profession.

There have been times when market expansion forced the masters to increase production; in order to do so quickly, they had to hire hired laborers, since there was no time to turn apprentices into officers. Over time, the masters realized that it was cheaper to pay day laborers than the officers – which meant more profit as well. Thus, the distance between employer and employees increased, since the number of officers was reduced and their importance in productive activity decreased. But despite the decline in the number of employees with a share of sales (replaced by an increasing number of employees), the master craftsman continued to work in the workshop with his employees. Artisanal production therefore continued to exist .

But the growth in consumption eventually altered the traditional direct relationship between producer and consumer, generating the need for an intermediary – a merchant who had the capital to buy the master craftsman product and resell it in national or international markets.

This intervention of the merchant in the distribution gave origin to the manufacturing production . In this, there was no longer the figure of the master craftsman (who worked with his subordinates), replaced by an owner of the means of production who hired the workers and oversees them through foremen who were also hired.

Manufacturing production was mainly in the textile sector and meant the intervention of commercial capital in the productive process – which undoubtedly was considerably streamlined. Not that the merchant became a producer. He continued to be a merchant who, in order to increase his profits, also began to produce.

Initially, the merchant hired some hired laborers, only to finish the material purchased from the master craftsmen. Then he expanded his facilities to make the weaving.

Having obtained good results in the textile production, traders started to intervene in other productive sectors. In all of them, to streamline the process and increase productivity, the work was divided into specific tasks, always performed by the same workers – who no longer had to perform different tasks successively. This is the essential difference between the craft industry and manufacturing: in the first, the same worker performs all stages of production until finishing the product; already in manufacturing, each worker performs only one stage of the process, passing to another employee the task of completing the next step.

The expansion of manufactures ruined numerous master craftsmen who could not compete with them. Many workshops were closed and countless craftsmen, to survive, went to work in their own homes, aided only by their families. This production process was called the domestic production or domestic production system .

The manufacturing trader lived with the other types of producers until the eighteenth century, when machinery replaced the three existing forms of production (artisanal, manufacturing and domestic), initiating modern industrialization.

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